Micro-CT scanner facilitates groundbreaking discovery of ancient Torah scrap

Julie Wiener

(JTA) — A previously unreadable fire-damaged ancient scroll discovered in 1970 has been found to contain the first eight verses of Leviticus, one of the five books of the Torah.

Using a micro-CT scanner, researchers at the Israel Antiquities Authority were able to determine the contents of the sixth-century scrap of parchment found in the ark of an ancient synagogue at Ein Gedi, near the Dead Sea. The new finding was announced Monday at a conference in Jerusalem under the auspices of the authority and Israel’s Ministry of Sports and Culture.

“After the Dead Sea Scrolls, this is the most significant find of a written Bible,” Pnina Shor, head of the authority’s Dead Sea Scrolls Project, told journalists Monday, according to the French news agency AFP.

Until the Israeli company Merkel Technologies offered its micro-CT scanner, which created high-resolution 3-D scans, the piece of parchment, which is 2 3/4 inches long and resembles a piece of charcoal, had been impossible to read. Researchers from the computer science department at the University of Kentucky helped decipher the scans.

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“The deciphering of the scroll, which was a puzzle for us for 45 years, is very exciting,” Sefi Porath, who led the Ein Gedi excavations in which the scroll was found, said at the Monday conference, according to The Jerusalem Post. The parchment was discovered inside the ruins of a synagogue that had been burnt down 1,500 years earlier.

Shor said the discovery of the parchment’s contents, which she said “astonished us,” offers a missing link of sorts between the more than 2,000-year-old Dead Sea Scrolls and the 10th-century Aleppo Codex.

“Now, not only can we bequeath the Dead Sea Scrolls to future generations, but also a part of the Bible from a Holy Ark of a 1,500-year old synagogue,” she added.

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