These are exciting times that we live in, if you are into ancient Biblical manuscripts that is.
A Guardian article tells us that recently:
An ancient scroll that was crushed and burned in a blaze that engulfed an entire town more than 1,400 years ago has been digitally unfurled and identified as a copy of the book of Leviticus. Researchers made the discovery after computer scientists used a ground-breaking procedure called “virtual unwrapping” to flatten out digital sheets of the carbonised document and read the Hebrew words originally inscribed on the parchment in AD 300…No more than a lump of disintegrating charcoal, the scroll is so fragile that it has barely been touched since it was discovered in 1970. It was found in the holy ark of a synagogue in En-Gedi, a town on the western shore of the Dead Sea that was destroyed by fire around AD 600.
We just unearthed a 1700 year old copy of Leviticus in Hebrew! Why is this find significant?
1. The dating of the scroll makes it roughly contemporary with the Hebrew manuscripts that Jerome used to translate the Vulgate
2. This scroll was found in a synagogue. All of our earlier manuscript finds were in the middle of the desert, the Dead Sea Scrolls of Qumran. The Dead Sea Scrolls were essentially transcribed and kept by a contemporary Jewish religious cult called the Essenes. This recent find gives us a window into what orthodox, run-of-the-mill Jews heard read on a Saturday morning.
3. It’s date is not early enough to help us settle the LXX versus Masoretic Hebrew argument, as we have claims as early as the second century in Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho that Jewish scribes have already began corrupting Hebrew manuscripts. However, if it were to accord closer to the LXX than the Masoretic Text despite of such alleged tampering, this would be very significant and may start to force Protestant scholars to give higher priority to the LXX in Biblical translations
4. The process that was used to decode this scroll can now be used to read previously unreadable Dead Sea Scrolls, and manuscripts that were destroyed and recycled into funeral masks and the like.
It is my hope and prayer that God blesses scholars in unearthing more manuscripts. I hope that we get more pre-Christian Old Testament manuscripts for the sake of making sense of the divergent manuscript traditions we have today (specifically MT, LXX, and pre-MT found in the Vulgate).