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Archive for the 'Leviticus Scroll' Category

Investigation Surrounding the Purchase of Leviticus Scroll

1st November 2005

The scroll fragments of the book of Leviticus that came to light in July 2005 (see my coverage and analysis of the scroll fragments here), are in the news again, as noted by Jim West at Biblical Theology blog here and here.

On the biblical studies email list Yitzhak Sapir directed our attention to three news articles about a police investigation on the illegal sale of an ancient scroll. The news story in the Jerusalem Post is short and sweet:

Jerusalem police were investigating suspicions that an academic man and his aide were involved in the illegal sale of an ancient scroll worth around $1 million.

According to the allegations, the two purchased the scroll from Bedouins for $3,000.

They were accused of illegal dealing in antiquities, failure to report the find to the proper authorities, and illegal excavations.

Joseph I. Lauer followed up on Sapir’s post with a link to a fuller story in Ha’aretz in Hebrew that identifies Hanan Eshel as the academic involved in the investigation concerning the Leviticus scroll fragment.

UPDATE: Yitzhak Sapir on the ANE list has provided a brief English summary of another fuller article in Hebrew on ynet:

  • The three bedouins, were also interrogated and are under arrest by the IDF/Police. One admitted to selling the scroll to Eshel.
  • Eshel claimed in the interrogation that: he feared the IAA “will steal his credit,” and that the assessment and study of the scroll will take time. He claimed he was not aware of the law requiring him to notify the IAA of the artifact’s existence within two weeks. It’s this claim Noqed was replying to, although the claim itself is not reported in the Haaretz/Walla article.
  • Some other prominent people at Bar Ilan University were interrogated.
  • The man whom Eshel claimed provided the money was also interrogated.
  • Bar Ilan stands behind Eshel in a released statement that states that Eshel goals are prevention of antiquities theft and even destruction.

UPDATE 2: A longer English version of the article has been published on
Hebrew language versions of the shorter article are available on ynet and here.

Dead Sea Scrolls, Emergent, Hanan Eshel, Leviticus, Leviticus Scroll, News | Comments Off

Leviticus Scroll Story Picked Up by

2nd September 2005

In a previous post, I mentioned that my story on the Leviticus Scroll fragments may be picked up by Well it has; the story is here.

Dead Sea Scrolls, Hanan Eshel, Leviticus, Leviticus Scroll, News | Comments Off

Leviticus Scroll Fragment Article Now Online

24th August 2005

My ChristianWeek article on the Leviticus Scroll fragments is available online here (I have also heard it will be picked up by

In addition, I have brought together my posts and pictures of the fragments — including some new hi-resolution pictures –at my Resources Relating to the Dead Sea Scrolls pages.

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New Story on the Leviticus Scroll Fragments Published

19th August 2005

My story on the recently discovered scroll fragments of the Book of Leviticus has appeared in the print edition ChristianWeek. It actually made the front page. Now that the article is published I will blog a full account of my interview with Hanan Eshel in the near future.

Here is the ChristianWeek article (I have cropped and edited it so only my article appears on the page):

(click for a larger image)

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UPDATE: Qumran Fragments on the Market?

1st August 2005

Ed Cook at Ralph the Sacred River has posted a clarification of the quotes and information attributed to him in the story in Dutch newspaper het Parool. His response may be found here; my original blog entry is here. It appears clear that Ed was misrepresented by the story.

In regards to the Leviticus scroll fragments, Ed argues that the fragments ultimately have to be considered unprovenanced since they were not found in situ and no other related fragments were discovered in the alleged cave when Hanan Eshel was able to examine it. While I see his point (and I suspect we’ll never know for sure), I wonder what other Dead Sea Scrolls we would have to declare unprovenanced if held to the same standards?

Posted in Dead Sea Scrolls, Leviticus, Leviticus Scroll, News | Comments Off

Qumran Fragments on the Market? Discovery and Provenance of the Leviticus Fragments

30th July 2005

Stephen Goranson brought my attention (via the Biblical Studies email list) to the following story by Henk Schutten: “Dead Sea Scrolls in the Trade.” The story was published in Dutch newspaper het Parool (An English Translation is available here). The article discusses four Dead Sea Scroll fragments which were offered for sale by a dealer at the 2003 Maastricht Art Fair, Tefaf. These scrolls were linked to the Kando family. What I found surprising is the linking of these scrolls that were sold on the black market and the recent recovery of the fragments of a Leviticus Scroll (see a list of my blog entries on this subject here). Here is the relevant excerpt:

In March last year, it was revealed that the Kando family had further new fragments from the book of Henoch, a Qumran-manuscript about Judgement Day. The husband and wife team, Esther and Hanan Eshel, announced the discovery of the Henoch fragments last year, as well as last month a further revelation. They had managed to get hold of two Hebrew fragments from the Book of Leviticus, which had just been discovered by Bedouins in a cave in Nahal Arougot, in the desert of Judea. The story goes that Hanan Eshel, as an ancient historian at the University of Bar Ilan, had been approached to assess the authenticity of the parchments, but instead bought them for $3,000, because he was afraid that the find – so he says – would be smuggled out of the country.So many discoveries in so short a period, in an area that has been so exhaustively explored by archaeologists – it cannot be a coincidence – that it is the word among the researchers in the field. The American philologist Edward Cook, a renowned international translator of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and author of ‘Solving the mysteries of the Dead Sea Scrolls’, states that the involvement of the Kando family is a virtual certainty in the new finds. He adds, “More than likely that the Kando family have had the scrolls or fragments for a long time”. “It is known that in the 50s many Bedouins first offered their finds to Kando. There is no guarantee whatsoever that Kando did not keep part of the material for himself. Everything indicates that the family are trying to market the fragments” (Emphasis added).

I guess my question is whether there is any evidence whatsoever that links the Leviticus fragments to the Kando family? From my interview with Hanan Eshel (20 July 2005), it seems unlikely that the Leviticus scroll fragments have anything to do with the Kando family.

The Discovery and Provenance of the Leviticus Fragments

Here is the story of how the Leviticus fragments were discovered and came into the possession of Hanan Eshel based on my interview with him.

The story begins in 2000 when Hanan Eshel was teaching a seminar on the Bar Kokhba revolt. In one of his lectures he was talking about the refuge caves — the places Jews had fled in 135 CE when the Roman army captured Judea and Jews were trying to find shelter — and he pointed out that there were 27 known refuge caves. In the middle of the lecture he noted that it was odd that numerous caves were discovered in the area that was in Israeli hands, but in the area that was in Jordanian hands there was only one place in Waddi Murrrabat identified.

Some of the students in this class decided to survey the area that used to be in Jordanian hands. The survey started in 2001. A total of 350 caves were surveyed with metal detectors. From this five caves were discovered that were used for refuge. Early on in this survey, the survey team’s jeep was broken into and all the equipment was stolen. At that point they decided to hire some Bedouins to look after the vehicle when they were going down the cliffs.

Then later, one day in 2004, one of the Bedouins who had been hired on occasion to look after the vehicle called and said that some Bedouins had found fragments of a scroll and that he wanted to show them to Eshel in order to get an estimation of their worth.

The rest of the story is well-known by now. Hanan Eshel examined the fragments at an abandoned Jordanian police station the night of 23 August 2004 (here is a picture taken that evening), but then had to leave to teach in the United States. While the Bedouin said he had been offered $20,000 for the scroll on the black market, that sale never materialized. When Hanan got back to Israel and discovered that the fragments were still around and that they were being further damaged by the Bedouin, only then did he purchase them for $3000 USD on behalf Bar Ilan University and turn them over to the Antiquities Authority.

What may not be well-known is that after securing the Leviticus fragments, Hanan was taken to the cave where the fragments were purportedly found. From a controlled examination of the cave, Hanan found evidence that the cave had been looted by Bedouin in August of 2004 (e.g., metal poles that they walked into the cave on were still in the walls [I believe], newspapers dated to August 2004 were found in the cave, etc.). He also found pottery and textiles consistent with others from the Bar Kokhba period in the cave. Interestingly, right from the very beginning the Bedouin described the fragments as being from the Bar Kokhba period. This was because, as Eshel later discovered, the Bedouin had found Bar Kokhba coins in the cave where the scroll was found. While Eshel did not find the fragments in situ, I think that it is pretty clear that the proper cave was identified.

Perhaps this whole story is a ruse by the Bedouin to sell fragments of a scroll from the Kando family’s hidden stash of scrolls (which may very likely exist). Perhaps they climbed the cliffs in the Judaean desert to create a fake cave to show Eshel. I personally think that is all highly doubtful.

Hopefully now that more of the story of the Leviticus scroll’s origin is known, it will dispel some of the speculation.

Posted in Dead Sea Scrolls, Hanan Eshel, Leviticus, Leviticus Scroll, News | 1 Comment »

New Picture of Leviticus Scroll Fragments

29th July 2005

As promised, below is a new — previously unpublished — picture of the recently discovered scroll fragments of the book of Leviticus. This picture was taken by Hanan Eshel on the night of 23 August 2004 at the abandoned Jordanian police station where he first met the Bedouin wanting an estimate of the fragments’ worth.

The Leviticus scroll fragmentsClick for Larger Image

The four fragments are clearly discernible in the picture:

  • Top left: The small fragment containing portions of Leviticus 23:38 and 39.
  • Top right: The decomposed fragment; even with infrared photographs this fragment was indecipherable save for a few scattered letters.
  • Bottom: The two pieces which had already been joined together. The fragment on the right contains Leviticus 23:40-44, while the left fragment contains remnants of Leviticus 24:16-18.

My story on the discovery of the scroll will appear in ChristianWeek next week; after that I will post a more complete accounting of my 20 July 2005 interview with Hanan Eshel.

See here for additional posts on the Leviticus Scroll.

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New Picture of Leviticus Fragments Coming Soon!

28th July 2005

Quick Note: I have a new picture of the Leviticus scroll fragments when they were first seen by Hanan Eshel in August 2004. I will post it as soon as possible.

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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

Decifran tres pergaminos encontrados en el desierto de Judea

Martes 26 de Julio de 2005

Tel Aviv, Israel, (El Pais / 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 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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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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