Until recently, the majority of the Dead Sea Scrolls were written between the 2nd century BCE and 2nd century CE. They were our oldest copies of biblical text. But in 1979, Judith Hadley, a girl from Toledo Ohio was assisting archaeologist, Gabriel Barkay, in excavating a site in Jerusalem’s Hinnom Valley. Going into a burial cave, Judith noticed something resembling a cigarette butt. This tiny item, only an inch long turned out to be a scroll of great antiquity, with another found nearby. These tiny scrolls, dating back to the Hebrew monarchy seven centuries before Christ, were so small and fragile they took several years to clean and open.
When Israeli technicians finally unrolled the scrolls, the world’s oldest surviving copy of a biblical text was revealed, the words of Numbers 6:24–26: The LORD bless you and keep you; The LORD make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace. While these scrolls date from the seventh century B.C., the original words are far older, coming 1,400 years before Christ. As the Israelites wandered in the wilderness, the Lord commanded the priests to bless the people with this three-fold blessing.
These ancient lyrics have been set to music many times, but never more beautifully than by Peter Christian Lutkin in his classic tune BENEDICTION.