The image on the left shows one of the Dead Sea Scrolls fragments held at The University of Manchester's John Rylands Library. The one on the right is a multispectral image of the same fragment revealing three lines of text in Hebrew, including the word "Shabbat".
Copyright: The University of Manchester.
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.
The study was undertaken as part of a major Leverhulme-funded study led by Professor Joan Taylor (King's College London), Professor Marcello Fidanzio (Faculty of Theology of Lugano) and Dr Dennis Mizzi (University of Malta).
Unlike the recent cases of forgeries assumed to be Dead Sea Scrolls fragments, all of these small pieces were unearthed in the official excavations of the Qumran caves - located in the West Bank - and were never passed through the antiquities market.
In the 1950s, the fragments were gifted by the Jordanian government to Ronald Reed, leather expert at the University of Leeds, so he could study their physical and chemical composition. It was assumed that the pieces were ideal for scientific tests, as they were blank and relatively worthless. These were studied and published by Reed and his student John Poole, and then stored safely away.
In 1997 the Reed Collection was donated to The University of Manchester through the initiative of Rylands Professor of Biblical Criticism and Exegesis, George Brooke. These fragments have been stored in Reed's own labelled boxes in The John Rylands Library, and have been relatively untouched since then.
When examining the fragments for the new study, Professor Taylor thought it possible that one of them did actually contain a letter and therefore decided to photograph all of the existing fragments, over 1cm, that appear blank to the naked eye.
Fifty-one fragments were imaged front and back with high-resolution and multispectral photography. Six were identified for further detailed investigation; of these, it was established that four have readable Hebrew/Aramaic text written in carbon-based ink. The study has also revealed ruled lines and small vestiges of letters on other fragments.
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. One piece with text is the edge of a parchment scroll section, with sewn thread, and the first letters of two lines of text may be seen to the left of this binding.
The research team is currently undertaking further investigations of these fragments in consultation with The John Rylands Library and Professor Brooke, as part of a larger project studying the various Qumran artefacts at the John Rylands Library. The results will be published in a report.
'I am hugely grateful to Professor Joan Taylor and her colleagues, and to the brilliant work of our imaging specialists, for bringing this astonishing discovery to light,' said Professor Christopher Pressler, John Rylands University Librarian. and Director of The University of Manchester Library. '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.'