The chemistry of studying the Dead Sea Scrolls

This Decoded Science article has an interesting treatment of some of the chemical elements of the study of the Dead Sea Scrolls, particularly the Copper Scroll. The article’s conclusion provides the reminder that

Archaeology allows us to look into the past. However, in order for scientists to properly examine and maintain artifacts, it’s necessary to preserve them. In many cases, chemistry makes that possible.

For the full article, see Decoded Science. HT: Jim Davila.

Qumran Cave 12: Update 3

Discussion of the recent Qumran-vicinity cave finds since the previous post tracking the story here includes:

  • Ami Magazine (HT: Lawrence Schiffman): Information about the new cave find with a fuller discussion of matters related to earlier Qumran-vicinity finds. In the cave’s apparently blank parchment fragment, Schiffman also suggests we find evidence for how demonstrably later forgeries could still carbon date to the turn of the eras.
  • Bible History Daily (HT: Craig Evans and Jim Davila):  Discussion of the propriety of designating the new find as “Cave 12,” given that current reports indicate no scrolls have been recovered.
  • Christian Science Monitor (HT: Craig Evans) and Trinity Western University (HT: Craig Evans): Similar information to that found elsewhere.
  • National Geographic (HT: Craig Evans): Reports an estimate from Randall Price of “probably another 50 sites that merit investigating in the near future,” as well as comments like those summarized above from Lawrence Schiffman on how recent forgeries might appear on old material. In a humorous turn, Schiffman “shockingly” dispels hope of “find[ing] the diary of the three wise men” in possible further Judean Desert discoveries.
  • theLAB: Primarily reflections on the significance of previous Dead Sea Scroll finds with a couple comments on the new find similar to those provided elsewhere.

What seems to be shaping up as the key question about the status of this new find’s designation as “Cave 12” is the question “What makes a cave worthy of inclusion inside the numbering?”—actual textual finds tied to the location or simply a strong possibility that ancient texts were once located in the cave? Barring additional news about thus-far undisclosed contents from this cave, the apparently blank parchment showing text under multispectral examination, or known texts’ being re-provenanced to this cave, it seems more in keeping with the criteria applied to derive the existing 11-cave scheme not to include this new cave as a twelfth in that sequence. But, of course, the new find remains quite significant and reopens important questions about possible issues of provenance for texts currently classified as deriving from the standard 11 caves.

For further background and discussion, see Qumran Cave 12, Qumran Cave 12: Update, and Qumran Cave 12: Update 2.

Qumran Cave 12: Update 2

James VanderKam, via University of Notre Dame

In a short interview published by the University of Notre Dame, James VanderKam urges caution about labeling the recent Dead Sea find as “Cave 12.” Comparisons have previously been drawn between the new find and Cave 8, which comes inside the numbering but contained no scrolls.

VanderKam comments,

In 1952, after the earliest scrolls finds, archaeologists made a survey of hundreds of caves and openings in the general vicinity of Khirbet Qumran…. Some 230 of them contained nothing of interest, but 26 housed pottery like that found in the first scrolls cave…. [G]iven the fact that other caves in the district, besides the 11 that held the Dead Sea Scrolls, contained pottery of the same sort as Qumran Cave 1, it seems a bit premature to call [the new find] Qumran Cave 12.

Whether the new find should indeed come inside the numbering of the scrolls caves would apparently depend on how things settle out regarding: (a) material apparently blank on visual inspection but needing to be subjected to multispectral analysis, (b) any contents that can be linked chemically or otherwise to other finds in other caves where texts have been recovered, or (c) other texts previously thought to have come from other caves but that might be demonstrated to have come from the new find.

Incidentally, the point about the comparison with Cave 8 (e.g., Hebrew University of Jerusalem) is the absence of scroll-type texts in what was recovered from that cave. Although not scroll-type texts, five fragmentary texts were recovered from Cave 8 (cf. The Dead Sea Scrolls). On this basis, all caves in the customary 11-fold accounting would share in common the fact that texts were (identified as) recovered from them—something that it can’t yet be said for the new find—rather than simply that texts had likely been stored there at some point.

(N.B.: My earliest post on the new cave find initially commented imprecisely that “no texts were found in [Cave 8].” I’ve now corrected this statement to reflect more properly that “no scroll-type texts were found in [Cave 8].”)

HT: Jim Davila. For the full text of piece containing VanderKam’s reflections, see the Notre Dame website. For previous discussion and further links about the new Qumran find, see Qumran Cave 12Qumran Cave 12: Update, and LogosTalk.

Qumran Cave 12: Update

Since my previous post about Qumran Cave 12, a few other noteworthy articles have cropped up, including on:

Much of what is in these articles about the new find is also in other reports. But, the Times piece confirms that

Experts at the Dead Sea Scroll Laboratories in Jerusalem … plan to carry out multispectral imaging of the [apparently blank parchment fragment] to reveal any ink invisible to the naked eye.

Such plans weren’t entirely clear from what I’d seen thus far, though it would seem to be a logical step for the sake of thoroughness. Kudos to Jim Davila for his correct prior speculation about how to interpret some of the previous and seemingly more ambiguous comments touching these plans.

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.

Sacred Texts and Paradigmatic Revolutions in Paperback

David Stark, "Sacred Texts and Paradigmatic Revolutions"The kind folks at Bloomsbury (the parent company of the T&T Clark imprint) have recently mentioned that a paperback release is forthcoming for my Sacred Texts and Paradigmatic Revolutions: The Hermeneutical Worlds of the Qumran Sectarian Manuscripts and the Letter to the Romans. Slated for this June, the paperback, at a $29.95 list price, will be a fiscally welcome complement to the current hardback ($120.00) and PDF ($27.99) formats. The paperback is already available for pre-order on Amazon, currently at just under the list price.

Qumran Sectarian Manuscripts Update in Logos

After having the product available for over 10 years, Logos Bible Software has released a substantive update to their Qumran Sectarian Manuscripts database (ed. Martin Abegg). Most significant among this update’s improvements are that the resource:

  • Now contains more than 100 scrolls than in the previous version (737 documents are now represented).
  • Several texts in the previous version have been reorganized to reflect the latest scholarship on their reconstruction.
  • The database’s morphology has been updated to WHM 4.18.

For more information, please see the Logos blog.