Powerful New X-Ray Technique May Help Read Unopened Bible Scrolls

Scrolls

Photo courtesy of Salvatore Laporta/AP

Researchers have discovered a powerful new x-ray technique of reading previously unopened scrolls that were too fragile to unroll. The finding has great implications for reading Bible scrolls that have been unable to read.

With this new method, experts announced they have managed to read from one of the 1,800 ancient scrolls buried when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 A.D.

Experts used a particle accelerator to detect the text within the unopened scrolls. “When you try to pull one layer off, it just breaks away from the rest, and so you have 10 million fragments after you’ve peeled it away in that manner,” said computer scientist Brent Seales in a radio interview.

This new method gets around that issue with X-rays so sensitive, they can detect changes in thickness where ink had been used to write letters. Researchers used this X-ray on the Mt. Vesuvius scroll and could make out the entire Greek alphabet inside the tightly rolled scroll.

The scroll is one of the roughly 1,800 papyrus scrolls unearthed back in the 1750s. In a radio interview, Seales, who is a part of the team to create the new x-rays, said only about 300 have survived efforts to read them.

From just the letters, the researchers believe the scroll is in the handwriting of Philodemus, a 1st century philosopher who was believed to have contact with the Apostle Paul.

The researchers can’t read whole words yet. But Seales thinks he can make a program that can distinguish which letters belong to which layers, so the scrolls can finally be deciphered. For Biblical scholars, the research could be a major breakthrough for reading delicate scrolls that have not been able to be touched. In an earlier interview, Seales commented on his hope of being able to read entire scrolls. “Yeah, I do believe that with this remarkable breakthrough, we’re going to get there.”

For more information, check out our full-color, easy-to-understand Rose resourcess on the Bible and archaeology:  http://www.rose-publishing.com/Archaeology-and-the-Bible-C1229.aspx

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