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Archive for the 'Hanan Eshel' Category

Leviticus Scroll Image Comparison Before and After Removal

11th May 2007

The missing image referred to in my previous post was linked to in the Hebrew version of the same article.

Here is a side-by-side comparison of the scroll before (right) and after (left) the part was cut out:


It appears a fairly large portion of the fragment was removed: 1 cm wide at the top and about 2 cm long. Note that no letters were removed. If this image is authentic, then the amount removed was larger than the “two small parts, one-half centimeter each” that Amir Ganor, director of the unit for the prevention of theft in the Antiquities Authority, reported.

Posted in Dead Sea Scrolls, Hanan Eshel, Leviticus, Leviticus Scroll, Scholars | Comments Off

Leviticus Scroll Fragments in the News Again

11th May 2007

The Leviticus scroll discovered (or should I say recovered) by Israeli Archaeologist Hanan Eshel is back in the news. According to an article in Ha’aretz, Eshel is claiming that the Israeli Antiquities Authority is performing unnecessarily obtrusive tests on the fragments in order to determine their authenticity.

Here is the news item, “Archaeologist: Antiquities Authority destroying Leviticus scroll,” by Yair Sheleg:

Professor Hanan Eshel, the archaeologist who two years ago uncovered scroll fragments of the Book of Leviticus, says the Israel Antiquities Authority, which now has the finds, has cut out large chunks of the scroll on the pretext that its dating needed to be examined.

This was not a necessary procedure, says Eshel, since “experts say it was possible to test the dating without an intrusive examination and in the worst case scenario by cutting a tiny, peripheral portion of the scroll.”

Relying on internal sources in the Antiquities Authority, Eshel says “there had even been plans to cut letters from the scroll but the employees that were asked to do so refused.”

Eshel ties the behavior of the Authority to a dispute that emerged between him and officials there and “their desire to prove that the scroll is a forgery.”

Amir Ganor, director of the unit for the prevention of theft in the Antiquities Authority, said in response that “in order to carry out the examination we could not avoid making certain cuts in the scroll itself. This is acceptable in every examination of this sort. We cut only two small parts, one-half centimeter each, from the end of the scroll. At no stage was there any thought of cutting letters, only to scrape off some ink in order to examine it. The minute it became clear to us that we could not have unequivocal results from such an examination, we did not do it.”

However, the photographs published here [where? there was no link or no pictures!] suggest the scroll cuts are significantly more extensive than what Ganor acknowledges and encompass nearly all the part of the scroll that has no writing on it.

Ganor said examinations of the scroll have undermined Eshel’s claim that the finding is authentic.

“I can not give any details because the topic is part of an ongoing investigation of this matter, but the examinations show that different portions of the scroll were written in different periods, which is a blow to the claim that the scroll is homogeneous.”

Eshel, on the other hand, is eager to offer more information on the subject. He says: “The information that I have is that the examination that was carried out at the Weizmann Institute did indeed show that the two portions that were sent for examination belong to different periods – one about 2,000 years ago, and the other about 1,200 years ago. On the other hand, another examination carried out at Oxford [University] attributed both to a period 2,000 years ago.”

Eshel says the Weizmann test results were flawed because of “the use of cleaning and preservation materials. I am not an expert on such exams, but the experts told me that such treatment may certainly result in a flawed examination. In any case, the writing on both segments clearly belongs to the Second Temple period and definitely does not conform to the Mameluk period, which is what the Weizmann Institute examination points to. Moreover, during the search in the cave where we found the scroll, we uncovered other archaeological finds for the period of the Bar-Kokhba revolt, proving the dating.”

I had covered the discovery of the Leviticus scrolls quite extensively a couple years back, so I have an interest in this story. You can see all of my previous posts here, including a step-by-step reconstructions of the fragments. Here is a picture of the fragments shortly after they were recovered:

I would think that if tests could be done on the manuscript without destroying large parts of it, then the IAA would do so.

I wish the news article contained the image that showed how much of the manuscript was cut.

(HT Dr. Claude Mariottini)

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

A Step-by-Step Reconstruction of the New Leviticus Fragments (Best of Codex)

18th November 2006

[Originally Posted 18th July 2005]

Tim Bulkeley over at SansBlog asked me to expand my analysis of the newly-discovered fragments of Leviticus by describing a bit of the processes involved in identifying and reconstructing the fragments. I thought that I would entertain his request, though I should note up front that I am by no means an expert in this! My interest in the reconstruction of Dead Sea Scroll fragments is a tangent of my work on the so-called Qumran Psalms scrolls for my dissertation that combines my interest in computer technology and really old stuff!

At any rate, I thought I would outline some of the steps in identifying, reconstructing, and analyzing scroll fragments using the Leviticus fragments by way of illustration. (Since I am not an expert at this, I would love to get feedback from those who are!)

STEP 1: Identification

The first (obvious) step in reconstructing a fragment is figuring out what it is a fragment from! This is done by identifying some of the extant letters and words on the fragment and then performing some searches with various computer software to see if you can locate the text.

Image Adjustment
Before you can identify some of the letters it may be necessary to make some adjustments to the image to bring the letters into sharper relief or even to make the fragment readable in the first place! Note that I am dealing with working with images and not the actual original fragments. This is preferable in most cases as the originals may not be readable and (more significantly) they are likely not accessible! High resolution images may be obtained from various sources, including the Ancient Biblical Manuscript Center at Claremont.

I prefer to do my work on the images with Adobe Photoshop. Within Photoshop you can adjust the input and output levels (using the histogram feature), brightness/contrast, among other things to make the text more readable. While the low resolution images of the Leviticus fragments I tracked down on the web are pretty clear, they can be made even clearer by adjusting them slightly:

The adjusted image is a bit easier to read. At times the difference may be dramatic. Compare the two images of PAM 42.141 where the text becomes readable only by adjusting the original image:

Identifying the Text
Once you can read the fragment — or at least some of the fragment — then you can start the process of identification. This is a bit easier for biblical fragments since there are a number of excellent databases of the Hebrew Bible to begin the identification process. I prefer to use Accordance Bible Software for my searches, though Logos Bible Software and BibleWorks, among others, are more than adequate (see my Software for Biblical Studies Pages for descriptions of these and other biblical studies software programs).

With the small Leviticus fragment I did a search for כל נדרי×? “all your votive offerings” which is easily readable in the first line of the fragment. This search discovers that Lev 23:38 is the only occurrence of this phrase in the Hebrew Bible (I also searched a Qumran database with no matches). At that point the rest of the readable words can be checked in the context to see if you have found a match. In the case of the small Leviticus fragment, the other readable words from it easily fit the context of Lev 23:38-39. The same was the case for the larger Leviticus fragment (it is actually two fragments that have been joined), since there were quite a few readable words to make a certain identification with Lev 23:40-44; 24:16-18. You often don’t have as much to work with, however! In my work on 1Q12 (1QPsc) I identified a fragment 8 based on two readable letters and portions of another letter (see my Proposed Reconstruction).

STEP 2: Reconstruction

Once you have the text identified, the next step is to reconstruct it so that you may confirm your identification and ascertain other things about the fragment such as its original size. In order to do this I use Microsoft Word and/or Photoshop (I have also used Quark XPress for this step) to see how the text lines up with the fragment. So, for example, with the smaller Leviticus fragment I imported Hebrew text of Lev 23:38-39 (without pointing) into Word and then adjusted the right-hand margin until the text lined up in accordance with the fragment. In the case of the smaller fragment, the text lined up quite nicely, producing lines of ca. 22-28 letterspaces:

My reconstruction shows the extant Leviticus 23:38 and 39 in bold black type with an outline of the fragment placement. The space at the top of the fragment preserves part of the top margin of the scroll (the dark spot near the top of the fragment is likely an ink dot or a blemish on the leather).

Here is a translation with the extant words in bold:

38 …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.

For the larger fragment, it was a bit more complicated since I was dealing with two columns. But once again, the text lined up very nicely producing lines of ca. 22-28 letterspaces for the right column and 20-25 for the left column, and a column height of ca. 33 lines.

Here is an image of the large fragment:

Here is my reconstruction of the columns:

My reconstruction shows the extant Leviticus 23:40-44 (middle of the right column) and 24:16-18 (left column) in bold black type with an outline of the fragment placement. Note that the smaller fragment also nicely fits at the top of the right column.

The one variant from the MT (as represented by BHS) is the plene spelling of בסכת at the end of verse 42 (the vav is in red). (click for larger image)

Here is a translation with the extant words in bold:

38 …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.

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.

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.

N.B. For a detailed reconstruction, you would have to do much more than just count letters. You would need to consider the widths of different letters in the scroll’s script. For example, even on these fragments it is clear that the ×™ yods and ו vavs take much less space than the ש sins and ב bets. For more detail on calculating letter widths and scroll reconstruction in general, see Edward D. Herbert, Reconstructing Biblical Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Method Applied to the Reconstruction of 4QSama (Brill, 1997; Buy from Amazon.caBuy from You would also need to check to see if these verses are extant in any other scrolls from Qumran; in this case you would want to double check your text with 4QLevb (as it turns out these particular words are not found in 1QLevb).

STEP 3: Description

The third step is to describe your findings and if you were working with the original fragments, you would also provide a physical description. In this case, if the reconstruction is correct, the larger fragment would have been part of a scroll that was quite large. Based on this height and the number of lines per column, the scroll itself would have been on the large size for scrolls found at Qumran and likely contained the complete book of Leviticus, if not the entire Torah/Pentateuch (see Emanuel Tov, “Scribal Practices and the Physical Aspects of the Dead Sea Scrolls” in The Bible as Book: The Manuscript Tradition [John L. Sharpe and Kimberly Van Kampen, eds.; 1998] 9-33; Buy from Amazon.caBuy from

The nature and type of the leather would also have to be ascertained. While one news report identified the material as “deer hide,” most other authentic scrolls were made from the skins of sheep and goats. While the fragments were not tested, Eshel himself was pretty sure that they were either goat or sheep skin.

An examination of the paleography (the style of writing) is consistent with post-Herodian scripts (end of the first century C.E.), including other scrolls from the Bar Kokhba era, such as the Psalms scroll from the Cave of Letters.

The fragments do not give us much in terms of variant readings. The fragments follow the Masoretic text with one exception: at the end of v. 42 the larger fragment has בסכות instead of בסכת, both “booths” (indicated in red type on the larger reconstruction). This is a minor spelling difference, much like the difference between the Canadian spelling of “honour” and the American “honor.” (The fact that the Samaritan Pentateuch also reads בסכות is inconsenquential as it consistently uses the plene spelling throughout).


Reconstructing scrolls with biblical studies software and imaging programs takes a considerable amount of work. I personally find the work interesting (even fascinating), which explains why I bothered to write up this analysis! What I find amazing is how the first generation of scroll scholars did so much ground-breaking work without this technology!

In regards to the two Leviticus fragments, my hunch is that they are authentic. If not, then my hat goes off to the person or persons who produced such fine forgeries!

Posted in Best of Codex, Dead Sea Scrolls, Hanan Eshel, Leviticus Scroll | 2 Comments »

BAR Article on Hanan Eshel

28th July 2006

Dead Sea Scrolls scholar Hanan Eshel is back in the news — well kind of. There is an online article about Hanan Eshel on the Biblical Archaeology Society Webstie that deals with some of the controversy surrounding his purchase of some fragments of a Leviticus Scroll.

Here are some excerpts from the article:

At the behest of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), a leading Dead Sea Scroll scholar was arrested last year for purchasing four Dead Sea Scroll fragments from Bedouin who claimed to have found them in the Judean Desert. Hanan Eshel of Bar-Ilan University in Israel promptly published the fragments (of the Biblical book of Leviticus) and donated them to the state (the purchase funds had been provided by his university).In an ad in the leading Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, 59 prominent scholars from around the world protested his arrest, calling the IAA’s action a “vengeful” act. The ad had no effect, however. The case is still under investigation by the police.

Bar-Ilan president Moshe Kaveh called the IAA action a “scandal.” The university stands “fully behind” Eshel.

So why was Hanan Eshel arrested?

Many believe that Eshel is, in the IAA’s view, on the wrong side of an issue that has divided the profession: Should unprovenanced materials, which are often looted, be studied and published by scholars?

One clear consequence of Hanan Eshel’s arrest: No new Dead Sea Scroll fragments will turn up in Israel again, thanks to the IAA. The looters, the smugglers, the underground dealers know that they cannot now find a buyer among or through Israeli scholars. Like Eshel, anyone who makes a purchase will be arrested. Much easier and safer simply to spirit any scrolls out of the country.

Although not widely known, numerous Dead Sea Scroll fragments are in private collections all over the world. The Eshels detect a “trend among collectors and antiquity dealers (perhaps due to economic factors) to share privately held fragments with the scholarly world.” In the opinion of the Eshels, “Qumran scholars should be encouraged to make an effort to publish these fragments, which provide a more complete picture of the Qumran corpus.”

Encouraging the publication of unprovenanced finds—that may well be Hanan Eshel’s real crime.

While I am against looting (what scholar would not be against it?), I tend to side with Eshel and the author of this article on this issue. I think it is far better to publish these finds even if we can’t be sure of their provenance. In addition, (as the full article notes) sometimes by studying these artefacts their provenance can be determined with some certainty.

I have posted quite a bit on the Leviticus Scroll fragments and their discovery, including a step-by-step reconstruction of the scroll and an interview with Hanan Eshel. All of my posts on this subject may be found here. 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.

(HT to Jim West)

Posted in Archaeology, Dead Sea Scrolls, Hanan Eshel, Leviticus, Leviticus Scroll, Manuscript, News | Comments Off

English Abstract of Eshel’s Article on Leviticus Fragments

15th December 2005

In a previous post I mentioned the publication of an article by Hanan Eshel on the recently recovered Leviticus scroll fragments in volume three of Meghillot: Studies in the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Here is the published English abstract of Eshel’s article:

Fragments of a Biblical Scroll from the Judean Desert

Hanan Eshel, Yosi Barschi, and Roi Porat
In August 2004 Bedouin discovered a number of small biblical fragments — at least four — in a cave in the Judean desert. These fragments, which measured 3.5 cm2, contained verses from Leviticus 23-24. The uncleaned fragments were photographed, first by Roi Porat and Hanan Eshel, and later by Roi Parat and Yosi Baruchi. Recently, these fragments were purchased by the Jeselsohn Epigraphic Center for Jewish History, Bar-Ilan University, and presented to the Israel Antiquities Authority. They were discovered in a small cave an the southern slope, east of the big waterfall (N.T. 1826/09708).

These fragments should be identified as additional fragments of a biblical scroll from the time of the Bar Kokhba revolt. The text of the verses found in the fragments is identical to the MT, with one exception: the word בסכות appears in fragments b and c (Col 1, line 4) with a waw, whereas in the MT (Lev. 23:42) it is written defectively. The ability to complete the lines according to the MT is further evidence of these fragments’ affinity to the MT. Based as they are on partial data and on photographs made under very poor field conditions and before the fragments had been cleaned, our conclusions remain preliminary.

The table of contents and English abstracts of all three volumes are available online at, while the table of contents of all issues (in Modern Hebrew) may be found at Thanks to Devorah Dimant (the journal’s general editor) for the heads up via the Megillot email list.

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

Publication of Hanan Eshel’s Reconstruction of Leviticus Fragments

12th December 2005

A quick note to mention that Hanan Eshel’s article on the Leviticus Fragments has been published in the third volume of Meghillot: Studies in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Here is the full bibliographic information:

Hanan Eshel, “שרידי מגילת מקר×? חדשה ממדבר יהודה.” Pages 259-260 in מגילות- מחקרי×? במגילות מדבר יהודה ×’ [Meghillot: Studies in the Dead Sea Scrolls 3]; Moshe Bar-Asher and Devorah Dimant, eds. Jerusalem: Haifa University and Bialik Institute, 2005.

I haven’t had a chance to look at the article yet; so stay tuned for a summary at a later date. Thanks to Shai Heijmans for the heads up.

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

Eshel Arrest Looming?

8th December 2005

According to a news report from Haaretz (via Biblical Theology), the Israeli police have provided evidence to the Israeli State Prosecutor’s Office to indict archaeologist Professor Hanan Eshel on three criminal counts: bringing an antiquity into Israel illegally, trafficking in stolen property, and not reporting the discovery of an antiquity as required by law.

Hanan’s problems started when he recovered of some fragments of a Leviticus scroll (dated to the Bar Kokhba period) from some Bedouin earlier last summer (see here for more on the scroll; and see here, here and here for coverage into the subsequent investigation into his involvement the purchase).

This recent news is just the tip of the iceberg for the deteriorating relationship between the Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA) and prominant archaeologists in Israel, as can be seen from this excerpt:

Controversy regarding the investigation of how a fragment of scroll from the Bar Kokhba period came into Eshel’s possession — which he eventually turned over to the Israel Antiquities Authority — has led to an unprecedented flap between Bar Ilan and the IAA over the past few days.The heads of all university archaeology departments have been summoned to an urgent meeting today with IAA director Shuka Dorfman, following Bar Ilan’s decision to postpone indefinitely its upcoming annual archaeological conference in protest against the IAA’s police complaint against Eshel. Dorfman wants to ask another university to host the prestigious conference, at which several IAA archaeologists were scheduled to speak.

There are “problematic aspects in the behavior of both sides,” Professor Itzhak Gilad, head of the archaeology department at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev who was on the roster of speakers, told Haaretz yesterday.

“Dorfman cannot be allowed to treat a senior scholar who did everything he could to save a rare antiquity as if he were a common criminal,” sources at Bar Ilan told Haaretz. “There is no reason to cooperate with the IAA in holding scientific conferences when at the same time the IAA is attacking our scholar, who has done nothing wrong,” the sources added.


Eshel claims that Porat informed the IAA of the discovery, but the latter did not seek to obtain it. Eshel says that when he returned from the U.S, he met again with the dealer, and noticed the fragment had deteriorated severely. He purchased it for a few thousand shekels, financed by the research institute at Bar Ilan where he is employed, and that he then transferred the document to a laboratory in an effort to preserve it.

In February 2005, Eshel transferred the fragment to the IAA without remuneration. The IAA claims that Eshel should have reported the find to them within 15 days and immediately turn it over to them. Bar Ilan has declared its unqualified support for Eshel in the matter.

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

The Protest against Dr. Hanan Eshel’s Treatment Continues

7th December 2005

Haaretz has reported that Bar-Ilan University — the university where Dr. Hanan Eshel teaches — has indefinitely postponed its annual archaeology conference as a protest against a police complaint lodged by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) against Eshel. This continues the saga of the Leviticus Scrolls that Eshel recovered from bedouin early last summer (for more on the scrolls and their discovery see here).

Here are some excerpts from the Haaretz article:

The IAA submitted the complaint after Eshel allegedly failed to turn over a rare artifact in his possession. According to the IAA, an indictment is to be issued shortly against the archaeologist.

The Archaeological Council, Israel’s senior professional body of archaeologists, which advises the IAA, objected to the authority’s move. It said disciplinary procedures might have been opened against Eshel before a police complaint was lodged. Dozens of archaeologists signed a petition recently condemning the IAA action.

The rector of Bar-Ilan University, Prof. Yosef Yeshurun, announced the postponement of the conference, which focuses on new research in the study of Jerusalem and is considered the most prominent scientific conference in the field. The IAA, many of whose staff were to have lectured at the conference, said it was shocked at Bar-Ilan’s decision. “The IAA views gravely any attempt to interfere in its considerations and to influence procedures that are being implemented in accordance with the law,” an IAA spokeswoman said.

Bar-Ilan called its move “delicate and minimal” in light of “the harm the IAA has done to academe in Israel by treating a senior scholar like a common criminal.”

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

Minor Clarification regarding Hanan Eshel

2nd December 2005

I have covered much of the news surrounding Hanan Eshel’s recovery of some scroll fragments of the book of Leviticus (see here) as well as the subsequent investigation into his involvement the purchase (see here and here).

I wanted to clarify that no charges were ever laid against Hanan Eshel, although some news reports suggested otherwise. The reason why Hanan was not able to make it to SBL had nothing to do with the controversy. Hanan had his passport back and a visa was arranged for SBL, though there were some irregularities with his passport and he was advised against traveling.

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

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