Two Israeli scholars, Dr. Eshbal Ratson and Professor Jonathan Ben-Dov have finally deciphered one of the two manuscripts of the Dead Sea Scrolls. This is a breakthrough in their research, ever since the manuscripts were discovered about seventy years ago. The shining scholars belong to the Bible studies department of Haifa University in Israel.

The manuscripts contain more than sixty tiny fragments of parchment, each bearing encrypted Hebrew text. Some of the fragments are less than 1 square centimetre in area. It had been previously thought that the fragments belonged to different scrolls. However, when Ratson and  Ben-Dov began examining the pieces about a year back, they found that all the pieces fit together. They decided to put all the fragments together and form one complete scroll.

The deciphered scroll refers to a unique 364 day calendar and an annual wine and olive festival, which is no longer observed in Judaism. The researchers also discovered the name used by the sect for a festival observed four times a year to mark the transition between seasons – Tekufah. The same word in modern-day Hebrew means “period”.

What are the Dead Sea Scrolls?

Qumran caves, the sight of discovery of Dead Sea Scrolls

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The Dead Sea Scrolls include the oldest known manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible and date from 3rd century BC to 1st century AD. Around 900 hundred such manuscripts were discovered in Qumran caves, above the Dead Sea, between 1947 and 1956. The text is mostly encrypted on parchment and papyrus. In addition to Hebrew, the scrolls also contain writing in Greek and Aramaic. It is believed that they contain earliest-know texts from the Bible, including the oldest surviving copy of the Ten Commandments.

There is no concrete proof to suggest who wrote these manuscripts. However, many experts and historians believe that the Dead Sea Scrolls were scripted by the celibate Essenses, a dissident Jewish sect that had retreated into the Judaean desert around Qumran and its caves. It is also speculated that the scrolls were discovered by a group of teenage Bedouin shepherds who stumbled upon clay jars (containing the scripts) inside the caves.