Just off the western shore of the Dead Sea, north of the rock fortress of Masada and south of the Essene community of Qumran, lies a small oasis in the midst of the Judean desert called En Gedi. This is where David hid out from King Saul's men who were seeking to take his life. This is the place Solomon writes about, "the vineyards of En Gedi", in the biblical love letter, the Song of Songs. And this is the location of an ancient desert community, where people seeking refuge lived and where a Jewish synagogue was located. It was here, along with the cloister of Qumran, where Essene scribes made copies of the Hebrew Old Testament for use in their synagogues.
The Jews would read from the Torah (the first five books of Moses) every time they would meet in the synagogue. They had a whole system of readings, like our lectionary system today, which would cover the entire Torah every year or every 3 years. The scrolls at En Gedi would have been used for these readings.
Fast forward to 1970 when a portion of a scroll from Leviticus, named the En Gedi Scroll, was found by archaeologists amid the ruins of an ancient synagogue. The scroll had been burned due to a fire in the synagogue, making it illegible and so fragile that it would disintegrate if touched. It was therefore unable to be studied, but thankfully was preserved for safe keeping.
This is the oldest scroll ever discovered in its original location in an ark in a synagogue. The synagogue fire was in the 6th century, but the scroll itself could be much older, even dating back to the 1st century or the the time of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Today the technology is finally here to allow researchers to read the ancient scroll. It's called micro-computed tomography, which is basically a micro CT scan that can read the location of the ink and then reconstruct the text of the document. Truly amazing.
And even more amazing is how God continues to keep and preserve His Word today through the church by the power of the Holy Spirit.