Nova (1974–…): Season 46, Episode 20 - Dead Sea Scroll Detectives - full transcript

New technologies help scientists decipher the ancient Dead Sea Scrolls and newly surfaced fragments.

Are you wondering how healthy the food you are eating is? Check it -
Hidden in caves for millennia...

the Dead Sea Scrolls.

I think it's a kind of a miracle
that these scrolls survive.

A thousand years older
than any other Hebrew Bible.

But the ravages of time
and decades of mishandling

threaten to destroy them.

And as some fragments
in private hands

are exposed as forgeries...

You have people
that are straight,

and you have people
that are crooked.

Scientists and scholars race
to separate the real

from the fake

and make the invisible visible.

You can see the writing appear,

line after line after line.

Can we preserve
this priceless legacy

and save the scrolls
before it's too late?

Right now, on "NOVA."



Along the banks of the Dead Sea,

near the Israeli-Jordanian

is the site

of one of the greatest
archaeological finds

of all time.

The manuscript remained
in a cave near Jericho

for about 2,000 years.

The oldest known Bible
manuscript in the world.

The Dead Sea Scrolls.

We're talking about a corpus
of about 1,000 manuscripts

that are comprised of thousands
and thousands of fragments.


Created from about 250 BCE
to 70 CE,

the Scrolls include laws,
prayers, and documents

written by a radical sect

that provide intriguing clues

to the Jewish origins
of Christianity.

The Dead Sea Scrolls
are giving us a sense

of sort of the cultural milieu

that Jesus and, and
early Christianity arose in.



These remarkable scrolls also
contain the earliest versions

of the Hebrew Bible...

More than 1,000 years older
than any other known copies.

Like this 24-foot masterpiece

that is the book
of the prophet Isaiah,

dating to around 125 BCE.

The Scrolls revolutionized
our understanding

of how the Bible became
the book we know today,

a question of passionate concern

to scholars
and the faithful alike.


But the Scrolls have always
stirred up controversy

and intrigue.

And now, more than 70 years
after their original discovery,

they are once again
making headlines.

More than 100 mysterious
new fragments

have recently come up for sale.

And a closer look is calling
their authenticity

into question.

Their movement to the market
is a little bit mysterious.

Who had them?

How did people know
that they were available?

And unfortunately,
the lack of transparency

leads to questions.


How can private collectors know
if their fragments are fake?

And can new technologies
help preserve and decipher

the original scrolls...

Cultural treasures threatened
by the ravages of time?


We are in the lowest place
on Earth.

It's about 1,200 feet
below sea level.

We are on the northern part
of the Dead Sea.

Archaeologist Oren Gutfeld
is searching for clues...

And perhaps even more scrolls...

In the place where it all began.


So it all started over here.

Over here on the left

is where Muhammed ed-Dib found
the first scroll

in Cave Number One.

The story goes, in 1947,

some Bedouin kids
were playing around

in some caves by the Dead Sea

and threw a rock into the cave
and heard a clink...

that they weren't expecting.

Went inside the cave

and discovered these jars

with this amazing collection

of 2,000-year-old scrolls

that contained books
of the Bible

and also writings that
no one had ever seen before.


Scholars believe
the Scrolls were part

of a vast religious library,

stored in caves
and abandoned by Jews

during the Roman siege
of Jerusalem in 70 CE.

They reflect centuries
of religious scholarship,

including bitter conflicts
among Jewish sects

over everything from which texts
and rituals to follow

to the nature of the Messiah.

And they provide a unique window

into the tumultuous time
that gave birth

to both modern Judaism
and Christianity.

We are talking about a period,

the entire basis

of the religious traditions
of the West

are being laid.

The Dead Sea Scrolls

suddenly put
this huge pile of texts

in front of us.

It was like a feast.

We had a whole trove
of literature

that we never suspected existed.

During the period
the Scrolls were being created,

the Hebrew Bible... for
Christians, the Old Testament...

Was still a work in progress.

The Bible existed
in multiple forms

and was not finalized.

Probably even
in the time of Jesus,

there were somewhat
different forms of the text

in circulation.

The Dead Sea Scrolls tell us

that the notion of sort of
"the Bible"

is sort of a fake one.


The Scrolls give us a window
into this formative time,

including glimpses
of alternative versions

of well-known Bible stories

we never knew existed.

For example,
when we read the Bible today,

Sarah, the wife of Abraham,
is beautiful,

but few other details are given.

She almost never speaks.

I mean, Rebecca puts her
to shame,

Rachel puts her to shame.

They are far more interesting
than Sarah.

But an alternative version
found among the Scrolls

paints a fuller picture.

"How graceful are her eyes
and how precious her nose."

"How lovely is her breast

and how beautiful
her white complexion."

"And her legs
so perfectly apportioned."


The idea that we should have
this about Sarah,

who is among the most bland
and boring,

tells us something
about how willing they were

to play around with that text.

The documents reveal clear signs

of the human hand
behind the texts...

Like this copy of Psalms.

You can really see the scribe
behind this.

Every time he made a mistake,
he scrabbed it out.

But this actually brings the
scribe, you know, back to life.

He's so human.

Over a decade,

seven large scrolls and tens of
thousands of smaller fragments

were found by Bedouin
and archaeologists

inside 11 different caves.

We need to, to climb from here
by foot.

And archaeologist Oren Gutfeld
believes still more

are hidden somewhere
in these hills.

In general, we know
of about 600 caves

along the cliffs
above the Dead Sea.

This is the Dead Sea,
the cliffs.

Only a few, maybe two
or three percentage of them,

were really excavated.


The Holy Grail is a...
is a scroll with text.

I'm sure it's out here.

And I think it's just
a matter of time.

It will pop up.


It may seem like a needle
in a haystack,

but Oren is targeting his search

to caves close to a mysterious
ancient settlement

called Qumran.


These unusual ruins
might hold clues

to who wrote
the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The site of Qumran

is not really comparable
to any other site that we have.

It doesn't have any private
houses in it, for example.

All of the rooms
in the settlement were used

either for communal purposes,
like communal dining room,

or as workshops.


One of the most
distinctive features

is the unusually high number

of what appear to be
communal baths.

Many scholars, including myself,

identify some of the pools
at Qumran

as pools that were used for the
purposes of ritual immersion,

what we call
Jewish ritual baths.

So the Qumran community
was concerned

with the observance
of a high level

of Jewish ritual purity.

A concern with purity
may also explain this...

An on-site pottery workshop.

According to Jewish law,

pottery is something
that can become impure

through contact
with something that is impure.

So if a lizard crawls
across your pottery dish,

the dish becomes impure,
there's no way to purify it.

You have to simply smash it and
acquire a new piece of pottery.

So they were concerned with
manufacturing their own pottery

in connection with the
observance of ritual purity.

Or it could just be that
keeping the faithful well fed

means that you'll need to make
a lot of plates.


Among the considerable amount
of pottery

found in and around the site

were the same unique jars found
in the caves with the scrolls.

It's what leads some scholars
to think this could be the place

where many of those documents
were created.

But perhaps the most revealing
clue to who lived here

lies in this cemetery,

filled with more
than 1,000 bodies.

Nearly all those studied so far
are adult males.

Which suggests
that this was not, like,

an ordinary settlement
of families,

but that it was a community

that consisted overwhelmingly
of adult men.

This was clearly the product
of a sectarian movement

that looked for all the world
like monastery,

where people go in,
hand over all their possessions,

and live by a rule,
very tightly regulated.

Strict rules... likely written
for this community...

Were listed
in some of the Scrolls,

including one that lays out
harsh penalties

for those who spit
or even laugh.

Another scroll refers to
an imminent, apocalyptic battle

between the forces
of light and dark.

The people at Qumran never
reveal their true identity.

They call themselves
the "Sons of Light."

And they think that they live
at the end of time,

and that what will mark
the transition

from this world to the next

will be a battle,
an end-time battle,

between the Sons of Light
and the Sons of Darkness.

It's a foreshadowing
of later Christian themes

that would appear
in the New Testament,

and just one example
of the radical writings

found in the Qumran caves.

It looks like we have

the site where some
sectarian Jewish group lived,

having basically walked out

on the dominant society
of Jerusalem,

which they regarded as impure

and conducting itself

♪ All is peace ♪

Many evangelical Christians
are drawn to the site

and its likely
former inhabitants...

A group historians call
the Essenes,

whose writings seem
to anticipate beliefs

of early Christianity.

We believe
that it's very possible

that here in Qumran,
Jesus walked this area,

so that is very relevant
to our faith here at Qumran,

and that's why
we have to make this stop

on the pilgrimage
coming through,

that we can connect
the dots of the Bible

to Jesus Christ and his walk

here at Qumran.

While there is no evidence

that Jesus or his followers
were ever at Qumran,

evangelicals interested
in artifacts

from the time of Christ

are drawn to the Scrolls.

These texts express a Judaism

that Jesus and his followers
were familiar with.

Among evangelicals,

passages identical
to our modern Bible

are particularly prized.

And with more than 100 fragments
recently hitting the market,

this passionate interest
has become big business.

Almost every sale
of a Dead Sea Scroll is private.

And so we don't have
any sort of firm numbers,

but a good estimate is probably

between half a million
and a million dollars

per fragment.

Very, very big numbers;
but after all,

if you could have the earliest
text of Genesis that exists,

how much would you pay
to have a piece this big

of the earliest text of Genesis?

And that's what's been going on

While only about a quarter

of the original Qumran scrolls

match books found
in our modern Bible,

nearly all of the fragments sold
to collectors in recent years

contain biblical texts.

And some of them
include passages

that seem made to order.

My favorite of these is,
Southwestern Baptist Seminary

some Dead Sea Scroll fragments.

One of the fragments contains
the two parts from Leviticus

that seem to prohibit

And what's strange about that
is, in the Bible,

those mentions are two chapters
apart from each other.

But here they are right next to
each other on a single scroll

as if somebody in Antiquity

"Let me get all of the
homosexual laws in one place."

And not only did they do that,

but it happened to be preserved

and happened to be offered

to the Southwestern
Baptist Seminary.

The overlap between the content

and the ideological interests
of the purchaser

are just too on the nose
to be believable.

One of the largest collections

of these newly available
scroll fragments

is on exhibit
at the Museum of the Bible

in Washington, DC.

The Museum of the Bible
was created

by the Green family
of Oklahoma City,

who are mostly famous
for owning Hobby Lobby,

the crafting chain.

And they began collecting
biblical artifacts

at a furious rate...

40,000 within the first
couple of years.

We have items

from Gutenberg portions

to fragments, papyri fragments.

With the intent of putting them

in this museum
that they were going to build

and that now exists.

And among the items
that they collected

were some Dead Sea Scroll

Of course, if you're going
to have a museum of the Bible,

you really want to be able

to tell the story
of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

And when they became available,
they were purchased

and then later donated
to the museum

between 2009 and 2015.

But from the beginning,

the fragments raised questions.

Where did they come from,

and why did it take 50 years
for them to reach the market?

Nobody knows,
because that information

is simply not public.

These questions lead back

to the original discovery
of the scrolls.

Soon after they were found
in 1947,

they were brought
to an antiquities dealer

in nearby Bethlehem.


Khalil Iskandar Kando lived
in Bethlehem,

and he had two businesses going,

a shoe store
and an antiquities business.

When the first seven scrolls
were discovered,

the Bedouin turned to Kando

as the intermediary to sell
those scrolls.


Through Kando,
four scrolls were sold

to the archbishop
of the Syrian Orthodox Church

in Jerusalem.

Three others made their way

to Jewish archaeologist
Eleazar Lipa Sukenik.

He bought the scrolls
on a historic day.

The partition of Palestine ends
seven months of deliberation

by the United Nations

and 2,000 years

of political homelessness
for the Jews.


This was the U.N.'s approval

of the establishment
of the State of Israel.

So for Sukenik,
the entire thing was seen

as a kind of fateful event

in which he was receiving
the words of the ancient prophet

at a time
when they were being fulfilled.


My hands shook as I started
to unwrap one of them.

And I suddenly had the feeling
that I was privileged by destiny

to gaze upon a Hebrew scroll

which had not been read
for more than 2,000 years.

So he said, "Look how symbolic.

"As we are voting here

"for the creation
of the State of Israel,

we have..."

In Hebrew, we call it "dash,"
drishat shalom...

from Second Temple times.

Arab opposition
to the partition scheme

has been violent.

The call for a holy war
against the Jews

went out from Cairo.


In the ensuing chaos
of partition,

the Syrian archbishop took
his four scrolls to the U.S.

and tried to sell them.

At a ceremony in the Library
of Congress in Washington,

His Grace Mar Samuel,
metropolitan of Jerusalem,

unrolls a scroll

said to be the oldest known
Bible manuscript in the world.


They exhibited them

in different venues.

But they didn't manage
to sell them.

And so it was June 1, 1954,
I think,

they published an advert in the
"Wall Street Journal," saying,

"Four scrolls for sale,
very nice present

to a religious institute."

But by chance,

Sukenik's son happened to be
in the U.S. at that time

and bought the scrolls.

Because of this
"Wall Street Journal" ad,

Israel now owned
the seven complete scrolls

that had been found
by the original Bedouin boy.

The treasures were brought back
to Israel,

where Scroll fever had scholars
and looters combing the desert

to find more.

What we see from here is
Cave Number Four

that was uncovered in 1952.

In this particular cave,

more than 15,000 fragments
of scrolls were found.

It was like a race between the
Bedouins and the archaeologists.

But unfortunately,
the Bedouins were first, always.

The Bedouins were looting
Cave Number Four,

and filled their sharwal,
their dresses, their clothes

with hundreds of fragments
of wrapping scrolls.


Desperate to study the scrolls,

scholars began buying
the looted artifacts,

many through
the same original broker, Kando.

But unlike
the seven original scrolls,

many of these were in tatters...

Eaten by worms
or coated in bat droppings.

And there was another problem.

When the Bedouins realized

that Kando is paying them
by the piece,

they started to rip the scrolls
into small pieces

and to sell it by...

The piece.

The piecemeal discovery

of tens of thousands
of fragments

from hundreds of scrolls

makes it impossible
to know exactly

where each piece came from.

And without
an accurate inventory,

it's hard to know

if the fragments recently
put up for sale are real.

The caves were empty long ago.

It's always, of course, possible

that Kando or his descendants
have been holding on to pieces

and selling them piecemeal.

And that wouldn't be entirely

I mean, it's a good, steady
source of income.

At the same time,

there have been so many
that have shown up

in the last 12, 15 years,

that it seems like there's got
to be some new source of these

somewhere out there.

My understanding is,
most are sold

by Israeli antiquities dealers.

But nobody's about to say

where they bought
their Dead Sea Scrolls from.

Like any other business,

you have to be careful
of the charlatans...

And mind your back.

Lenny Wolfe is one of
Israel's top antiquities dealers

and has been asked
to broker Dead Sea Scrolls.

In the past 20 years,

I've been offered
by different people,

some half a dozen times,

but the price was off the wall.

And I said,
"Thank you very much, I...

That's out of my league."

Can you say what that is,


There's an old Jewish custom.

You don't mention names,
and you don't mention sums.

It's against the evil eye.


Very little is known

about these highly secretive

But we do know
who the buyers are.

Many are wealthy
American evangelicals,

who are willing to pay
top dollar

for these rare pieces
of biblical history.

Having an interest in the Bible,

it's natural that they,
also they want a Dead Sea Scroll

or two or three or four.

It's quite simple.

If there is not enough supply

to satisfy the demand,

then you have people that start
working and creating,

and that's it.

When a museum or a private
collector acquires any kind

of artifact or document

that does not have a,

an archaeological chain
of custody, so to speak,

you are potentially putting
yourself in a position

where you might be acquiring
something that is forgery,

that is not authentic,

which was produced precisely
for the purpose

of feeding the market.

And that is a phenomenon
that we see

that affects
the Dead Sea Scrolls

no less than any other kind
of archaeological artifact.

Hobby Lobby agrees to forfeit
more than 5,000 artifacts

smuggled out of Iraq.

In 2017, Hobby Lobby,

the company behind
the Museum of the Bible,

was fined millions
by the U.S. government

for buying thousands of
ancient clay tablets and seals

smuggled illegally
out of war-torn Iraq.

The company argues

that this was really a,
sort of a rookie mistake.

We hope that there are not
other rookie mistakes

that they have made
within their Bible Museum.


The controversy
has fueled questions

about the museum's
Dead Sea Scroll collection.

Ancient artifacts do not have
a barcode

to tell you, you know, "Bam,
this is where it came from."


And so the,
there's various methods

to determine whether or not
any given artifact

is in fact authentic.

The Museum of the Bible has
hired a team of outside experts,

including Scroll scholar
Kipp Davis,

to study their fragments.

They have acquired 16,

but he's focusing on a handful
that seem most suspect.

The fragment of Nehemiah

from the Museum of the Bible

preserves a couple of verses
from chapter two.

The word here, "ashuv,"
is clear,

and it's supposed to be followed
by another word, "va-avo."

At first glance,
the fragment looks fine.

But there's a strange mark next
to one of the Hebrew letters.

We were all going to great pains
to try and explain

what was going on
with this odd-looking letter.

Then Kipp stumbled
on a key clue,

hidden in an out-of-print Bible
from 1937.

Right at the top of page 1303,

this tiny little mark here,
which is not Hebrew,

this is actually a superscripted
Greek letter, alpha,

and it corresponds to a footnote

that the editors added.

And down here,
you can see the note,

verse 16.

This, in my opinion,
is, is a forger's error,

where he didn't know his Hebrew
well enough

to recognize that what
he was, he was marking in here

and quite accidentally
reproduced a text-critical note

on his ancient fragment.

The copied footnote
seems to be a smoking gun.


Separating real fragments from
forgeries is painstaking work.

But Kipp's task is made easier
by advanced technology

and access to decades
of scholarship,

a situation very different

from the early days
after their discovery,

when study was monopolized
by a tiny, closed group.

There was DeVaux, Cross, Milik,

Patrick Skehan was on it.

There was a German named
Claus Hunno-Hunzinger,

an Englishman named Allegro,
and Strugnell.

How many is that?

And maybe it was...
And Starcky.

I'm forgetting Starcky.

So for about 40 years,

this means
that less than ten people

were the only ones with access
to what many think

was the greatest
archaeological discovery

in the 20th century.

So very little was known

about all the massive amount
of material.

And this is why the scholarly
world was so, um,

aggravated, to say it mildly.

You know, why does such a group
hold these rights?

When pressured to open
the Scrolls to others,

the leader of the team,
John Strugnell, was dismissive.

We seem to have acquired
a bunch of fleas

who are in the business
of annoying us.

John Strugnell, he had a
brilliant ability to read texts.

But he was bipolar.

He was also alcoholic.

A clamor started

to let other people in
on the game of publishing these.

What eventually
broke the thing open

was that he gave an interview,

and he was quoted as saying that
Judaism is a horrible religion

that ought not to exist.

It, it looked very bad.


So in 1990,

the Israel Antiquities Authority
fired Strugnell,

began opening up access
to the Scrolls,

and instituted
modern preservation techniques.

There was no awareness

of the conservation
and preservation needs

of these scrolls.

So you have old photographs
where you see the scholars

sitting there
with their cigarettes,

with their sandwiches,
with tape.

Every two fragments that they
thought matched, they taped,

and every so many fragments

that they thought belonged
to the same manuscript,

they put in between
two glass plates.

And thus they created
over 1,200 glass plates.

The residues of the tape

penetrate the parchment
and papyrus

and cause their disintegration.

Now, of course,

they did not mean to cause
damage to the scrolls.

Everyone realized
their importance,

but along the way,
a lot of damage was caused.

More damage
in these last 70 years

than in the 2,000
in which they were in the caves.


Though the scholars didn't
know it at the time,

light is particularly harmful
to the scrolls.

I think it's kind of a miracle
that these scrolls survive.

I mean, first of all,
they were hidden in caves, okay?

So, 2,000 years,
they were lying in caves.

But they were preserved
because they were in the dark.


Today, the scrolls
are only displayed

in darkened galleries.


And of the thousands of pieces
in storage,

only a handful are shown
at any time.

As a curator, I have
a responsibility

to make sure that
the scrolls will be preserved

for the coming generations.

Most of them written on
animal skin... ancient parchment,

very fragile materials,
organic materials.

And that's the reason why we
have to rotate the manuscripts.

After three months, we have
to take them out from display

to bring them back
to the safe room

to give it a chance to recover.

We don't exhibit them for more
than three month at a time

or 15,000 lux hours,
whichever comes first.

And we then let them rest
for five years.


Most scrolls are kept
in the conservation lab

at the Israel Antiquities

where they work to repair
past damage.

Okay, this is one
of the original plates.

Okay, you see, they spread them
on these long trestle tables.

So this is one of the
1,200-something glass plates.

The majority of, let's say,
25,000 fragments

were taped, unfortunately.

So what you can see here
is the damage

that the original tape caused.

Residues penetrate the parchment
and cause its disintegration.

And as a matter of fact,
you see that now,

in this particular plate,
why can't we open it?

Because everything is
so gelatinized,

that we are afraid

that if we open
the, the glass plates,

it'll just simply disintegrate
in our hands.

And therefore,
we're waiting to see

if we can find better ways
of opening this

without causing any damage.


You know, it's painstaking.

You really need to understand
this material and to know it

in order to be able
to try and treat it.

Though some of the fragments
have been cleaned

and remounted...

So you see, it's
completely clean.

Many are too delicate to handle.

But conservators are using
a new set of tools

to bring the scrolls
back to life.

This camera system,
designed by NASA engineers,

images each fragment
in 12 wavelengths,

including infrared...
A region of the spectrum

invisible to the naked eye.

We also do 28 exposures,

each from a different angle.

And so you get all the surface
of the scrolls,

both for preservation measures
and for scholarship.


The multispectral imaging system
does more

than just provide
a photographic archive...

As Pnina demonstrates
with this scroll

from the book of Psalms.

The jar was probably sitting
on the floor of the cave,

and humidity penetrated.

And so slowly, slowly,

the humidity also affected
the edges of this scroll,

and a few lines,

and the edges
became gelatinized;

it looks like burnt,
but it's not, it's gelatin.

And therefore, they become
completely illegible.

Now, with our new
imaging system,

all of the writing comes
back to life.


There has been quite
a few new readings,

because of these new images.


Including fragments

from a mysterious sectarian text

scholars are working to assemble

that promises
a "mystery revealed"

to one
who "seeks understanding."

Other fragments include
a long-lost solar calendar

likely used by the Essenes.

Back at the Museum of the Bible,

Kipp Davis is also relying
on powerful imaging.

He wants to uncover

whether fragments that have
recently reached the market

are fake.

When Kipp looked
at this fragment

owned by a Norwegian collector,

he discovered a problem.


When some fragments
have been sitting

in the Judean Desert region,

in the neighborhood
of the Dead Sea,

lots of them have collected salt
on the surface.

And they look kind of cool
and fairly random in shape.

They look like
these great, big crystals

from a distant planet
or something, right?

One of the fragments
that we examined in Norway

was really intriguing,

because it appears
that somebody had attempted

to mimic this on the fragment...

But used table salt,

which has a different
chemical composition

and appears much different
underneath the microscope.

When we examined the fragment
under, under the microscope,

it revealed a very even
distribution of salt

right across it,

like someone had taken
a salt shaker.

This really was
a, a smoking-gun moment

in the case of
this particular fragment,

that, that it, it could not have
been produced in Antiquity,

when there was no table salt.


And there was something else off

about the fragment.

We saw ink

not just lying underneath
the particles of salt,

but at high magnification,
you can see

ink has been applied
right over top

of some of
the individual salt kernels.

Ink is put on top of
a table-salted fragment,

is an indication
that this was produced

after the invention
of table salt.

The evidence seems to suggest
it's a fake,

but a good one,
written on ancient papyrus.

The people who do
these kinds of forgeries

can do all sort of things.

They can take
ancient scroll fragments,

and they can write on them.

You could go on eBay right now

and purchase a blank piece
of ancient parchment.

These things passed
carbon-14 dating.

And that's why they were able
to be offered for sale,

and no one dreamt
that they were forged.

But Pnina is confident

that the scrolls in
her collection are authentic.

This was the first question
of course,

"Are your scrolls fake?"

No, they can't be fake,

they came from the field.

And the Bedouin themselves,
you know, brought them

to the archaeologists,

because they realized
they were worth a lot of money.

The importance of some
of the Scrolls is obvious.

Okay, and that's
the first chapter of Genesis.

And it says here,

"When God created the skies
and the earth..."

But one of the most important
recent discoveries

was only revealed when
modern technology was applied

to this box of charred remains.

What you're seeing here
are the charcoals

from the Synagogue of En Gedi.


Located near the bank
of the Dead Sea,

En Gedi is the site
of a synagogue that burned

nearly 1,500 years ago.

During excavations in 1970,

archaeologists found
these charred pieces

where the Torah platform
once stood.

Believed to be the burned
remnants of ancient scrolls,

they sat in a closet
at the Antiquities Authority

for nearly half a century.


One day, there's a knock
on the door,

and the guy
who actually excavated

the synagogue of En Gedi in 1970

walks in
with these boxes of charcoal.

And he says,
"I was told you can image this."

And I looked at him and I said,
"You must be joking,

this is charcoal."

Okay, so you see here,
the chunk.

Unlikely as it seemed,
Pnina was intrigued.

So maybe in all these chunks,

there are still parts of the,

of scrolls of the Bible.

Could it be possible
to find text in this?

She found her answer
in a very unlikely place.


Kentucky is a flyover state,

it's far away from Jerusalem.

And so Pnina heard about us,

because we were really
the only ones

who were crazy enough
to imagine that that,

that's actually possible.


Computer scientist Brent Seales

and his artist friend
Tim Vetters

had spent years trying
to develop a way

to digitally read
ancient scrolls

too damaged
to physically unroll.

I just cut the papyrus in strips
and rolled it up.

They conduct their experiments
on test scrolls they create.

As I worked with Tim
creating proxies,

doing science on those proxies,

I became a believer in our
ability to solve this problem.


Yes, the edges are turning
to ash already.


And once it's ash, it's done.

a fire will fully combust

and burn a scroll away
to nothing.

It's oxidation, right?

Which means it's converting
from papyrus into ash.

I mean, gone.

So something else happened
at En Gedi.

Why wasn't the scroll
at En Gedi completely consumed

and turned into
indecipherable ash?

So we load the box
with the scrolls.

Like these test scrolls

that Tim puts in a metal box
before burning,

it's possible that the En Gedi
scroll was inside a holy ark

when it burned.


deprived of the oxygen needed
to fully consume the scroll,

the fire instead carbonized it.

Carbonization is not the same
thing as combustion, right?

Combustion completely consumes
what's there to ashes.

The material's gone.

They're cooled down now.

Yeah, look at that.

Definitely carbonized.

Carbonization is this
intermediate process

that leaves the structure
of the material

even though it changes it.

You see all the wraps

and all the structure is
still there.


And the miracle of En Gedi is
that that scroll was carbonized.

And that meant that those items

potentially still had text
available inside them.

Though Brent had spent years
perfecting a technology

that could extract text
from a carbonized scroll,

he had never successfully
used it on the real thing.

What we did in the lab

was that we created materials

that were of no value at all

for the scientific inquiry.

But what we wanted
was to apply it

to a really authentic thing.


Back in Washington, Kipp Davis
is getting his first look

at a final, prized fragment

in the Museum of the Bible's

This is a fragment

that contains text
from Genesis chapter 32,

and it's supposedly
from the first century BCE

or the first century CE.


I'm checking the surface of it,

because when manuscripts
have been lying around

in the desert
for hundreds of years,

the top layer will start
to flake away,

and, with it, it takes the inks.

You can see very clearly here

the edge of the top layer

and all the blurry stuff
behind it

is the under layer.

The ink is broken sharply

along with where the skin
has peeled off.

The ink has come off with it.

So this is, this is
what we would expect to see

on any Judean Desert fragment

that has been sitting out
in a cave for 2,000 years.

Could this really be a
2,000-year-old copy of Genesis?


Kipp keeps digging.

When we go down
to this part here,

this is problematic.

You can see the, the same edge
of the top layer,

here is the, the part
that's in focus,

and the under layer is
all blurry behind it.

This black is the ink,

however, there is a small spot

where the ink actually appears
on the under layer.

This fragment
was already damaged

and that top layer
had already peeled off

when this letter was penned
onto the, onto the surface.

My suspicion is that
it's probably not authentic.

It's a kind of, it's a kind of
mistake that somebody would make

without knowing
that they made it,

and it's almost impossible
to avoid,

just because you're working
on such a small scale.

This one hurts, because it's...

This is one of the fragments

that I had been holding out hope
was authentic.

Some of the other ones,

it's, it's really, really

but this one, no,

it's a much better-looking

than, than some
of the other fragments.

The Museum of the Bible
confirmed today

that five of its 16 Dead Sea
Scroll fragments are not real.


Further lab tests reveal
that the chemical signatures

of the sediments and inks
found on the fragments

don't match those typically
found on authentic scrolls...

Confirming Kipp's suspicion
that they are likely fakes.

We have reached the conclusion

that at least
some of the fragments

do show characteristics
that are inconsistent

with ancient origin,

that they were produced
more recently,

probably much more recently,
than 2,000 years ago.

And so we've chosen not
to display those fragments,

because, you know, scholars
and scientists have determined

that, that these are
legitimate questions.

As for the rest of this museum's
fragment collection,

they say they will get them

and the results
will be released.


In some ways, it feels good,

because this confirms,

helps to confirm,

suspicions that I've had
about some of the fragments

for a long time.

But if the fragments
aren't real,

who made them?

Who did the fragments,
if they're not ancient,

is a, is a great question.

We've documented what we can

about the ownership history,

but going back beyond that,

we really don't have
any information.

So the museum, at this point,
doesn't have any ideas.

That's not
a real helpful answer,

but we just don't know... yeah.


Do you know who did this?

No idea.

No idea.

And if I did know,
I wouldn't tell you.

It's a problematic market,
a very problematic market.

And anyone who...

Who wades in deeply

and doesn't know
what they're doing,

they're in serious danger
of getting burned.

And that's it.

Thank you.


The only thing that's certain
is that after 2,000 years,

the Scrolls remain cloaked
in intrigue.

So here's an interesting thing.

The Qumran sectarians wanted
to keep their teachings secret.

And then you had the scholars

who wanted to keep
the Scrolls secret.

Now we're in the business
of opening up secrets,

but the funny part about it

is that there's some secrets
that we can't penetrate.

And one secret we don't seem
to be able to penetrate

is who forged the forgeries.

But there's always hope

that someone will find out
who did it,

and then we'll know
where some of these came from.

But I think it's pretty clear
that some of them are forged.

Here's one that also has
a shape like that.

There is no question
that the charcoal from En Gedi

is authentic.

And although reading
what was in it

seemed like a long shot,

Pnina wanted to give
Brent's technology a try.

But there were skeptics.

I still remember the, the,

my conservators saying...

You know, "This is charcoal."

And I said,
"Take, take just a piece.

Let's see what happens."

To read the scroll,

first Brent needed something

that could see inside
the charred remains.

A high-resolution CT scanner
could work,

but there was a problem.

There was no way that
Pnina would take that scroll

and put it in a box
and FedEx to me the scroll.

The scroll from En Gedi was
scanned in Israel for us.

I would say this was
100 to 1,000 times better

than the scan that would come
from a medical scanner.

CT scanners normally distinguish
bone from tissue,

but here the trick was to
separate writing from parchment

by identifying traces of metal
in the ink.

The data we got

for a scroll that turns out

to be about
three or four inches long

had over 4,000 slices.

That's 1,000 slices per inch.

Really, the resolution is
very, very fine,

like the width of a human hair.

And as we put the slices
on the left together,

the shape of the actual scroll
comes out on the right.

This is the process
of stitching it together.

Using the data from the scan,

Brent's program makes
a 3D virtual model

that allows him to see
the scroll's inner structure.

And the software helps us go in

and map out everything

about that
three-dimensional world.

And that mapping process
is definitely complicated

by the fact
that the shape of that world

is completely unpredictable.


Layer by layer, Brent breaks
the three-inch scroll

into about
100 million triangles,

allowing him to precisely map
every twist and turn.

And we just capture that

and model it for the purpose
of the computer algorithms

by using these triangles.

And that forms the geometric
backplate for everything.

With the interior
of the scroll modeled,

he can then place the ink points
detected during the scan

onto the surface
of each layer of the scroll.

The ink is more dense.

That means it shows up
as brighter.

You can see the writing appear,

line after line after line.


he flattens the layer

to make the writing legible.

And that's when
you can see definitively

that the characters are
Hebrew, right?

It must be a text.

So you see,
we do layers individually

and then unwrap them

And then all of those
unwrapped layers all line up.

Not sure of the significance
of the text,

but absolutely certain

of the significance
of the technology.

You know, the text could have
been anything, right?

But Pnina knew right away
what it was.

So I write back to Brent,
and I said to him,

"You won't believe
what you found!"

"What you have deciphered

is the first chapter
of the book of Leviticus!!!"

Three exclamation points.

"After the Dead Sea Scrolls,

"this is the earliest Bible
ever found.

"And if that's not enough,
it's the first time ever

a Bible has been found
within an excavated synagogue."

I mean, how would you feel
if you got that email, right?

We were walking on air.

The text dates to the third
or fourth century CE...

More than a century
after the last Dead Sea Scrolls

were stashed in the caves
at Qumran...

And matches our modern version
of Leviticus almost exactly.

The big deal
about the En Gedi find

is that it shows us
that the text really was set.

This suggests
that the Bible as we know it

may have been fixed
as early as 1,800 years ago.

No one knows exactly
what accounts for the survival

of one version of the Bible
over another.

But the lesson that Pnina draws
from En Gedi,

and from the last 70 years

conservators have worked
with the scrolls,

is clear.

We shouldn't interfere,

and we shouldn't do
what we don't know how to do,

because, you know, technology
develops all the time,

and this is a proof
that, you know,

if we just wait patiently,

we can preserve
all of this material

for the benefit of us
and the future generations.

And in the meantime,

Oren Gutfeld believes

there are still other scrolls
out here

to be found.

In this cave near Qumran,

he recently found remnants
of a straw bed,

pottery matching the jars

to have once held the scrolls,

and even a tiny piece
of parchment.

I mean, it's better
than nothing.

It's much better than nothing.

No, I'm not,
I'm not going to give up.

As long that I can still climb
to these,

on the cliffs to the caves,

I will continue do that.

I think surely there
must be other caves out there

that have stuff in them.

Nobody ever thought
we'd find these.


There's really no way
of predicting

what the next discovery
is, is going to be

or where it's going
to come from.

I think it's fairly reasonable

to guess
there will be something.

Surely there will be something.