In 1970, Israeli archaeologists discovered an ancient synagogue in the oasis of Ein-Gedi in the Negev. Its ark contained charred lumps that had once been Torah scrolls, destroyed in a long-ago fire, which are the oldest extant manuscripts of the Pentateuch besides the Dead Sea Scrolls. Since even touching the scrolls would cause them to disintegrate, they have remained a mystery until recently, when a team of researchers used “virtual-unwrapping” technology to produce a legible scan of the texts. Nicholas Wade writes:
The scroll’s content, the first two chapters of the book of Leviticus, has consonants—early Hebrew texts didn’t specify vowels—that are identical to those of the Masoretic text, the authoritative version of the Hebrew Bible and the one often used as the basis for translations of the Old Testament in Protestant Bibles.
The Dead Sea Scrolls . . . contain versions quite similar to the Masoretic text but with many small differences. The text in the scroll found at the Ein-Gedi excavation site . . . has none, according to Emanuel Tov, an expert on the Dead Sea Scrolls at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
“We have never found something as striking as this,” Tov said. “This is the earliest evidence of the exact form of the [Masoretic] text.”
The date of the Ein-Gedi scroll is the subject of conflicting evidence. A carbon-14 measurement indicates that the scroll was copied around 300 CE. But the style of the ancient script suggests a date nearer to 100 CE. “We may safely date this scroll” to between 50 and 100 CE, wrote Ada Yardeni, an expert on Hebrew paleography. . . . Dr. Tov [also] said he was “inclined toward a 1st-century date.”