“New research has revealed that four Dead Sea Scroll manuscript fragments housed at The University of Manchester’s John Rylands Library, which were previously thought to be blank, do in fact contain text.”
I know what you’re thinking … it takes a heck of a salesperson (and a pretty gullible buyer) to pitch blank fragments of leather that the salesperson claims are pieces of the Dead Sea Scrolls and close the deal. At some point in their life outside of the Qumran caves in the Judaean Desert of the West Bank, where they were found in the late 1940s, that probably happened, but The University of Manchester’s John Rylands Library is innocent of those charges.
John Rylands Library received the fragments in 1997 from the University of Leeds, which received them in the 1950s as a donation from the Jordanian government to study their physical and chemical composition. Since they were blank and believed to be worthless, they were perfectly suitable for destructive analysis. That is, until recently when they landed in the hands of Professor Joan Taylor of King’s College London.
“Looking at one of the fragments with a magnifying glass, I thought I saw a small, faded letter – a lamed, the Hebrew letter ‘L’. Frankly, since all these fragments were supposed to be blank and had even been cut into for leather studies, I also thought I might be imagining things. But then it seemed maybe other fragments could have very faded letters too.”
After probably making sure she wouldn’t get blamed for the cuts, Professor Taylor joined Professor Marcello Fidanzio, Faculty of Theology of Lugano, and Dr Dennis Mizzi from the University of Malta in a new project. They performed multispectral imaging on both sides of any fragments larger than 1 cm and found four with “readable Hebrew/Aramaic text written in carbon-based ink.” One in particular had a lot. (Press release and photographs here.)
“The most substantial fragment has the remains of four lines of text with 15-16 letters, most of which are only partially preserved, but the word Shabbat (Sabbath) can be clearly read. This text may be related to the biblical book of Ezekiel (46:1-3).”
For those not up on their Hebrew Bible, that passage begins with “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: The gate of the inner court facing east is to be shut on the six working days, but on the Sabbath day and on the day of the New Moon it is to be opened.”
As expected, all destructive experiments on these formerly blank Dead Sea Scroll pieces has been cancelled and University of Manchester Library director Professor Christopher Pressler has switched to bragging.
“Our University is now the only institution in the United Kingdom to hold authenticated textual fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls. It is particularly fitting that these fragments are held here at The John Rylands Library, one of the world’s greatest repositories of Judaeo-Christian texts.”
In these days of budget cuts and coronavirus lockdowns forcing colleges to become more creative in recruiting, can you blame him for making it more attractive to students of archeology and bible studies? It’s also a warning to current and future Dead Sea Scrolls researchers. In 2018, another group of seemingly blank pieces were also found to contain ‘invisible’ lettering.
Is anyone interested in a “blank” piece of Noah’s blueprint for the ark?