By Nene Narh-Mensah
The Cave of Horror is a fitting name for a place to uncover ancient archaeological secrets.
Israeli archeologists last Tuesday discovered document fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls, ancient Jewish and Hebrew religious texts, in The Cave of Horror in Israel, according to a report by the New York Times. They also unearthed a 10,500-year-old woven basket, a cache of coins and the mummified remains of a human child, according to the article.
These rare findings, particularly the scroll fragments, could offer views into the origins of ancient Judaism and the lifestyles of those who practiced it.
Professor Maxine Grossman, an expert on the Dead Sea Scrolls in the Jewish Studies department who has studied them for over 30 years, said that the original scrolls were in Hebrew and were found in 11 caves at Khirbet Qumran, commonly known as the Qumran Caves, several kilometers north of where the new fragments were discovered.
The new scroll pieces, which are in Greek, are likely part of a relatively newer collection of the scrolls, according to Associate Professor of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures Matthew Suriano.
“At some point beginning in the Hellenistic Period, there was an effort to translate the Bible into Greek. These biblical manuscripts belonged to that translation tradition,” said Suriano.
These newly discovered fragments likely came from Jewish refugees who fled their homes due to a second war with the Romans called the Bar Kokhba revolt, named after the uprising’s leader, according to Grossman. They likely died in the cave due to starvation, dehydration or from inhaling smoke from fires set outside the cave, she said.
The remains of the items they carried such as clothing, baskets and papers were left in the caves like at Khirbet Qumran and the Cave of Horror to be discovered centuries later.
A lot of excitement surrounding this discovery took hold, according to Grossman.
“The Dead Sea Scrolls social media was hopping,” she said.
This news also circulated on campus. Both Grossman and Suriano said they received multiple messages from students about it.
Junior Environmental engineering major Madison Fischman said she was “very excited” about the discovery. She took a class taught by Grossman on the Dead Sea Scrolls, RELS 430, in the first semester of her sophomore year.
“I think any new scroll can give some more information on where they came from, and who it really was that wrote the scrolls and the entire history of the scrolls, so I’m very excited to hear more about all of the discoveries that are made through these,” said Fischman.
“It just reaffirms what archeologists have long believed, that there’s a lot of stuff waiting out there to be discovered in the Judean wilderness,” said Suriano.
Grossman said she’d like to piece together the puzzle herself.
There has been a large push to make the Scrolls public, said Grossman. Most of the segments can be viewed online. Even so, it might take a while for academic research on the scroll fragments to occur, according to Suriano.
“It’s a process to work through manuscripts such as this, to preserve it, to analyze it, and then to write up a publication that has to go through the whole process of editing and review,” he said.
The discovery of new Dead Sea Scrolls might not have much impact on the Jewish community as a whole, but will be critical to scroll research at this university, said Grossman.
“Whenever there’s a scrolls discovery of this sort it inspires people to want to learn more about the ancient world, and that’s a great adventure of its own,” said Grossman.
The news could influence the course offerings in the Religious Studies minor and the Religions of the Ancient Middle East major, a new degree in the Jewish Studies Department, which was approved in February, she added.
Suriano agreed that this discovery could increase the popularity of Dead Sea Scroll research at this university.
“Any discovery like this has that potential,” said Suriano. “It’s something new it might open up new avenues, it certainly should spark public interest”
Once more details on the fragments are published and if there’s enough student interest, Suriano said he would “definitely support” student research on the subject.