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Interview with Hanan Eshel about the Leviticus Fragments

20th July 2005

I had the absolute privilege of interviewing Professor Hanan Eshel earlier today for an article I am writing for a Canadian national newspaper (ChristianWeek). While I will blog a fuller summary in the near future once I go through the interview again (and will probably blog a transcript of the entire interview once the story is published), I wanted to note some highlights so as to clarify some misperceptions and perhaps correct some of the speculation surrounding this amazing discovery:

  1. Number of Fragments. There were actually four fragments discovered. One fragment is virtually unreadable, and while a couple letters on it can be deciphered, it is unlikely it will ever be identified. The second is the small fragment containing Leviticus 23:38-39 (a colour picture of it was released). The third and fourth fragments have been joined to make the larger fragment containing Leviticus 23:41-44 and 24:16-18 (a black and white picture of it was released). The three identified fragments clearly belong to the same manuscript that likely contained the entire Pentateuch/Torah.
  2. Date & Provenance. While Eshel did not discover the scroll fragments in situ, he did have the opportunity to thoroughly examine the cave in Nahal Arugot where they were discovered. During his examination of the cave they found further evidence associating the cave with the Bar Kokhba revolt. This fact and the clearly post-Herodian Jewish script suggest an early second-century CE date.
  3. Forgeries? While Carbon-14 tests have not yet been done on the fragments, based on his own physical inspection and other factors, Eshel is 110% certain they are not forgeries.
  4. Should He Have Done it? The issue has been raised by some whether or not Eshel should have purchased the fragments from the Bedouin in the first place, as this may encourage further exploration and looting. While he wondered whether or not he should have contacted the Antiquities Authority and left it at that, he does not know what they would have done with the information. “Even if I am doing mistakes, I am doing what I can, and I think I acted in the right way.” In regards to encouraging looting, he commented “What can I say? … I will do everything I can to stop the looting of caves in the Judaean desert.” His primary motivation was the preservation of the fragments — and in this I do not think he can be faulted.

I will keep you up-to-date in regards to my article and stay tuned for a fuller summary of my interview (and possibly even a full transcript).

As an aside, my reconstruction of the fragments appears to be correct, though I will have to modify a few comments here and there with the new information I have from the interview (Note that my reconstruction has been updated).

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