Fr Alliata: rare and important biblical fragments found near the Dead Sea

In the Cave of Horror, archaeologists discovered biblical scrolls from about 2,000 years ago from the Book of Twelve Minor Prophets, written in Greek but with the name of God in Ancient Hebrew. For the director of the Franciscan Museum in the Holy Land, the discoveries “bear witness to the spread of Greek translations in Jewish circles.” Findings include ancient coins and a mummified skeleton from 6,000 years ago.

Jerusalem (AsiaNews) – A group of Israeli archaeologists announced the discovery of treasures of inestimable value, preserved in an area of the Judean desert, not far from the fortress of Masada and the Dead Sea. They include Biblical scrolls from about 2,000 years ago found in the Cave of Horror from the Book of the Twelve Minor Prophets.

For Fr Eugenio Alliata, director of the Museum of the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum, this is a “rare” find. Speaking to AsiaNews, he explained that the discovery is “important from a religious point of view” because the texts found “bear witness to the spread of Greek translations in Jewish circles at the time of the Second Uprising”.

According to the Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA), one fragment, from the book of Zechariah, reads: “These are the things you are to do: Speak the truth to one another, render true and perfect justice in your gates. And do not contrive evil against one another, and do not love perjury, because all those are things that I hate – declares the Lord.”

While the text is in Greek, the name of God is written in ancient Hebrew script, the IAA explained.

Not far away, archaeologists also recovered letters from the Jewish leader Shimon Bar Kokhba, who, in 132 AD, led a rebellion against Emperor Hadrian. The find also included coins from the time, a wooden lice comb and the sole of a sandal. Preliminary analysis indicates that a Jewish child, the son of rebels, wore the item.

Outside the cave, researchers found a basket woven 10,000 ago, and the mummified skeleton of a little girl who lived at least 6,000 years ago, well preserved thanks to the dry climate and soil.

“The caves in the desert saw a lot of research after the Qumran's discoveries,” Fr Alliata said.

Such discoveries are “often made by Bedouins, who try to earn something by putting this material up for sale. We too, for example, have in our museum fragments of a letter in Hebrew/Aramaic with the receipt of a cash loan.”

The clergyman explains that “Israeli archaeologists have tried to systematically investigate all the caves in the Wadi”, especially those in the area Israel seized following the Six Days War.

The discovery of some fragments of biblical manuscripts, in this case from 'minor' prophets”, is the new fact.

“The texts bear witness to the spread of Greek translations in Jewish circles at the time of the Second Uprising (also named after Bar Kokhba), that is, in the first decades of the second century AD,” said Fr Alliata.

“Of course, the final results will not be known until after the findings are published following their scientific study, which is guaranteed by the official discovery. That is certainly a good thing.”

In 2017, researches began a project to study more than 400 caves in an area of 80 km, plundered by looters in the past for historic artifacts.

The operation is complex because most caves overlook rocky spurs and access is possible only by ropes and acrobatics, combined with the use of drones.

The Cave of Horror owes its name to the discovery inside, in the 1960s, of the skeletons of about 30 Bar Kokhba fighters, who died under siege by Roman soldiers camped on a nearby hill to prevent their escape.

Outside the cave, behind a slab, the mummified skeleton of a child was found in a fetal position. Aged perhaps 6 to 12 years, she was laid to rest about 6,000 years ago, buried in a niche, covered with fabric that was preserved.

For experts it is one of the most important archaeological findings since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls between 1947 and 1956; however, much of the area remains to be explored and other wonders may emerge in the future.