JERUSALEM — A secretive encounter with a Bedouin in a desert valley led to the discovery of two fragments from a nearly 2,000-year-old parchment scroll — the first such finding in decades, an Israeli archeologist said yesterday.
The finding has given rise to hope that the Judean Desert may yield more treasures, said Chanan Eshel, a professor and archeologist from Tel Aviv’s Bar Ilan University.
The two small pieces of brown animal skin, inscribed in Hebrew with verses from the Book of Leviticus, are from ”refugee" caves in Nachal Arugot, a canyon near the Dead Sea where Jews hid from the Romans in the second century, Eshel said.
The scrolls are being tested by Israel’s Antiquities Authority. Recently, several relics bearing inscriptions, including a burial box purported to belong to Jesus’ brother James, were revealed as modern forgeries.
More than 1,000 ancient texts — known collectively as the Dead Sea Scrolls — were discovered between 1947 and 1956 in 11 caves overlooking the western shores of the Dead Sea.
”No scrolls have been found in the Judean Desert" in decades, Eshel said. ”The common belief has been that there is nothing left to find there."
Now, he said, scholars may be spurred on to further excavations.
Steven Pfann, an archeologist and Bible scholar, said he had not seen the fragments. If authenticated, they would ”in general not be doing more than confirming the character of the material that we have from the southern part of the Judean wilderness up until today."
But ”what’s interesting and exciting is that this is a new discovery," Pfann added. ”This is the first time we’ve seen anything from the south since the 1960s."
Eshel said he was first shown the fragments last year during a meeting in an abandoned police station near the Dead Sea. A Bedouin said he was offered $20,000 for the fragments on the black market and wanted an evaluation.
The finding constitutes the 15th scroll fragments found in the area from the same period of the Jewish ”Bar Kochba" revolt against the Romans.