Researcher finds tantalizing tefillin parchments from Second Temple era, overlooked for decades and unread for 2,000 years.
The Times of Israel (March 12) — They’re not much larger than lentils, but size doesn’t minimize the potential significance of nine newfound Dead Sea Scrolls that have lain unopened for the better part of six decades.
An Israeli scholar turned up the previously unexamined parchments, which had escaped the notice of academics and archaeologists as they focused on their other extraordinary finds in the 1950s. Once opened, the minuscule phylactery parchments from Qumran, while unlikely to yield any shattering historic, linguistic or religious breakthroughs, could shed new light on the religious practices of Second Temple Judaism.
The Israel Antiquities Authority has been tasked with unraveling and preserving the new discoveries — an acutely sensitive process and one which the IAA says it will conduct painstakingly, and only after conducting considerable preparatory research.
Phylacteries, known in Judaism by the Hebrew term tefillin, are pairs of leather cases containing biblical passages from the books of Exodus and Deuteronomy. One case is bound by leather thongs to the head and one to the arm during morning prayers, as prescribed by rabbinic interpretation of the Bible. The case worn on the head contains four scrolls in individual compartments, while the arm phylactery holds one scroll.
At least two dozen tefillin scroll fragments were known to have been found during excavations of the limestone caves overlooking the Dead Sea at Qumran in the 1950s (several phylactery boxes and straps were unearthed as well). They were among the world-famous cache of thousands of scrolls and scroll fragments containing biblical and sectarian texts from the Second Temple period. Since their discovery, the Qumran scrolls have been housed at the Israel Museum, and scholars have pored over the ancient documents and opened a window into ancient Jewish theology.
But these nine latest tiny scrolls had been overlooked — until now.
…While that analysis has yet to be confirmed, Adler was spurred on by the discovery, and in December visited the Dead Sea Scroll labs at the Israel Museum. There he found two tiny scrolls inside the compartments of a tefillin case that had been documented but then put aside some time after 1952. The scrolls were never photographed or examined, and so have remained bound inside the leather box for roughly 2,000 years.