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Dead Sea Scrolls: The mysterious scribe wrote eight different scrolls

About 2,000 years ago, a single scribe wrote at least eight of the manuscripts from the Dead Sea Scrolls, making him the most prolific scribe ever identified, a group of scholars have found.
The Dead Sea Scrolls are a corpus of about 25,000 fragments found in caves on the Dead Sea coast in the 1940s and 1950s. The artifacts include some of the most ancient manuscripts of the Bible and other religious texts that were not accepted in the canon and non-religious writings.

In the last few years, an artificial intelligence-based paleographic project carried out by scientists at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands and supported by the European Research Council has focused on understanding more about the identities of the scribes who copied the scrolls.

“We are pioneering Qumran̵

7;s research at the level of a single clerk,” said palaeographer Gemma Hayes. The Jerusalem Post, after presenting preliminary results from her study at an academic conference in Groningen last month.

The Hands Who Wrote the Bible, a project team visiting Qumran.  (Photo: Courtesy of Gemma Hayes)The Hands Who Wrote the Bible, a project team visiting Qumran. (Photo: Courtesy of Gemma Hayes)

“The main goal of my work is to use artificial intelligence, an extraction algorithm and statistical analysis to test 51 manuscripts that share a certain handwriting style,” she added.

The style is known as round semi-formal.

“This is a very beautiful handwriting that dates back to the end of the 1st century BC,” Hayes said.

The manuscripts analyzed by researchers have already been grouped together in the past. The famous paleographer Ada Yardeni, who died in 2018, suggested that about 90 fragments of Dead Sea Scrolls with this specific style are the work of one person.

“She had a method, she identified the specific way of writing a certain letter – lamed, and she said that based on that letter, you could group all those manuscripts together,” Hayes explained.

Researchers have failed to test all the manuscripts that Yardeni has put together because some of them have not provided enough material for the technology to study them.

“We need a certain amount of characters,” Hayes said.

The results of the 51 artifacts tested were very significant: the system acknowledged that eight of the manuscripts in question were written by the same person, making him the most prolific scribe ever identified, in addition to proving his ability to works in two languages.

“One of the really exciting aspects of our discoveries is that these manuscripts are very diverse,” the researcher explained. “We found seven Jewish manuscripts and one Aramaic manuscript, so-called sectarian manuscripts related to the Qumran community and non-sectarian manuscripts, as well as some parabiblical texts, including the one known as Naftali’s will and some writings about Rachel and Joseph. “

Among the scrolls written by this individual author is the iconic Miqsat Ma’ase ha-Torah (MMT) scroll, considered by scholars to be a major document of the Jewish sect that many scholars believe lives in Qumran.

The fact that the same person wrote texts of different natures can help shed new light on the identity of this community and their relationship with the rest of the Jewish people.

Researchers from The Hands Who Wrote the Bible, led by Prof. Mladen Popovic, head of the Qumran Institute at the University of Groningen, trained their algorithm to recognize elements such as background and foreground and to measure the movement of writing and calligraphy.

Therefore, the system allows them to determine whether manuscripts that look very similar are actually written by the same person or simply in the same style.

“The fact that many have written in this way can potentially tell us something about the training they have received,” Hayes said.

Except for the eight manuscripts identified as being copied by the same scribe, all the others were written by different people, with one possible exception: two fragments that could only be written by one person. They are also very diverse and include some biblical manuscripts.

Hayes’ research continues. Among other things, she studies the spelling characteristics of texts.

“I’m looking to put flesh and bones in this scribe,” she concluded.

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