Qumran Cave 12

Working under the auspices of Operation Scroll, archaeologists have discovered what is being numbered as the twelfth scroll cave in the vicinity of Khirbet Qumran.

New Qumran cave location
New Qumran cave location. Photo credit: Randall Pierce, via theLAB
Entrance to Qumran Cave 12
Fault cliff and cave 12 entrance on the left. Photo credit: Casey L. Olson and Oren Gutfeld, via Haaretz

Work in the new cave has produced no new texts, but both linen (characteristic of scroll wrappers found elsewhere) and blank parchment fragments suggest that texts probably were stored in the cave at some point. Since no [scroll-type] texts were found in this cave, as with cave 8, the new cave’s designation will likely be Q12 rather than 12Q. [Updated 15 February 2017. For explanation of this correction, please see Qumran Cave 12: Update 2.]

Remnant of scroll found in Cave 12. Photo credit: Casey L. Olson and Oren Gutfeld, via Haaretz
Blank, rolled parchment remnant found in Cave 12. Photo credit: Casey L. Olson and Oren Gutfeld, via Haaretz

At this point, the total contents of the cave seem to be:

  • Two mid-twentieth-century pickax heads (presumably from previous looters of the cave)
  • Remains of six jars of the same type as those containing scrolls in other caves
  • Linen fragments
  • Papyrus and parchment fragments
  • Connecting fragments
  • A leather strap and string consistent with those used with scrolls
  • Arrowheads and knives
  • A carnelian stamp seal

This new cave find and its contents are definitely interesting. But, for texts that have reached the market through Bedouins, the discovery—and apparent prior looting of the new cave—also opens new questions about the accuracy of standing assessments of the caves in which these texts were found.

At least one of the team that has excavated this twelfth cave, Randall Price, professor and museum curator at Liberty University, thinks he has a lead on a thirteenth cave with a currently-obscured entrance. Whether that lead will pan out is yet to be seen, but a twelfth cave’s discovery is certainly exciting in itself.

For further discussion and original reports digested here, see Craig Evans (Twitter, theLAB), Dan Wallace, Haaretz, Hebrew University of Jerusalemi24newsJerusalem Post, and Jim Davila. For well-put humor, see Ian N. Mills.

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