Ancient Scribal Reading Practices: Did the Tradents of Qumran Read with a Yad?

As one of the earliest manuscripts discovered in the Judaean Desert, the so-called Community Rule has been the subject of many studies. Whereas most of the studies focus on using the manuscript to reconstruct groups “behind” the scroll, I have taken a different approach in my PhD Thesis. My area of focus is legal interpretation and development of legal interpretation in the Second Temple era and early Rabbinic Era. By early Rabbinic era, I am referring to the forerunners to Rabbis and the the rabbinic literary works of the Mishnah, Tosefta, Midreshei Halakah, and Midreshei Aggadah. Sometimes these literary projects are called the tannaitic layer, and additional material in Talmud Yerushalmi and Talmud Bavli likewise play an important role in my research. I therefore take a comparative legal approach to reading the text of 1QS.

During my research of the Community Rule, I sensed the need to make new editions of the scrolls. There are several extant collections of fragments that scholars have reconstructed in several ancient artefacts of scribal performance. Some of these are very fragmentary, yet are extremely important for understanding the legal trajectory and legal issues of concern. The Community Rule is itself a misnomer, for the tradition began as Midrash. Those skilled in jewish legal interpretation will naturally ask: a midrash on what? That’s a great question and one I raise and answer in my PhD Thesis. Email me if you’d like to know more.

Thankfully, John Trever photographed the scroll of 1Q28 (Community Rule) when it was brought to him in late 1947. His images are seen in various publications, but what is not often mentioned in those publications are that the images have been manipulated. I got the impression this was the case and reached out to James Trever, the son of John Trever. Mr. Trever provided me with new digital scans of the original negatives. I was shocked when I saw the images, for it looked as though there was a blur to some of the characters. I began to analyse the images with various algorithms, and have to come to the idea that ancient readers likely used a yad as they read the manuscript.

This of course raises all sorts of questions about purity and reading practices. So, be on the lookout for my book, On the Midrashim that Became a Community Rule.

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