By Aaron Earls
Volcanic ash may have buried a treasure trove of ancient literature, including Bible manuscripts, but we may be close to reading them for the first time in almost 2,000 years.
When Mt. Vesuvius erupted in A.D. 79, the volcano covered the ancient cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum. In the buried city of Herculaneum, archeologists discovered a library in the 1700s—the only intact library of the ancient world.
Scholars say it may include early Christian writings, “even the first references to Jesus,” according to 60 Minutes.
But the scrolls contained in it were so damaged by the heat that no one could open them. However, new computer scanning methods may be able to reveal what is beneath the charred outsides.
“The history of unwrapping the Herculaneum scrolls is littered with failures,” Brent Seales, a University of Kentucky computer scientist, told 60 Minutes.
“Everyone who had tried to open the scrolls had left behind a hideous trail of fragmentary results.”
However, Seales has already deciphered a similarly damaged scroll from a village beside the Dead Sea, known as the Ein Gedi Scroll.
Using a method of scanning and virtually unrolling the document, Seales and his team discovered the scroll contained the first two chapters of Leviticus dating back to the first or second century A.D., according to National Geographic.
Before this discovery, there was a gap in Old Testament manuscripts between the Dead Sea Scrolls, written shortly before and after the time of Jesus, and documents from the Middle Ages.
So far, the Naples library has not granted Seales access to the Herculaneum scrolls.
Two Italian scholars, physicist Vito Mocella and papyrologist Graziano Ranocchia, are currently studying them, using their own computer software methods.
However, since Seales published his discovery of the Ein Gedi Scroll, the Naples library is considering allowing him the opportunity to examine its scrolls.
This may mean text hidden for thousands of years will soon be readable again.
As of now, 1,800 scrolls have been removed from the dig site and possibly hundreds more remain in the library itself, which has not yet been excavated, says Massimo Osanna, former administrator of Herculaneum and Pompeii.
According to 60 Minutes, scholars and experts believe those documents could include previously unknown Greek and Latin masterpieces, writings from famous figures such as Aristotle or Virgil, and possibly some of the earliest New Testament manuscripts.
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AARON EARLS (@WardrobeDoor) is online editor of Facts & Trends.