Dead Sea Scrolls: New Fragments Translated After Years of Deciphering
By Chris Agee
Nearly all of the roughly 900 manuscripts included in the Dead Sea Scrolls have now been translated following the efforts of two Israeli professors.
As Fox News reported, researchers at the University of Haifa in Israel have spent more than a year studying and organizing dozens of small fragments from one of only two still-untranslated sections remaining.
According to a press release by the university, the portion Dr. Eshbal Ratson and Professor Jonathan Ben-Dov were able to translate provides "fresh insight into the unique 364-day calendar used by the members of the Judean Desert sect, including the discovery for the first time of the name given by the sect to the special days marking the transitions between the four seasons."
The researchers reported that the authors of the most recently translated passage referenced "two special occasions not mentioned in the Bible," which represented the "most important days" in the sect's calendar. They were identified as the festivals of New Wine and New Oil.
According to the translation, the festival of New Wine comes 50 days after the festival of New Wheat, which itself is celebrated on the 50th day after the first Sabbath following Passover. Fifty days after the festival of New Wine, the professors wrote, came the festival of New Oil.
Though these periods were not mentioned in the Bible, they were referenced in other passages from the Dead Sea Scrolls, described by some as the oldest surviving translation of the Bible.
Each of these periods coincided with changing seasons, which scholars knew ancient Jews celebrated but until the most recent translations did not know what these special days were called.
Ratson and Ben-Dov reported that they discovered a word already known by Jewish scholars used in a new context. The sect, they wrote, recognized changing seasons on a day known as the Tekufah.
"This term is familiar from the later Rabbinical literature and from mosaics dating to the Talmudic period, and we could have assumed that it would also be used with this meaning in the scrolls, but this is the first time it has been revealed," the professors wrote.
The scrolls also reportedly offer additional information about a separate calendar used by the sect, which took the form of a 364-day year.
"The lunar calendar, which Judaism follows to this day, requires a large number of human decisions," Ratson and Ben-Dov wrote. "People must look at the stars and moon and report on their observations, and someone must be empowered to decide on the new month and the application of leap years."
Adherents of the new calendar, they added, were able to benefit from a consistent 364 days.
"Because this number can be divided into four and seven, special occasions always fall on the same day," the researchers wrote.
Haaretz spoke to Ratson, who said the pair found some assistance along the way in the form of edits scrawled in the margins of the scraps, apparently by a second author correcting the mistakes in the first draft.
"What's nice is that these comments were hints that helped me figure out the puzzle - they showed me how to assemble the scroll," he said.
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