Hides that reveal: DNA helps scholars divine Dead Sea Scrolls

Updated: Jun 03, 2020, 12:28 PM(IST)

Genetic sampling of the Dead Sea Scrolls has tested understandings that the 2,000-year-old artefacts were the work of a fringe Jewish sect, and shed light on the drafting of scripture around the time of Christianity's birth.

Let's take a look:

Prevent forgeries

The research, which indicated some of the parchments' provenances by identifying animal hides used, may also help safeguard against forgeries of the prized biblical relics.



The Dead Sea Scrolls, a collection of hundreds of manuscripts and thousands of fragments of ancient Jewish religious texts, were discovered in 1947 by local Bedouin in the cave-riddled desert crags of Qumran, some 20 km east of Jerusalem.



Many scholars believed the scrolls originated with the reclusive Essenes, who had broken away from the Jewish mainstream. But some academics argue the Qumran trove had various authors and may have been brought from Jerusalem for safekeeping.


Finer matching

DNA sequencing conducted by Tel Aviv University and the Israel Antiquities Authority has allowed for finer matching or differentiation among the scrolls.

While the sheepskin of some of the scrolls could be produced in the desert, cowskin, found in at least two samples, was more typical of cities like Jerusalem, where Jews, at the time, had their second temple and were under Roman rule.


Subject to interpretation

The Israeli researchers, assisted by a Swedish DNA lab, determined that two textually different copies of the Book of Jeremiah were brought to Qumran from the outside.

Such findings, the researchers say, indicate that the wording of Jewish texts was subject to variation and interpretation - contrary to later views of holy writ as fixed.


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