Parts of a scroll damaged by fire about 1,500 years ago has been deciphered, revealing it to contain the oldest Biblical text to have been found since the Dead Sea Scrolls, experts announced in Israel earlier this month.

The burnt remains of the document were found inside an ark during excavations of a synagogue at Ein Gedi in 1970. But it's only now, using the same state-of-the-art technologies being used to preserve and document the Dead Sea Scrolls, that the scroll has been deciphered.

Written in the late sixth century AD, it has been found to contain the first eight verses of the Book of Leviticus. Its date of creation makes it the oldest scroll containing one of the first five books of the Bible to have been found since the Dead Sea Scrolls most of which were written in the "Second Temple period" between 100 BC and 100 AD.

Dr Sefi Porath, who discovered the scroll in 1970, described the deciphering of the scroll, "which was a puzzle for us for 45 years", as "very exciting". He said that while he had no information about the cause of the fire which completely burnt the Byzantine-era Jewish village of Ein Gedi to the ground, "speculation about the destruction ranges from Bedouin raiders from the region east of the Dead Sea to conflicts with the Byzantine government".

Pnina Shor, curator and director of the Dead Sea Scrolls Projects at the Israel Antiquities Authority - which has been working with Merkel Technologies Company to digitise Dead Sea Scroll fragments, said the discovery "absolutely astonished us". "(W)e were certain it was just a shot in the dark but decided to try and scan the burnt scroll anyway. Now, not only can we bequeath the Dead Sea Scrolls to future generations, but also a part of the Bible from a Holy Ark of a 1,500-year-old synagogue."

~ www.antiquities.org.il

~ www.deadseascrolls.org.il