The Bible Shows Its Age: Unfurling the Burnt Scroll
By Eric Metaxas
How do you read a scroll you can’t open? Modern technology provides the answer, and shows that Scripture is more durable than the material it’s written on.
Is the Bible we read today the same Bible that was written millennia ago by prophets and apostles? That was a question that consumed scholars for generations. You see, prior to 1947, the earliest manuscript copies of the Old Testament were from the Middle Ages. Critics seized on this as a major hole in the Bible’s reliability. How, they asked, could we trust a text that had been copied hundreds of times in the thousands of years since its authors wrote it? Surely it had suffered corruption through all those duplications.
But seventy years ago, a Bedouin shepherd boy shattered those doubts when he threw a rock into a cave, breaking some clay pots containing the Dead Sea Scrolls. These ancient manuscripts of the Old Testament were near matches to the medieval text, confirming our modern Bible’s antiquity and pushing the earliest known evidence for the Hebrew Scriptures back a millennium.
Now, thanks to another discovery on the shores of the Dead Sea, and an exciting technological breakthrough, that date has moved back even further.
This story begins in 1970, when archaeologists at En-Gedi found a burnt scroll that was little more than a lump of charcoal. A fire in 600 AD had destroyed the synagogue there, leaving its ancient documents so brittle that a touch would cause them to disintegrate. Unable to read the scroll, curators merely preserved it, hoping that someday, the technology necessary to peek at its contents would be developed.
Well, that day has arrived…
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