Dead Sea Scrolls at the Vatican

A visit to the Vatican Museums almost always yields something new. You can never know which rooms will be open, so occasionally there is the pleasant surprise of getting to see material that is usually hidden away. There are also times that your eye catches something that is always on display but that, for whatever reason, you have missed before. In this instance, it was a couple items in the Museo Gregoriano Egizio. In a cabinet of miscellaneous near eastern artifacts, and facing away from the intense “flow” of directed traffic in the museum, are two small animal hide fragments inscribed with Hebrew text and framed upside down.

“Dead Sea Scroll” fragments on display in the Vatican Museum, inv. 57241 and 57242; image: Brent Nongbri 2021

They carry the label “Inscribed fragments of Qumran Scrolls.” I was surprised to see these items here, not only because I had never noticed them on several previous visits, but also because I must admit that I did not know that the Vatican had any scrolls. I was aware that the Vatican Library financially supported the excavations in the Qumran caves in the 1950s, but unlike some other institutions, the Vatican did not receive any scrolls. And in fact, as the label indicates, these two fragments (inventory numbers 57241 and 57242) are not “excavation” fragments; they come from the personal collection of Salvatore Garofalo (1911-1998), a priest and theologian who spent some time in the Levant in the 1950s and 1960s.

Salvatore Garofalo; image source: Lorenzo Nigro, Gerusalemme e la Palestina: Uno sguardo tra Bibbia e Archeologia: La Terra Santa nelle fotografie di Monsignor Salvatore Garofalo (Vatican City: Vatican Museum, 2008), p. 13.

The fragments seem to have been donated to the Vatican in the late 1990s. One of the fragments, written in a paleo-Hebrew script, was published in 2000:

Giancarlo Lacerenza, “Un nouveau fragment en écriture paléohébraïque,” RevQ 19 (2000), 441-447, with a follow-up palaeographic study by Émile Puech, “Note additionnelle sur le fragment en paléo-hébreu,” RevQ 19 (2000), 449-451.

Image source: Giancarlo Lacerenza, “Un nouveau fragment en écriture paléohébraïque,” RevQ 19 (2000) 441-447

Puech suggested that this paleo-Hebrew fragment may belong to 11Q22. The other fragment seems to be unpublished and, as far as I can tell, unstudied.

For provenance, little information is available, only Lacerenza’s statement that these pieces came from a private collection and that an earlier owner (presumably Garofalo) had acquired them during his time in Jerusalem:

“Ce fragment se trouve depuis quarante ans et plus dans une collection privée, à Rome, où je l’ai examiné récemment. Son existence m’est, néammoins, connue depuis longtemps, grâce à un renseignement du propriétaire précédent, qui l’avait en son temps reçu à Jérusalem, ainsi qu’un deuxième fragment, provenant également de Qumran.”

Lacerenza continues in a footnote: “II semble que les deux fragments aient été achetés séparément; malheureusement, les grottes de provenance étaient restées inconnues du proprietaire lui-meme.”

Better images of the pieces are available in an online article in Fogli e Parole d’Arte about Garofalo:

“Dead Sea Scroll” fragments at the Vatican Museum, inv. 57241 and 57242; image source: Rossana Nicolò, “Gerusalemme e la Palestina,” Fogli e Parole d’Arte

It is not clear to me how Garofalo came to be in possession of these fragments. I wonder if readers have any insights?

This entry was posted in Antiquities Dealers and Collectors, Antiquities Market, Archaeological context, Dead Sea Scrolls. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Dead Sea Scrolls at the Vatican

  1. Alexander Schick says:

    Guess like the fragments in Terra Sancta Museum (Via Dolorosa, Jerusalem), they could have been sold by a jordanian officer at these days during the jordan occupation of Jerusalem. Not only the PAM bought fragments. In the private papers of the late Prof. Hunzinger (he passed away at the 6th of January this year) I have seen requests from other scholars in the 1950’ies about meetings with Kando and that members of the international team had been pleased to join the meetings as the experts on the DSS. And so they did. About Prof Hunzinger see the Memorialscript in the forthcoming Qumran Chronicle (Double Issue). The letters, we hope to publish also in the next time in Qumran Chronicle. They shed a fresh and new light from inside of the team. And in the archive are letters from de Vaux, Saad, Strugnell, Cross, Fitzmeyer, Allegro, Millik, Benoitm, Starcky and more … Best Alexander Schick

  2. r2ch says:

    How come Italian words are always better. I never knew ‘rotoli’ was the word for scroll, it’s so beautiful!

  3. No insight, and today without even DJD at hand, but a mere guess: both from Cave 11.
    Paging Prof. Tigchelaar (author of, inter alia) “Revisiting Qumran Cave 11” (online).

  4. tjrwalsh says:

    Not better, just more musical (rotolo di carta igienica = toilet roll). Bob Dylan’s first g’friend in New York was Suze Rotolo.

  5. Matthew Hamilton says:

    “possibly belongs to 4QpaleoExodm” so pages 165 and 214, The Texts from the Judaean Desert, Indices, and An Introduction to the Discoveries in the Judaean Desert Series, ed. E. Tov; with contributions by M.G. Abegg, Jr., A. Lange, U. Mittmunn-Richert, S.J. Pfann, E.J.C. Tigchelaar, E. Ulrich, and B. Webster (Oxford: Clarendon, 2002), DJD XXXIX
    See also Journey of Faith: Art & History from the Vatican Collection, ed. Asian Civilisations Museum (Singapore: Asian Civilisations Museum, 2005), pages 114-115, “Two Fragments of the Qumràn Scrolls (including an extract from the Book of Daniel)” by Lorenzo Nigro

  6. I should have consulted Matthew Hamilton’s great bibliography (not at hand at the moment); and old discussion on g-megillot and on Jim Davila’s paleojudaica; and old email. And – if these are the same two Vatican-owned fragments shown in Singapore in 2005—there have been differing descriptions. I don’t have the Singapore catalog.
    The paleo. Some formerly thought it to be from 4Q22; now maybe from 11Q22. (The 22s presumably coincidental.)
    The other formerly described as Hebrew or Aramaic (in script?). And sometime as from Daniel (Hebrew portion), or an extract (pesher?), or just sharing vocabulary.
    Does the catalog include, on one [which?] of the fragments, the following (second or third hand old quote)?: “it is possible to imagine that the fragment belongs to a non-biblical book…”

  7. Correcting myself, the paleo-Hebrew one shares a word with Daniel 11:36.

  8. Pingback: Better Images of the Dead Sea Scrolls at the Vatican | Variant Readings

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