Another mystery about the ancient Dead Sea Scrolls has been uncovered, as one of the last two parts has been translated by researchers at the University of Haifa. Dr. Eshbal Ratson and Professor Jonathan Ben-Dov, of the Department of Bible Studies, pieced together 60 tiny fragments, which gave new clues about a festival celebrating the changing of the seasons. In total, 900 scrolls make up the Dead Sea Scrolls, believed to be the oldest copy of the Bible in known existence. Experts believe they were created around the 4th century B.C.
Many of the scrolls, discovered between 1947 and 1956, were restored and published, but this new fragment focuses on the 364-day calendar, celebrated by the ancient Judean Desert sect.
In that time, festivals celebrated changing seasons such as those festivities for New Wheat, New Wine and New Oil, related to the Jewish festival of Shavuot. Fox News reports:
“According to the calendar, the wheat festival took place 50 days after the Shabbat that followed Passover. Fifty days later, the wine harvest festival came and 50 days after that was the oil harvest festival.”
Dr. Ratson and Prof. Ben-Dov explained the scroll’s mention of the changing of seasons, called Tekufah, translated to “period,” noting in a press release:
“This term is familiar from the later Rabbinical literature and from mosaics dating to the Talmudic period, and we could have assumed that it would also be used with this meaning in the scrolls, but this is the first time it has been revealed.”
“The lunar calendar, which Judaism follows to this day, requires a large number of human decisions. People must look at the stars and moon and report on their observations, and someone must be empowered to decide on the new month and the application of leap years. By contrast, the 364-day calendar was perfect. Because this number can be divided into four and seven, special occasions always fall on the same day.”
They continued the importance of the calendar, saying:
“This avoids the need to decide, for example, what happens when a particular occasion falls on the Sabbath, as often happens in the lunar calendar. The Qumran calendar is unchanging, and it appears to have embodied the beliefs of the members of this community regarding perfection and holiness.”
“The scroll is written in code, but its actual content is simple and well-known, and there was no reason to conceal it. This practice is also found in many places outside the Land of Israel, where leaders write in secret code even when discussing universally-known matters, as a reflection of their status. The custom was intended to show that the author was familiar with the code, while others were not. However, this present scroll shows that the author made a number of mistakes,” they added.
The code was deciphered by annotations and corrections in the margins of the scroll, as Dr. Ratson told Haaretz: “What’s nice is that these comments were hints that helped me figure out the puzzle — they showed me how to assemble the scroll.”