3D Scanning Reveals the mystery behind a ancient Hebrew scroll

24 Jul

3D Scanning Reveals the mystery behind a ancient Hebrew scroll

1970, Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) sent a team of archeologist led by the Dr. Sefi Porath to a 1500 year old Jewish synagogue located on the western shore of the Dead Sea. The teams were sent to understand the reasons behind the burning of the synagogue and excavate anything of historic significance from the site. The team was able to find a burnt scroll in an extremely delicate condition from the Holy Ark in the northern wall of the synagogue. The scroll was in such bad condition that the archeologist decided not to open the scroll as it would have destroyed it.

3D Scanning Reveals the mystery behind a ancient Hebrew scroll?

The scroll was sent to the Lunder Family Dead Sea Scrolls Conservation Center of the IAA where it remained like an unsolvable mystery for 45 years in a climate-controlled vault. Then somewhere in 2014 a company called Merkel Technologies LTD from Tel Aviv decided volunteer and decipher the mysteries of the book.

Merkel Technologies LTD, which specializes in research, medical, analytical and diagnostic instrumentation scanned the Scrolls using the Bruker Skysan model 1176 Micro-CT scanner. The process was handled with extreme care as there was a looming danger of the text being destroyed. The company was able to do high resolution 3D scans of the scroll’s interior, as well as the phylacteries and phylactery cases (small leather boxes containing scrolls of parchment). These scans were then sent to the University of Kentucky, where Professor Brent Seales used his self developed advanced digital imaging software that allowed him to virtually unroll the scrolls and finally find out what was written inside.

3D Scanning Reveals the mystery behind a ancient Hebrew scroll?

When the news was sent to Dr. Porath he said

"The deciphering of the scroll, which was a puzzle for us for 45 years, is very exciting. Ein Gedi was a Jewish village in the Byzantine period (fourth–seventh century CE) and had a synagogue with an exquisite mosaic floor and a Holy Ark. The settlement was completely burnt to the ground, and none of its inhabitants ever returned to reside there again, or to pick through the ruins in order to salvage valuable property…We have no information regarding the cause of the fire, but speculation about the destruction ranges from Bedouin raiders from the region east of the Dead Sea to conflicts with the Byzantine government.”

The team discovered the scroll to be the Book of Leviticus, which lays the rules for ritual sacrifice. The first 8 verses of the text read
The Lord summoned Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting, saying: Speak to the people of Israel and say to them: When any of you bring an offering of livestock to the Lord, you shall bring your offering from the herd or from the flock. If the offering is a burnt-offering from the herd, you shall offer a male without blemish; you shall bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting, for acceptance in your behalf before the Lord. You shall lay your hand on the head of the burnt-offering, and it shall be acceptable in your behalf as atonement for you. The bull shall be slaughtered before the Lord; and Aaron's sons the priests shall offer the blood, dashing the blood against all sides of the altar that is at the entrance of the tent of meeting. The burnt-offering shall be flayed and cut up into its parts. The sons of the priest Aaron shall put fire on the altar and arrange wood on the fire. Aaron’s sons the priests shall arrange the parts, with the head and the suet, on the wood that is on the fire on the altar. (Leviticus 1:1-8)

The significance of this discovery can be imagined from the fact that this is the one of the oldest scrolls from the Hebrew Bible, and it is also the first time that a Torah scroll has ever been found inside an ancient synagogue. Talking about the discovery Pnina Shor, curator and director of the IAA’s Dead Se Scrolls Projects said “Dealing with the Dead Sea Scrolls on a daily basis is really a privilege. The knowledge that we are preserving the most important find of the 20th century and one of the Western world’s most important cultural treasures causes us to proceed with the utmost care and caution and use the most advanced technologies available today.”

This is yet another feather in the hat for the 3D printing community and a yet another example of how 3d printing and scanning technology can have varied applications.