The Role of Palaeography in Modelling Judean Desert Scrolls: An Introduction to Material Reconstruction in a 2D working Environment (Part II.1)

“How would you produce DJD, if you were to make a digital edition?” is the question that was posed to me in 2013.1 At the time, I was writing my masters thesis on the Great Isaiah Scroll and the other fragmentary Isaiah Scrolls.2 This was soon after Peter Flint and Eugene Ulrich had published the last volume of the Discoveries in the Judaean Desert (of Jordan) series.3 I consulted the volumes on a daily basis during the course of my thesis research, and would regularly consult other DJD volumes.4 I preferred the layout of DJD 32 over the other DJD editions. But as a two volume resource, you often have to flip back and forth between the two volumes. Don’t get me wrong — I love to be swallowed up by a sea of books! But these volumes are larger than your average monograph, and thus are cumbersome to routinely manage. And as a static print page, I could not really search it, apart from the analogue method of an index.5 Nevertheless, it was perhaps the best of all the DJD series, for it is the only volume to have a transcription on the adjacent page of an image.6 But why is an image of the artefact so important if you have a transcription?

This is where the sign comes into play from my discussion in the previous post of this series. How is that we can read, when we have not evolved with this skill? And how can we distinguish between the Roman letter l from the letter i or the Hebrew letter ד from the letter ר? Cognitive scientists have been studying this phenomenon, and the information they are learning is truly fascinating. Neuroscientist Stanislas Dehaene has written a book to describe the cognitive activity of reading, entitled, Reading in the Brain: The New Science of how We Read. I first learned of Dahaene’s research from George Lakoff.7 It so happened that at the time I listened to Lakoff’s lecture (see previous footnote), I was also grappling with how to better represent damaged characters in a digital edition. By listening to Lakoff’s lecture of Simple Cascades and the Letter Box, I realised that in order to resolve some of the issues of DJD, I needed to learn more about what the mind does when we read. So why is this important and how does it relate to how I would do something different than DJD? The answer is hinted at above, when I gave preference to DJD 32 for printing the transcription adjacent to an image. Let’s unpack this some.

In the history of the DJD editions, a system was devised (going back to Milik and the first editors), whereby “questionable readings” were annotated with a siglum. The overlap between what made a reading questionable and physical damage was not always the case. Let’s look an important example to spell this out. Here is a snapshot of the sigla definitions from DJD I:48.

DJD I Transcription Sigla

The editors incorporated the ideas of a very uncertain reading (“lecture très incertaine”), a likely reading (“lecture vraisemblable”), and a reading that is questionable based on the context (“lecture improbable imposée par le contexte”). It is also important to note how the midline circlet and baseline points were being used to project the number of characters, but this will be explored more in the Part III of this series. For now, it is important to note how ambiguous these sigla are when presented apart from an image of the manuscript. Let’s look at an example in detail:

1QSa col. II ll. 11–12

1QSa col. II ll. 11-12

This question is: what would we expect to discover about the reading of יו̇לי֯ד if we looked at the manuscript? In the next post, I will develop this idea further. Now, it’s time to get back to my coffee, reading Mishnah and Scrolls, and writing for publication. שבת שלום לכולם


  1. Flint, Peter, and Eugene Ulrich. 2010a. Qumran Cave 1: The Isaiah Scrolls. Part 1: Plates and Transcriptions. Discoveries in the Judaean Desert. Vol. XXXII. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  2. ———. 2010b. Qumran Cave 1: The Isaiah Scrolls. Part 2: Introductions, Commentary, and Textual Variants. Discoveries in the Judaean Desert. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  3. Kutscher, E. Y., and O. P. J. Van Der Ploeg. 1974. The Language and Linguistic Background of the Isaiah Scroll (1QIsaa). Studies on the Texts Of The Desert Of Judah. Vol. VI. Leiden: Brill.
  1. My advisor, Martin G. Abegg posed this question to me during one of our meetings. I had originally presented the idea to work on the Samuel scrolls, for the DJD edition of these scrolls stands in need of considerable refinement. I had written a course paper on the text- and literary-issues in 1Sam 7, so as to start the ball rolling on my research. But Marty wanted me to change the “data” from Samuel to Isaiah. I obliged.
  2. I am currently revising this thesis into a journal article. The thesis started strong, but then became hurried because I had received an acceptance to the University of Toronto. Even still, the MA thesis is the length of most PhD theses (not too shabby for only one year to research and write it).
  3. ​(Flint and Ulrich 2010a)​ and ​(Flint and Ulrich 2010b)​.
  4. E.g., the volumes containing the other Isaiah Scrolls and the Isaiah Pesharim.
  5. And Kutscher’s book is a necessary ‘appendix’ to any work on the Isaiah scrolls, (Qumran) Hebrew Linguistics, and Philology; ​(Kutscher and J. Van Der Ploeg 1974)​. The english translation is questionable. If you can, read Kutscher in Hebrew.
  6. The image was a remastered version of John Trever’s 1947 images.
  7. See, e.g., the Youtube lecture listed in bibliography from the previous post.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *