Fragments from Torah texts dating back to the 7th century BCE are on display as part of an exhibition of biblical artifacts in The Netherlands
By David Soesan, EJP
The exhibition â€œThe Scripture and the Writingâ€ in the Scryption Museum in the Dutch town of Tilburg focuses on the origins and evolution of the Bible over the centuries, highlighting the complexity of the Holy Scripture.
It features a wide range of artifacts such as samples of Egyptian papyri that describe the Jewish exile in Egypt and examples of cuneiform script that refer to the Babylonian exile. It also includes well-preserved copy of the Arab Pentateuch from 1528, a 17th century Turkish Bible, and several so-called â€œpolyglotsâ€, Bibles featuring different languages and scripts.
Oldest Torah texts
But the two 7th century BCE silver scrolls containing excerpts from the Bible have pride of place in the exhibition. The valuable scrolls, which are several hundred years older than the Dead Sea Scrolls, contain the oldest Torah texts in existence.
They were discovered in 1979 in the Hinnom Valley near Jerusalem by Israeli archaeologist Gabriel Barkay from Tel Avivâ€™s Bar-Ilan University.
After three years of meticulous work to unroll the scrolls and conserve the frail silver containers, the material was made available for scientific research. The nearly invisible writing was analysed by Bruce Zuckerman, a professor of Semitic languages at the University of Southern California who had previously worked on the deciphering of Dead Sea Scrolls.
Using a sophisticated digital photography technique, he revealed the scrollâ€™s contents, which included a passage from the fourth book of the Old Testament and the so-called Aaronite priestly blessing.
Barkay said the discovery of this early biblical inscription is an important argument supporting an earlier dating of the Bible.
"I can at least say that these verses existed in the 7th century, the time of the Prophet Jeremiah,â€ Barkay said. This would make the texts hundreds of years older than the Dead Sea Scrolls.
The text on the 2.5 cm X 10 cm (0.9 inch X 3.9 inch) scrolls also revealed that the silver containers were amulets, which were worn around the neck. Because of their fragile state, the scrolls could not be removed from the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. Instead, the exhibition in the Scryption features photos of the silver amulets and their contents.