Illuminating Genetic Mysteries of the Dead Sea Scrolls

Sarit Anava, Moran Neuhof, Hila Gingold, Or Sagy, Arielle Munters, Emma M. Svensson, Ebrahim Afshinnekoo, David Danko, Jonathan Foox, Pnina Shor, Beatriz Riestra, Dorothée Huchon, Christopher E. Mason, Noam Mizrahi, Mattias Jakobsson, Oded Rechavi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

The discovery of the 2,000-year-old Dead Sea Scrolls had an incomparable impact on the historical understanding of Judaism and Christianity. “Piecing together” scroll fragments is like solving jigsaw puzzles with an unknown number of missing parts. We used the fact that most scrolls are made from animal skins to “fingerprint” pieces based on DNA sequences. Genetic sorting of the scrolls illuminates their textual relationship and historical significance. Disambiguating the contested relationship between Jeremiah fragments supplies evidence that some scrolls were brought to the Qumran caves from elsewhere; significantly, they demonstrate that divergent versions of Jeremiah circulated in parallel throughout Israel (ancient Judea). Similarly, patterns discovered in non-biblical scrolls, particularly the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice, suggest that the Qumran scrolls represent the broader cultural milieu of the period. Finally, genetic analysis divorces debated fragments from the Qumran scrolls. Our study demonstrates that interdisciplinary approaches enrich the scholar's toolkit.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1218-1231.e27
JournalCell
Volume181
Issue number6
DOIs
StatePublished - 11 Jun 2020

Keywords

  • Dead Sea Scrolls
  • ancient DNA
  • archaeology
  • genetics
  • history
  • paleogenomics
  • phylogenetics

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