Dead Sea Scrolls mystery solved?

July 26, 2010

Eye on Faith and Science


A scroll fragment from the Book of Psalms on display at the Science Museum of Minnesota. (Photo by Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit)

The Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit at the Science Museum of Minnesota has been one of the hottest tickets in town. One aspect of the exhibit touted by organizers is that it allows visitors to draw their own conclusions about a few lingering mysteries: Who wrote the scrolls? And, where were they written?

Many scholars have concluded the scrolls were authored by members of the Qumran community near the Dead Sea caves where the 2,000-year-old texts were discovered. Others believe they were written elsewhere and hidden in the caves by Jews fleeing Jerusalem prior to the Romans destroying the Temple in A.D. 70.

A group of researchers in Italy recently weighed in on the controversy, revealing that high-tech analysis of a sample of the 28-foot-long Temple Scroll shows that the animal skin on which it is written likely originated in the Qumran area.

The researchers used a technique called “X-ray and particle-induced X-ray emission” and a particle accelerator to analyze small fragments of the scroll.

“Basically, we concentrated on water. Like most of the other parchments, the Temple Scroll was made from animal skin, thus its production required extensive washing. Our goal was to compare and possibly find a match between the chemistry of the scroll and the very peculiar chemistry of the water from the area where the parchments were found,” physicist Giuseppe Pappalardo told Discovery News.

X-rays emitted by the scroll samples showed they contained chlorine, and that the ratio of chlorine to bromine was about three times higher than normally found in seawater, the story noted. The scientists concluded the scroll could have been made using the very salty Dead Sea water.

The study, while insightful, isn’t definitive: The researchers’ theory will need to be tested further. And, if they are correct, it still only proves that the parchment likely originated near the Dead Sea; the actual writing could have been done elsewhere. The ink will also need to be analyzed.

The researchers’ findings are something to ponder while you look at the Old Testament and non-biblical fragments on display in St. Paul. The exhibit runs through Oct. 24 and includes an overview of other scientific analyses the scrolls have undergone since their discovery, including carbon-14 dating.

For more information about the exhibit, call (651) 221-9444 or visit the museum’s website.

About Joe Towalski

Editor of The Catholic Spirit, husband, dad, baseball fan(atic), astronomy buff. Follow me on Twitter @towalskij

View all posts by Joe Towalski