Dead Sea Scroll Found in Montana After Disappearing 60 Years Ago in Jerusalem

by Taylor Cunningham

A 2,700-year-old Dead Sea Scroll that was thought to be lost forever has been found 6,000 miles away from its last known location.

The fragment was one of three that survived the First Temple Period. Historians had long forgotten about it until Professor Shmuel Ahituv, from Ben Gurion University of the Negev, accepted the task of completing a book by a scholar of ancient Hebrew script named Ada Yardeni upon her death. While researching, he noticed the Dead Sea Scroll in a photograph. So he launched a campaign to locate it.

The mission ended in Montana, where its new owner claimed that someone had given it to his mother when she visited Jerusalem in 1965. When she returned home, she framed it and hung it on her wall.

The Dead Sea Scroll is Now Under the Care of the IAA

Professor Ahituv invited the unnamed owner to the Holy Land to visit the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), the lab that preserves the Dead Sea Scroll. And the owner agreed to leave his fragment with the others.

“Towards the end of the First Temple period, writing was widespread,” director of the IAA Judean Desert Scrolls Unit Joe Uziel said. “However, First Temple-period documents written on organic materials – such as this papyrus – have scarcely survived.”

“‘Whilst we have thousands of scroll fragments dating from the Second Temple period, we have only three documents, including this newly found one, from the First Temple period,” he continued. “Each new document sheds further light on the literacy and the administration of the First Temple period.”

The Weizmann Institute in Rehovot confirmed that this specific fragment is genuine by radiometrically dating it. Four lines make up the scroll that reads, “to Ishmael send…” in ancient Hebrew. Historians believe that the remainder of the message contained a set of instructions.

Judean Desert Caves Preserved the Fragment For Thousands of Years

“The name Ishmael, mentioned in the document, was a common name in the biblical period, meaning ‘God will hear.'” said Professor Ahituv. “It first appears in the Bible as the name of the son of Abraham and Hagar. And it is subsequently the personal name of several individuals in the Bible.”

The IAA believes that the scroll came from the same Judean Desert caves that preserved other Dead Sea Scrolls thanks to its dry and stable climate. It then found its way to Joseph Sa’ad, curator of the Rockefeller Museum, and Halil Iskander Kandu, an antiquities dealer who sold thousands of Dead Sea Scroll fragments from later periods.

“Returning this document to Israel is part of ongoing efforts to protect and preserve the cultural heritage of the state of Israel,” IAA’s Eitan Klein said. “It’s a heritage that belongs to all its citizens, playing a role in the story of the historical heritage of the country and its inhabitants over the centuries.”