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Leviticus Scroll Fragment Update and Analysis

16th July 2005

News Updates

There are now numerous news sources covering the two new scroll fragments containing portions of Leviticus 23 and 24. Most of them rehash the original Associated Press story by Danielle Haas available here. Here are some excerpts:

Archaeologist and Bible scholar Steven Pfann said he had not seen the fragments. If authenticated, they would “in general not be doing more than confirming the character of the material that we have from the southern part of the Judean wilderness up until today.” But “what’s interesting and exciting is that this is a new discovery,” Pfann added. “This is the first time we’ve seen anything from the south since the 1960s.”

The finding constitutes the 15th scroll fragments found in the area from the same period of the Jewish “Bar Kochba” revolt against the Romans, and the first to be discovered with verses from Leviticus, Eshel said.

Anaylsis of the Fragments

Most of the reports noted that the fragments contained part of the book of Leviticus with a few narrowing it down to chapter 23. My own analysis of the fragments confirms that identification with the addition of a bit of chapter 24 included.

Fragment 1


The large fragment (pictured above) contains parts of Leviticus 23:43-44 (right column) and 24:16-18 (left column). While I didn’t produce a graphic reconstruction of this larger fragment for this blog entry (needed sleep!), the verses from the right column read as follows (extant words are bolded):

41You shall keep it as a festival to the Lord seven days in the year; you shall keep it in the seventh month as a statute forever throughout your generations. 42 You shall live in booths for seven days; all that are citizens in Israel shall live in booths, 43 so that your generations may know that I made the people of Israel live in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. 44 Thus Moses declared to the people of Israel the appointed festivals of the Lord.

The second column contains a few words from Lev 24:16-18 as follows:

16One who blasphemes the name of the Lord shall be put to death; the whole congregation shall stone the blasphemer. Aliens as well as citizens, when they blaspheme the Name, shall be put to death. 17 Anyone who kills a human being shall be put to death. 18 Anyone who kills an animal shall make restitution for it, life for life.

This reconstruction produces column widths ranging from ca. 20-25 letterspaces and a column height of ca. 30 lines. It appears to follow the Masoretic text with the exception of the plene spelling of בסכת at the end of verse 42 (line 5).

Fragment 2

The second smaller fragment (the colour picture above) contains a number of words from Leviticus 23:38 and 39. More specifically, the fragment can be reconstructed as follows:

Line 1: …]ד כל נדריכ×?[... "apart from all your votive offerings"
Line 2: ...] תנו ליהוה[... "you give to the LORD"
Line 3: ...]שביעי [… “seventh”

The verses read:

38 apart from the sabbaths of the Lord, and apart from your gifts, and apart from all your votive offerings, and apart from all your freewill offerings, which you give to the Lord. 39 Now, the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the produce of the land, you shall keep the festival of the Lord, lasting seven days; a complete rest on the first day, and a complete rest on the eighth day.

The above reconstruction of this fragment yields column widths of ca. 22-27 letterspaces, which is consonant with the first fragment (It is not possible to estimate the column height based on this fragment alone). The extant words in this fragment are identitical with the Masoretic text as represented in BHS.

Final Thoughts
While this scroll does not contain any variant readings in these verses of Leviticus, it does contribute to our understanding of the significance of the MT and the book of Leviticus for second-Temple Judaism. Let’s hope that the Dead Sea area will uncover even more such finds!

In regards to the speculation in the news story whether this scroll is a forgery, I would be quite surprised if it is for a number of reasons. First, it doesn’t look like a fake; the script and the wear on the fragments is consistent with other scrolls from this period (at least as much as can be discerned from the images). So, if it is a fake, it is a good fake! Second, if it is a fake, then, why? Why would someone forge such a small fragment of such a mundane passage of Scripture? I would bet my shekels that the tests will prove its authenticity. Until then, we’ll have to wait and see.

UPDATES: See here for more up-to-date blog entries on the Leviticus scroll fragments.

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