JERUSALEM, 2022 – Archaeologists working in the same cave where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered made a startling find recently.
For the first time in over 60 years, a new fragment of papyrus has been found that belongs with the original cache of ancient Jewish and Hebrew religious manuscripts.
“The discovery was quite accidental,” Dr. Amanda Hugenkiss, the Associate Director of the Israel Antiquities Authority, told the Associated Press. “We were searching through the ‘Cave of Horrors’ [where the original Dead Sea Scrolls were found in 1947] when we came across a set of clay pots which contained 7 scrolls of varying condition.”
Upon closer inspection, archaeologists soon found they had even more cause for celebration. “We documented each scroll and fragment as a matter of protocol,” she says. “There were copies of Essene texts, and a few Gnostic documents, but the largest fragment was of the Old Testament book of Numbers, and it was a copy that predates anything else we have on record so far.”
However, not only was this copy of Numbers older than any other text uncovered to date, it also contained additional verses that were most likely edited out over time by later scribes who may not have felt comfortable with the contents.
“Once our translators began working on the Numbers scroll, we realized we were looking at a much earlier copy. There were entire verses and even longer chapters of material that simply did not appear in any of our more recent copies of the text,” says Hugenkiss.
“When we think about the biblical text, we think about something very static,” says Dr. Ivan Ulser, head of the antiquities authority’s Dead Sea Scrolls translation team. “There are always slight differences between texts, and some of those differences are quite significant.”
The most shocking discovery? The inclusion of instructions for Priests to perform adultery tests on men. “Bible scholars are already familiar with the fact that the book of Numbers we have today includes a test for husbands who suspect their wives of adultery,” explains Bible expert Dr. Mike Hunt. “But we had no idea the original text also included a similar adultery test for women who suspected their husbands might be cheating.”
The text in Numbers that Dr. Hunt is referring to appears in Chapter 5 and reads:
“But if you have gone astray while married to your husband and you have made yourself impure by having sexual relations with a man other than your husband”— here the priest is to put the woman under this curse—“may the Lord cause you to become a curse among your people when he makes your womb miscarry and your abdomen swell. May this water that brings a curse enter your body so that your abdomen swells or your womb miscarries.” [v. 20-22]
This Biblical instruction for Priests to perform abortions on unfaithful mothers – with God’s help – is already a troublesome text, admits Dr. Hunt. “We’ve wrestled over that one for some time,” he says. “But this new text we’ve uncovered picks up immediately after this and goes on to provide an equal procedure for Jewish wives.”
The new text uncovered in the older version of the book of Numbers reads as follows:
“But if you suspect your husband has broken the marriage covenant and made you impure by having sexual relations with another woman – here the priest is to put the man under the curse of God – “may the Lord cause the man to tremble and to fall under the curse of the Most High and may this water cause the man’s penis to swell to the size of a melon and burst apart into many pieces.”
Scholars suspect this section of the text was most likely removed because of how uncomfortable it made male scribes feel. “Even our own translators – who are all men – physically reacted to this as soon as it was translated. One man had to be sent home because he said he wasn’t feeling well,” says Dr. Hunt.
Whether or not this new text will find its way into our Bibles today seems highly unlikely. “Most of the Bible scholars, Bible teachers, and Pastors in our Church today are male,” Dr. Hunt explains. “Even though we can prove that this additional text was in the original document and was removed in more recent copies by scribes who [also male] were uncomfortable with this gruesome procedure, it’s probably better to just let this one go.”
For now, Dr. Hunt and his team have decided to return this fragment of Numbers to the cave where they originally found it. “It’s probably just better to leave it there for future archaeologists to discover,” he said. “Maybe in a few hundred years the Christian Church will be ready for a Bible that treats men and women the same. Until then, we’re just going to pretend this never happened. It’s better this way. Trust me.”
NOTE: I really shouldn’t have to say this, but just in case you needed the hint: this is satire. No one found any new scrolls. It’s written to make you think.
Please feel free to read it again from the beginning if that helps you process what is being said.
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Keith Giles is the author of the 7-part best-selling “Jesus Un” book series from Quoir Publishing. His latest -and final book – in this series, Jesus Unarmed: How The Prince Of Peace Disarms Our Violence is available now. Keith is also the host of Second Cup with Keith [a new solo podcast available now on the Ethos Radio App, for Apple and Android and on Spotify; and the Heretic Happy Hour Podcast [along with co-hosts Matthew Distefano, Dr. Katy Valentine, and Derek Day], and the new Imaginary Lines YouTube Channel with poet Darrell Epp. He and his wife, Wendy, currently live in El Paso, TX and work with Peace Catalyst International.