Mosaic from Ein Gedi synagogue
via Wikipedia, by Stéphanie Gromann

Researchers use CT scan to decipher ancient Hebrew text (VIDEO)

July 22, 2015
by Thomas Dworetzky, Contributing Reporter
The black, charred 2.7-inch-long fragment of parchment lay for 1,500 years in the ashes of the ruins of the ancient synagogue at Ein Gedi, by the Dead Sea, before being found 45 years ago by Sefi Porath, who lead the excavations there.

The tiny curious object held onto its mystery until canny researchers were finally able to read it for the first time with the aid of CT. “The deciphering of the fragment, which was a puzzle for us for 45 years, is very exciting,” Porath noted, according to The Jeruselum Post.

The breakthrough combined CT scanning with digital-imaging software developed by students in the University of Kentucky computer science department, and its chairman, Brent Seales, reported the Lexington Herald-Leader.

At the conference to announce the finding, hosted by the Israel Antiquities Authorities and the Culture and Sports Ministry, archeologist Porath, noted that a global team of researchers spent over a year deciphering the verses, which he had uncovered with his late colleague, Dr. Dan Barag.

“This discovery absolutely astonished us,” Pnina Shor, curator and director of IAA’s Dead Sea Scrolls Projects remarked, according to CNET. “We were certain it was just a shot in the dark, but decided to try and scan it anyway.

The scrolls were scanned using micro CT X-ray scanning by the Israeli firm Merkel Technologies Ltd., which volunteered both the use of equipment and its experts' time. High-resolution 3D images of the inside of the scroll were produced and then sent to the University of Kentucky, reported CNET.

"Even though the scan was done, it was still impossible to read anything," Seales told the Herald-Leader. "It was still real hard to read anything because every slice just shows a cross-section. I mean, it's like trying to read a rolled up newspaper by just looking at the cross-sections at the end of it."

Seales explained that he had developed software that "makes the transition from the cross-sectional view to the surface view, which are the pages you want to see with the writing on them."

Seales developed the technology over the past 10 years with funding from Google and the National Science Foundation.

The fragment was called the most important find since the Dead Sea Scrolls when it was announced Monday at the Antiquities Authority’s Jerusalem laboratory in the Israel Museum. It is from the end of the sixth century AD, according to the Daily Mail, and is the oldest copy of the Hebrew Bible discovered since the Dead Sea scrolls.

The fragment is far too delicate to unroll, but the scanning allowed experts to determine that it is the first eight verses of Leviticus.

The text of the fragment of scroll, in ancient Hebrew, translates as:

'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).