Published On: Fri, Sep 23rd, 2016

Computer Scientists Solve Mystery Of The Ein Gedi Scroll By ‘Virtual Unwrapping’

A scientific research paper further unveils the unique technological methods used for revealing the biblical text in an ancient scroll dated back to the first centuries.



When in 1970, archaeologists excavating a site near the Dead Sea in Israel of an ancient synagogue, they dug up a 1, 500-year-old cylindrical lump of charcoal that looked like the remains of a scroll.

The animal-skin ink-based scroll,  was so delicate, just touching its surface sent pieces flaking off. The so-called Ein Gedi Scroll was a hopeless enigma. Until now.

Using specialized X-ray imaging, Prof. Brent Seales and his team from the University of Kentucky have virtual unlocked the text to and created a picture of the writing inside the scroll without unwrapping it. They have revealed it to be the earliest copy of a Pentateuchal book – Leviticus – ever found in a Holy Ark.
Seales and his team have discovered and restored text on five complete wraps of the object that likely will never be physically opened for inspection.
“This work opens a new window through which we can look back through time by reading materials that were thought lost through damage and decay, ” said Prof. Seales, a chair of the Department of Computer Science at the University of Kentucky. “There are so many other unique and exciting materials that may yet give up their secrets – we are only beginning to discover what they may hold.”
In a study published in Science Advances, Seales and co-authors, including researchers from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, describe the process and present their findings, which include a master image of the virtually unrolled scroll containing 35 lines of text, of which 18 have been preserved and another 17 have been reconstructed.
In 2015, Seales and his team revealed the first eight verses of the Book of Leviticus in the scroll. The software pipeline using data from high resolution scanning, which represents the internal structure of the 3-D object, to digitally segment, texture and flatten the scroll.
 “With the aid of the amazing tomography technology we are now able to zero in on the early history of the biblical text, as the Ein-Gedi scroll has been dated to the first centuries of the common era, ” said Hebrew University’s Prof. Emanuel Tov, co-author and leading scholar on textual criticism of Hebrew and Greek bibles. Hebrew University’s Prof. Michael Segal also worked with Tov on the textual criticism.  The text of the scroll and its analysis is published in Textus, the journal of the Hebrew University Bible Project .
“The discovery of text in the Ein-Gedi scroll absolutely astonished us; we were certain it was a shot in the dark, but the most advanced technologies have brought this cultural treasure back to life, ” said co-author Pnina Shor, curator and director of the Israel Antiquities Authority’s Dead Sea Scrolls Project. “Now, in addition to preserving the Dead Sea Scrolls for future generations, we can bequeath part of the Bible from a Holy Ark of a 1, 500-year old synagogue.”
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