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New Leviticus Scroll Unearthed Near Ein Gedi

September 20, 2005
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While surveying caves in the Judean Desert, a Bedouin showed Eshel two fragments of a scroll containing verses from Leviticus 23 and 24. Further investigation of a small cave in Nachal Arugot, a canyon near Ein Gedi, as well as the collection of pottery and textiles there, provided evidence dating the findings to an early Roman period, around AD 135. This date coincides with the Bar-Kochba revolt, when Jews took refuge in caves in the summer of that year. Eshel has been investigating these caves since 1986, which led to the encounter with the Bedouin.

Eshel was first shown the fragments last year during a meeting in an abandoned police station near the Dead Sea. The Bedouin, who had been offered US $20,000 for the fragments on the black market, wanted an evaluation. “I was jealous he had found it, not me. I was also very excited. I didn’t believe I would see them again,” said Eshel, who took photographs of the pieces he believed would shortly be smuggled out of the country. But in March, Eshel discovered that the Bedouin still had the fragments. He bought them for US $3,000, provided by Bar-Ilan University, and handed them over to the IAA. “Scholars do not buy antiquities,” Eshel said. “I did it because I could not see it fall apart.”

Although looting of the caves is being addressed by the IAA, the professor called upon his colleagues to excavate and survey in those caves “because this is the only way that we will find something.” Eshel cited a map showing the distribution of 27 caves in the region; the ones in Israeli territories are well-known, but the area that was in Jordanian hands until 1967 shows caves only in Wadi Murabaat. “It looks like the map is somehow unbalanced,” he stated. Perhaps Eshel is hoping that further caves and important articles will be found soon with more collaboration.

Source: By Sarah Morris, Bridges for Peace

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