thoughts on the recent announcement by italian scientists regarding the bromine and chlorine levels of the temple scroll

The Temple Scroll, columns 19-21, from Qumran Cave 11. The scroll dates between the late 1st century BCE to the early 1st century CE. It is written in Hebrew with ink on parchment.

The Temple Scroll, columns 19-21, from Qumran Cave 11. The scroll dates between the late 1st century BCE to the early 1st century CE. It is written in Hebrew with ink on parchment.

Owen Jarus at Heritage Key has a nice summary of new evidence regarding the origin of the longest of the Dead Sea Scrolls: the Temple Scroll (11QT). Led by Professor Giuseppe Pappalardo, a team of Italian scientists made up of researchers of the National Laboratories of the South (LNS) in Catania of the Istituto Nazionale di Fisica Nucleare (INFN, or Italy’s National Institute for Nuclear Physics):

claim to have identified the origin of the longest of the Dead Sea Scrolls (known as The Temple Scroll) by identifying the source of the water used to make the parchment…The team analyzed the ratio of chlorine to bromine in fragments of the Temple Scroll. They then compared this ratio to that of the water sources near Qumran.

In a press release from July 2, 2010, the INFN concluded:

The ratio of chlorine to bromine in the fragments of the Temple Scroll was then analysed using proton beams of 1.3 MeV, produced by the Tandem particle accelerator at the INFN National Laboratories of the South. According to this analysis, the ratio of chlorine to bromine in the scroll is consistent with the ratio in local water sources. In other words, this finding supports the hypothesis that the scroll was created in the area in which it was found.

At roughly 32% salinity, the water in the Dead Sea is nearly 9 times as saline as the oceanic average. Likewise, the Dead Sea has the highest concentration of bromide ions (Br) of all bodies of waters on Earth. Because of these distinctive properties, the chlorine and bromine levels of the Temple Scroll’s parchment can be used as a way of determining the origin of the parchment. Because the bromine levels matched those distinctively elevated levels of the Dead Sea, the researchers could confidently conclude that the parchment of the Temple Scroll was manufactured at or near the Dead Sea.

The Italian team says it will next use the same XPIXE and particle accelerator technique to test the Temple Scroll’s ink. This is an important test because it is possible that the parchment was cured at or near the Dead Sea, and then sold or transported elsewhere for use by scribes residing in some other region. Qumran has offered evidence of animal husbandry, and appears to have had distillation vats (Locus 121) that may have been used to cure animal hides for the production of parchment. While the existence of inkwells in Locus 30, evidence of animal husbandry (needed for animal skins), and the presence of distillation vats all support the suggestion that scrolls (or at least parchment) were produced at Qumran, it does not necessarily follow that the resulting parchment was inscribed at Qumran. Granted this is somewhat of a minimalist position, but one cannot argue for certain that the Temple Scroll’s parchment was cured at Qumran, only that it was cured using water from the Dead Sea. Likewise, the presence of parchment production facilities (if that’s what they were indeed used for) at Qumran does not necessarily mean that the parchment was inscribed at Qumran, just as the presence of paper at a paper mill does not mean that the paper was used only at the mill. Just as most universities do not produce their own paper, but import it from elsewhere, so too could the parchment used for what became the Temple Scroll have come from the Dead Sea region, but inscribed elsewhere.

The analysis of the ink is important because it could demonstrate that the ink used to write on the Temple Scroll may also have been produced with water from the Dead Sea. And while this still leaves open the possibility that both the inks and parchment were produced at Dead Sea industrial installations and exported to other areas (for instance, Jerusalem), the preponderance of evidence (animals at Qumran, inkwells at Qumran, scrolls in caves near Qumran) would seem to support the continued suggestion that at least some of the Dead Sea Scrolls were produced at Qumran.

While this research does not prove that the Temple Scroll was penned at Qumran, we can conclude that there were viable industrial installations and activities taking place near the Dead Sea. And while we do not yet know the full extent of the industrial activity in the Dead Sea region, the fact that many of these industrial activities such as date palm cultivation, animal husbandry, parchment curing, and ink production can all be shown to have been practiced on the northwest shore of the Dead Sea in the late Second Temple period supports the suggestion that small groups of people could have lived and even prospered, leading self-sustaining lives in that region.

Did the Essenes (or some other Jewish sect or sects like them) write the Dead Sea Scrolls (or at least some of them) at Qumran? From a purely archaeological perspective, we still don’t know. But, all of the elements necessary for scroll production appear to be present there.

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