Dr. Eshbal Ratson and Prof. Jonathan Ben-Dov of the Department of Bible Studies at the University of Haifa have managed to decipher and restore one of the last two Qumran (Dead Sea) Scrolls that remain unpublished, out of some 900 scrolls uncovered at the site in the 1940s and 1950s.
The researchers spent over a year painstakingly reassembling more than 60 tiny sections written in a secret code. The reward for their hard work is fresh insight into the unique 364-day calendar used by the members of the Judean Desert sect, including the discovery for the first time of the name given by the sect to the special days marking the transitions between the four seasons: “Tekufah,”or “period.”
The Qumran sect, who lived a hermitic life in the desert, wrote numerous scrolls, including a small number written in code. Their 364-day calendar was involved in one of the fiercest debates during the late Second Temple period because it eliminated the human decisions necessary in following the traditional Jewish lunar calendar.
The scroll describes two special occasions not mentioned in the Bible, but which are already known from the Temple Scroll of Qumran: the festivals of New Wine (celebrated 50 days after Shavuot) and New Oil (celebrated 50 days after New Wine).
“This scroll includes numerous words and expressions that we find later in the Mishna. This shows once again that many of the subjects discussed by the Scribes several centuries later had origins that predated the Second Temple period,” Ratson and Ben-Dov said.
The person who wrote the scroll apparently forgot to mention several special days marked by the community and another scribe corrected the errors, adding the missing dates in the margins between the columns of text, the researchers noted.
They are now turning their attention to the last remaining scroll that has yet to be deciphered.