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Conflation and Confusion in Report on Leviticus Scroll Discovery

28th July 2005

A post on the biblical studies email list by Elmer D. Escoto brought my attention to a Spanish news story on the Leviticus scroll discovery that interestingly conflates what I believe is its original English source — with very confusing results.

Here is the Spanish story from Noticia Cristiana.com:

Decifran tres pergaminos encontrados en el desierto de Judea

Martes 26 de Julio de 2005

Tel Aviv, Israel, (El Pais / NoticiaCristiana.com) Tres antiguos rollos —un pergamino y dos de plata—con dos mil años de antigüedad y encontrados en el Desierto de Judea en 1979, contienen versos conocidos del Levítico, libro del Viejo testamento, de acuerdo con el arqueólogo Chanan Eshel, de la Universidad Bar Ilan de Tel Aviv.

El utilizó cámaras electrónicas, sistemas infrarrojos y scanner de alta resolución para leerlos, los rollos de plata son más antiguos que los rollos del Mar Muerto, y eran usados como amuletos, que los convierte en los más antiguos conocidos y el uso más antiguo de fragmentos de la Biblia como protección.

Los fragmentos del Levítico, el tercer libro de la Biblia Hebrea, son atribuidos a la tribu de Levi, de la cual descienden los pueblos israelíes, y contiene regulaciones para sacerdotes y sus seguidores.

El arqueólogo Gabriel Barkay encontró los rollos en una cueva en Ketef Hinnom, cerca de Jerusalén, en 1979, y gracias a la tecnología hoy podemos conocer su contenido.

Los amuletos de plata son más antiguos que los Rollos del Mar Muerto, que contenían 800 documentos y fueron datados alrededor del 200 o 300 años después de Cristo.

De acuerdo con Bruce Zuckerman, líder del proyecto y profesor de Religión en la Universidad del Sur de California, es probable que los sacerdotes hubieran utilizado un sistema de graffiti para enseñar sus oraciones.

“Puede él ser bendecido por Yahweh, el guerrero, y el destructor del mal” es una de las inscripciones en los amuletos, pertenece al Libro de Zacarías y fue usado mucho después en rituales de exorcismo.

Here is the (incomplete) translation by Elmer D. Escoto along with my additions underlined:

Three 2,000-year-old scrolls (one parchment and two silver scrolls) that were found in the Desert of Judea in 1979 have scriptures from the book of Leviticus, says archaeologist Chanan Eshel of Bar-Ilan University in Tel-Aviv.

He used electronic cameras, infrared systems and a high resolution scanner to read them. The silver scrolls are older than the Dead Sea scrolls and were used as amulets, the oldest know ones, and also the oldest use of Biblical texts as protection.

The fragments of Leviticus, the third book of the Hebrew Bible, are attributed to the tribe of Levi, from which the Israeli priests descend, and contains regulations for priests and their followers.

Archaeologist Gabriel Barkai found these scrolls in a cave in Ketef Hinom, not far from Jerusalem in 1979, and thanks to technology we can now know their contents.

The silver amulets are older than the Dead Sea Scrolls which had 800 documents and have been dated from 200 – 300 a.C.

According to Bruce Zuckerman, project leader and teacher of Religion at South California University, it is probable that priests had used a graffiti system to teach their prayers.

One of the inscriptions on the amulets reads “He may be blessed by Yahweh, the Warrior and Destroyer of evil”; it belongs to the book of Zechariah and was later much used in exorcism rituals.

What is interesting is confusion of the discovery (the silver scrolls were discovered in 1979, the Leviticus fragments in 2004 and just announced in July 2005), the jump between the third and fourth paragraphs which leads you to believe Gabriel Barkai found the Leviticus fragments, the dating of the Dead Sea scrolls, and the introduction of Zuckerman as “project leader,” and finally the identification of the quote in the last paragraph to the book of Zechariah.

This is one confusing piece of reporting! It all becomes clear, however, when one examines the source article, which in itself is a bit confusing to begin with!

The original article was written by Jennifer Viegas and appeared in Discovery News on discoverychannel.com. In the original article, Viegas was reporting on the recent discovery of the Leviticus fragments as well as the silver scrolls from Ketef Hinnom. While I am not sure why someone would want to wed these two stories, her story at least keeps the two discoveries separate. Here is her story; the Vorlage of the Spanish story:

Rare Scrolls Reveal Early Biblical Writing

By Jennifer Viegas, Discovery News

July 22, 2005— Three ancient scrolls — one parchment and two silver — recently have been identified as containing some of the world’s earliest known verses from the Hebrew Bible, also known as the Old Testament.

The discovery of two fragments of a 2,000-year-old parchment scroll in the Judean Desert was announced last week by Israeli archaeologist Chanan Eshel of Tel Aviv’s Bar Ilan University.

The fragments contain verses from Leviticus, the third book of the Hebrew Bible, attributed to the tribe of Levi from which Israeli priests are said to be descended. The book consists of regulations for both the priests and their followers.

The two silver scrolls were found by Bar Ilan archaeologist Gabriel Barkay in 1979 in a cave at Ketef Hinnom near Jerusalem. It was only until recently, however, that technology made it possible for scientists to read the scrolls, which date to the 7th century B.C. and likely were worn around the neck as protective amulets.

Project leader Bruce Zuckerman told Discovery News that the scrolls not only are the oldest known Hebrew amulets, but they also are the earliest known artifacts to quote Biblical verses.

“The silver amulets are even older than the Dead Sea Scrolls,” said Zuckerman, who is associate professor of religion at the University of Southern California.

The more than 800 documents that comprise the Dead Sea Scrolls have been dated to about 300-200 B.C., meaning they were created as much as four centuries after the amulets.

Zuckerman and his team utilized electronic cameras, specialized imaging software, and infrared systems from NASA to peer into the etched surfaces of the once-rolled silver scroll amulets.

The scrolls contain only consonants, and one is etched with the Priestly Benediction from Numbers 6:24-26.

It reads, “May the Lord bless you and keep you; may the Lord cause his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; may the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and grant you peace.”

Zuckerman said, “We don’t yet know if the Book of Numbers existed then, or if this verse preceded it.”

He added, “We do, however, know that the same prayer also pops up in early graffiti (wall writings), which at least suggests that it would have been a familiar prayer at the time.”

The other scroll reads, “May he/she be blessed by Yahweh, the warrior/helper, and the rebuker of Evil.”

Zuckerman believes the word “rebuker” is significant, because it echoes language used in earlier Canaanite literature describing the pagan god Baal.

It also appears in the Dead Sea Scrolls’ Book of Zachariah and was used much later in exorcism rituals.

Zuckerman, who is compiling images of early Biblical texts for a USC Web site, thinks that together, the scrolls and other early documents support the theory that the Bible represents a collection of sacred materials gathered over hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of years.

“The precedent established by the editors was not to gather the most clear and consistent materials, but those that were believed to be the most sacred,” he said. “For example, two ideas are given for the origin of the universe. Both are included because to leave one out would have violated the sacredness of the tradition.”

Note that the original story is also confusing on some parts, such as the attribution of the book of Leviticus to the tribe of Levi. The confusion of attributing the second silver scroll’s blessing with the book of Zechariah also becomes clear when you look at the source. It’s the word “rebuke” (‏גער) that links the amulet with Zechariah; not that the blessing is from Zechariah.

Anyhow, this is a great example of conflation and confusion of sources.

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