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Tuesday, September 28, 1999 Published at 16:17 GMT 17:17 UK


Religious text could be 'lost scroll'

Stephen Pfann: Further research required

A religious text, which is being billed by some as one of the "lost" Dead Sea Scrolls, has mysteriously surfaced in Israel. Stephen Pfann, a scholar and president of the University of the Holy Land, is currently studying the document.

He says the text uses some of the same phrases and imagery as the famous 2000-year-old scrolls. However, he warns that further study will be required before experts can confirm whether the so-called "Angel Scroll" is genuine or an elaborate hoax.

If it is real, it could shed new light on Jewish mysticism and the origins of Christianity, Dr Pfann says.

"I haven't found anything to knock this totally out of the ballpark," he told The Associated Press. "If it's a forgery, it was done by an expert who has studied Dead Sea Scrolls at length."

The whole story surrounding the Angel Scroll is bizarre to say the least. Rumors have circulated among scholars for many years that one of the Dead Sea Scrolls - the religious writings of the Essenes found in caves near the Dead Sea between 1947 and 1954 - made its way to an antiquities dealer in one of the nearby Arab capitals.

Sworn to secrecy

The Jerusalem Report magazine this week reported that Benedictine monks had bought the parchment, filled with 1,000 lines of Hebrew text, in 1974. It was said the monks took the parchment to a monastery on the German-Austrian border and secretly studied it.

The monks were sworn to secrecy, but one - identified only by the pseudonym Mateus - broke the vow, bequeathing a transcript and his commentary to a German friend after his death in 1996.

The transcript was then given to an Israeli college administrator and a physician with an interest in Kabbala, a form of Jewish mysticism, the magazine reported. The two men have insisted on anonymity, but allowed the magazine to look at the transcript. The publication said its limited access meant it was unable to draw any firm conclusions about the scroll's authenticity.

The college administrator handed Dr Pfann - one of several Christian scholars deciphering the Dead Sea Scrolls - one-fourth of the transcript for a review.

A believer's story

In the document, one "Yeshua ben Padiah" describes a religious vision he says he had while at Ein Eglatain, a desert settlement on the eastern shore of the Dead Sea. The author is taken by an angel, Panameia, on a trip of the heavens, entering through the gates of a heavenly palace.

A second unidentified source in the document provides embalming recipes for the resurrection of the dead and the use of herbs and stones for healing, practices attributed to the Essenes by the Jewish historian Josephus, a contemporary.

Phrases associated with the Essenes recur in the new text, such as "children of light" and "children of darkness" as well as the word "el" for God. Grammar and spellings are similar to those of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Dr Pfann says he also found a complete phrase in Yeshua's story that he had been trying to reconstruct in one of the scrolls he was working on.

Father Bargil Pixner, the Benedictine authority on the Dead Sea Scrolls, is reported to be skeptical about the text. If the Benedictines were in possession of a scroll, "I would know about it," Pixner said.

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