Why 3D Print Dead Sea Scrolls? Some Initial Observations on the Benefits of 3D Printing for Manuscript Reconstruction

[Originally published on the blog of the Sherman Centre for Digital Scholarship]

In the latest phase of my project, I have been experimenting with 3D printing Dead Sea Scroll fragments to see how they might be useful for reconstructing manuscripts. My work has focused mostly on the Thanksgiving Hymns and the War Scroll from Cave 1 (1QHand 1QM), though the question also applies to manuscript reconstruction in general.

Models of 1QM frg. 3 and 1QHa 10 in the process of being printed

 The question driving this experiment is whether 3D printing manuscripts (so far I have only printed fragments) offers enough gains for research to be worth the effort or whether it is just a gimmick that offers little of serious value. Although I have only just begun to 3D print portions of manuscripts, I can answer this question with a preliminary affirmative.

Before weighing the advantages of 3D printing, I should say more about what I mean by “3D printing Dead Sea Scrolls.” I think many people unfamiliar with the process would hear that phrase and conjure up images of a printer cranking out columns of plasticized manuscript that precisely replicate it down to the unevenness of its surface, its texture, and perhaps even its pliability. In an ideal world and with great effort it might be possible to do something along these lines, but with manuscripts like the Dead Sea Scrolls it is not feasible. Since reconstructions should be built primarily on the images closest to the manuscript’s time of discovery, the starting point is not a three-dimensional manuscript but two-dimensional photos that were taken shortly after the manuscript’s unrolling. There is not sufficient data about depth in these photos, so characteristics like thickness, texture, and unevenness of the surface are lost to us. In theory we could capture this data from the manuscripts themselves by 3D scanning them, but much of the material is obscured by measures taken to conserve them, such as backing parts of columns and fragments with Japanese paper, enclosing them in Stabilitex (polyester netting), or mounting them between glass plates. Since the discovery of the Scrolls, the material has had 70 years to shrink and warp as the collagen has degraded and the skin has gelatinized, so there is no guarantee that accurate data would be recovered if it were possible to scan them.

My process and objectives are much simpler than printing an perfect facsimile. Manuscript reconstruction is primarily about accurately arranging fragments in their original positions in the manuscript. The most important features for this process are the shapes and edges of the fragments, any notable surface characteristics (peculiarities or patterns of the skin or papyrus), surface damages (mold, delamination, insect damage), writing (textual and paratextual), and any margins, seams or seam impressions where they have survived. In my initial printings, I have only sought to create scale printed models with accurate edges and which have just enough thickness to represent what I consider to be the distinctive features in relief. For example, in my printing of 1QM frg. 3, I inset the area of the where ink is visible on the fragment and raised the areas where significant mold is present.

3D Printed Model of 1QM frg. 3. Inset areas=ink. Raised surface=mold damage

This is fairly easy to do and results in a scaled model that isolates and emphasizes what a scholar considers to be diagnostically significant for the reconstruction. To date, I have only printed single fragments, but the process can be scaled up for entire columns, sheets, and manuscripts.

Benefits for Manuscript Reconstruction

The benefits of 3D printing reconstructions can be divided into two phases of the process: experimentation and dissemination. The first phase of manuscript reconstruction involves experimenting with arrangements of fragments by exploring the possibility of material joins of one fragment edge to another or the placing of fragments near one another in light of repeating patterns of damage that run through the entire scroll. This process involves a lot of trial and error. In the past, Scrolls scholars have taken photographic plates of the fragments and cut them out with scissors.

 

The backs of fragments cut out from a photographic plate and taped together. The front is not shown to avoid copyright infringement

Various hypotheses could be locked in by taping the fragments onto a sheet of paper and photocopying them. This process has been updated with the advent of image editing software like Photoshop or GIMP, which removes the arduous process of cutting out fragments by hand. Although platforms like Photoshop are sufficient for the basic task, they lack the tactile element of physically arranging material at scale. In Photoshop, one often has to zoom in to place fragments precisely, and it is easy to loose a sense of proportion when continuously working under magnification. There are also complications with version management and file size that can get out of control in the process of exploring the options with high quality images. 3D printed models of fragments are essentially fabricated elements of a Photoshop reconstruction that allow a scholar to quickly rough out reconstructions in analog before composing something more precisely in Photoshop. These preliminary arrangements of fragments can be quickly documented with a photo and filed away. Once the possibilities are narrowed down to the best candidates, they can be reproduced more exactingly as high definition composite images in Photoshop. This process gives a tactile familiarity with the fragments and a concrete sense of scale that is otherwise lost in purely digital process.

One might not be convinced of the value of 3D printed fragments for experimentation because everyone works differently—a tool that one person finds indispensable another might find superfluous—but the benefits for disseminating research are difficult to ignore. In Dead Sea Scrolls scholarship, one of the chief difficulties in disseminating the results of manuscript reconstructions has been their inability to persuade because they seem rather subjective. This is due in part to insufficient documentation of the arguments underlying manuscript reconstructions. The arguments deal with shapes and patterns, which are difficult to express clearly in the primary medium of the discipline: textual description. There are, however, ways to show one’s work using digital tools to create visualizations that document stages of the reconstructive argument that are otherwise difficult to express concisely in words, including but not limited to 3D printing.

3D printed models of fragments or complexes of related fragments can be used in presentations to give the audience a tactile experience of the reconstructive argument. The same benefits of the 3D printed models for the researcher in the experimentation phase also accrue to the specialist when evaluating the reconstruction. A better sense of scale and a first-hand examination of the reconstruction—perhaps even with the chance to experiment with their own alternatives—enables the audience to become a more active participant in the discussion. By isolating what the researcher considers to be diagnostically significant, the printed models also make the premises of reconstructive arguments more prominent. These benefits equip audiences in presentations to better interpret what the researcher sees in the images and to offer quality feedback on projects with an otherwise steep learning curve.

There are also applications of 3D printing for publications. The stereolithography (STL) files that are the basis for 3D printer instructions are very small and would not be burdensome to maintain as an online supplement for a journal article or book. STL files of configurations of key fragment clusters in a reconstruction would be useful not only for the reader evaluate the argument in the publication, but also as a starting point for their own alternative proposal. In this way, the models of the fragments can have an afterlife beyond the initial project if the project data is published.

Conclusion

My initial foray into 3D printing has yielded a handy tool for experimenting with manuscript reconstructions and for visualizing results for other researchers. As I have been 3D modelling my reconstructions for other visualizations in my Sherman Centre project, it has been a reflexive impulse to want to print them, just as we expect to be able to print documents to edit, evaluate, and disseminate them. I find that when I am writing, I do my best editing when I am working with a hard copy, and the same applies to manuscript reconstructions. I find there is a value to working physically with 3D printed surrogates for the manuscript rather than digitally mediating the process of reconstruction through a computer interface at every stage of research. So far, I have only scratched the surface of the uses of printed models of scroll fragments, but I have found that it is worth the effort. Consequently, when I am asked why I 3D print fragments, I will have to respond with my own question—why not? If 3D printing provides greater familiarity with the fragments and their reconstruction, not only for myself but also for audiences and future researchers, then it would be a shame not to.

Back to Scrolling Models of Dead Sea Scrolls

[Originally published on the blog of the Sherman Centre for Digital Scholarship]

In this blogpost, I will explain the connection between the initial phases of my work at the Sherman Centre, which focused on textual reconstructions in 1QHa, and how they feed into my current work on 3D modelling the War Scroll (1QM).[1] I will also address how these phases lay the groundwork for my ultimate objective, a reassessment of the reconstruction of cols. 1–8 of 1QHa. Before starting at the Sherman Centre, I began to do some exploratory work on a scrolling digital model of 1QHto better understand the patterns of damage that Hartmut Stegemann used to reconstruct the Scroll.[2] I was especially interested in cols. 1–8, which I wanted to better understand because the patterns of damage that Stegemann described were not obvious to me when I viewed the plates of the scroll in its unrolled state in his edition.[3] I proposed this project at manuSciences ’15, a Franco-German Summer School, organized around the theme, “From Fragments to Books—From Identification to Interpretation.” My poster proposed to address one of the biggest questions in the reconstruction of 1QHa, the placement of frgs. 10, 34, and 42 in col. 7. At this point, I pitched the method of digitally rolling the reconstruction of 1QHto see if the patterns of damage matched as Stegemann’s described in DJD 40. I did not, however, have a functional model yet because I was still experimenting with 3D modeling programs at the time.

For my project as a Sherman Centre fellow in 2015–16, I pursued a narrower study of 1QHfrgs. 10, 34, and 42, which focused on the spacing for the textual reconstructions that Stegemann had proposed between the fragments and the rest of the column. Stegemann’s textual reconstructions are not ultimately decisive for the fragment placements in col. 7, but this smaller study allowed me to experiment with methods and tools for estimating the space for textual reconstructions with fonts and cropped letters from other parts of the manuscript.[4] Eventually I will have to do this on a larger scale in the corresponding part of 4QHthat contains the same passage (1QH7:14–19//4QH8 i 6–12) as I assess alternative fragment placements. As I worked on this project, I found that reconstructive issues in 1QH7 are thoroughly intertwined with the first two sheets of the manuscript and the reconstruction of 4QHa.

To address the reconstructive issues in both scrolls, I needed an efficient way to experiment with material reconstructions and to demonstrate alternative reconstructions in a rolled state, which drew me back to my manuSciences ’15 proposal. One of the major critiques of the Stegemann method is that it leaves too much up to the imagination of the reader, who may lack the time, resources, or information to check the measurements of the reconstruction. In many cases the data underlying the reconstruction is only partially provided if it is not completely omitted. In the current phase of my work at the Sherman Centre, I am developing an approach for creating scrollable digital reconstructions that I can use to examine the patterns of damage in 1QHand 4QHa. I have chosen 1QM as my test case because, unlike 1QHand 4QHa, there are only minor questions about a few fragments, so we can see how well an almost entirely non-problematic reconstruction looks as a scrollable model while also seeing how it can shed light on the few outstanding or questionable fragment placements. In the process of rolling the reconstruction of 1QM, I found it useful for experimenting with reconstructive options and visualizing reconstructive proposals for publications and presentations. Rolling 1QM also offered an opportunity to reflect on the some of the limitations of the Stegemann method, which do not invalidate the method but are areas where the method has the potential to produce inaccurate or distorted reconstructions in certain situations.

The next phase in this research project that I would like to pursue after my dissertation will build on my work at the Sherman Centre and would examine in greater depth the feasibility of the reconstructions of 1QH1–8 and 4QHand explore alternative reconstructions of the two scrolls. This project would have implications for the text of some of the Hodayot psalms as well as our understanding of how these psalms were collected and anthologized in a period when the scriptural psalms also appear in collections of varying length and order. In other words, my Sherman Centre project is laying the groundwork and refining the tools that I will build on to pursue my research questions about these two important Hodayot manuscripts, which will in turn contribute to the larger discussion of psalms collections in the late Second Temple period.

Notes

[1]. 1QHodayotis a collection of approximately thirty previously unknown psalms. They thank and praise God for deliverance from adversaries and for knowledge of divine mysteries. Seven other highly fragmentary scrolls (1QHb, 4QHa–f) that contain various compilations of these psalms were also discovered in Caves 1 and 4 at Qumran. 1QM is a composite document that contains rules, psalms, and descriptions of an eschatological conflict between the sons of light and the sons of darkness.

[2]. Hartmut Stegemann and other Scrolls scholars have used repeating patterns of damages that formed while the manuscript was rolled to reconstruct manuscripts. The distance between each instance of the congruent damage is the circumference of the scroll at that particular point in the manuscript. This allowed Stegemann to estimate where fragments with similar shapes belonged in the manuscript even when the intervening parchment had completely decayed. For more see Hartmut Stegemann, “How to Connect Dead Sea Scroll Fragments,” BRev4.1 (1988): 1–11; “Methods for the Reconstruction of Scrolls from Scattered Fragments,” in Archaeology and History in the Dead Sea Scrolls: The New York University Conference in Memory of Yigael Yadin, ed. Lawrence H. Schiffman, JSPSup 8 (Sheffield: JSOT, 1990), 189–220; “The Material Reconstruction of 1QHodayot,” in Dead Sea Scrolls: Fifty Years after Their Discovery. Proceedings of the Jerusalem Congress, July 20-25, 1997, ed. L. H. Schiffman, E. Tov, and J. C. VanderKam (Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society in cooperation with the Shrine of the Book, Israel Museum, 2000), 272–84.

[3]. Hartmut Stegemann and Eileen Schuller, DJD 40.

[4]. I experimented with approaches found in Bruce Zuckerman, Asher Levy, and Marilyn J. Lundberg, “A Methodology for the Digital Reconstruction of Dead Sea Scroll Fragmentary Remains,” in Dead Sea Scrolls Fragments in the Museum Collection, ed. Emanuel Tov, Kipp Davis, and Robert Duke, PMB 1 (Leiden: Brill, 2016), 36–58; “The Dynamics of Change in the Computer Imaging of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Other Ancient Inscriptions,” in Rediscovering the Dead Sea Scrolls: An Assessment of Old and New Approaches and Methods, Rediscovering the Dead Sea Scrolls (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010), 69–88; Asaf Gayer, Daniel Stökl Ben Ezra, and Jonathan Ben-Dov, “A New Join of Two Fragments of 4QcryptA Serekh HaEdah and Its Implications,” Dead Sea Discoveries23.2 (2016): 139–54.

Bibliography

Gayer, Asaf, Daniel Stökl Ben Ezra, and Jonathan Ben-Dov. “A New Join of Two Fragments of 4QcryptA Serekh HaEdah and Its Implications.” Dead Sea Discoveries23.2 (2016): 139–54.

Schuller, Eileen. “Hodayot.” Pages 69–254 in Qumran Cave 4.XX: Poetical and Liturgical Texts. Part 2. DJD XXIX. Edited by Esther Chazon et al. Oxford: Clarendon, 1999.

Stegemann, Hartmut. “How to Connect Dead Sea Scroll Fragments.” BRev4.1 (1988): 1–11.

———. “Methods for the Reconstruction of Scrolls from Scattered Fragments.” Pages 189–220 in Archaeology and History in the Dead Sea Scrolls: The New York University Conference in Memory of Yigael Yadin. Edited by Lawrence H. Schiffman. JSPSup 8. Sheffield: JSOT, 1990.

———. “The Material Reconstruction of 1QHodayot.” Pages 272–84 in Dead Sea Scrolls: Fifty Years after Their Discovery. Proceedings of the Jerusalem Congress, July 20-25, 1997. Edited by L. H. Schiffman, E. Tov, and J. C. VanderKam. Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society in cooperation with the Shrine of the Book, Israel Museum, 2000.

Stegemann, Hartmut and Eileen Schuller. Qumran Cave 1.III: 1QHodayotawith Incorporation of 1QHodayotband 4QHodayota-f. DJD XL. Oxford: Clarendon, 2009.

Zuckerman, Bruce. “The Dynamics of Change in the Computer Imaging of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Other Ancient Inscriptions.” Pages 69–88 in Rediscovering the Dead Sea Scrolls: An Assessment of Old and New Approaches and Methods. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010.

Zuckerman, Bruce, Asher Levy, and Marilyn J. Lundberg. “A Methodology for the Digital Reconstruction of Dead Sea Scroll Fragmentary Remains.” Pages 36–58 in Dead Sea Scrolls Fragments in the Museum Collection. Edited by Emanuel Tov, Kipp Davis, and Robert Duke. Publications of the Museum of the Bible 1. Leiden: Brill, 2016.

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A New Direction for Scrivener? A Review of Scrivener 3 for Mixed LTR and RTL Scripts

Writing a dissertation or academic article is difficult enough on its own, but it can be intensely frustrating if your word processor does not support the kind of formatting needed for your project. This post examines the ability of Scrivener 3 to accommodate mixed left-to-right (LTR) and right-to-left (RTL) scripts on the same line—a function that is a necessity for my academic writing but is rarely supported by word processors. For academic writing that combines LTR scripts like English, French and German with RTL scripts like Hebrew, Arabic, and Urdu, scholars are hard-pressed to find a word processor that can handle the task well. To date, the word processor Mellel has been the only application that can support complex combinations of LTR and RTL scripts, though in recent years more support for RTL languages in Word and other popular programs has begun to close the gap. None, however, have overtaken Mellel.

The first two versions of the advanced word processor Scrivener are counted among those programs that have lagged behind Mellel’s support for RTL. As a consequence, when I used Scrivener 2 in the past, it was for non-technical writing, such as my C.V., course syllabi, or applications for jobs and scholarships, where RTL scripts are used minimally. Scrivener is superb for these less technical projects, and I have always wished for Scrivener to expand its support for RTL so I can use it for more of my writing projects. When I heard that a third version of Scrivener was set to release in late November of 2017, I was eager to see if it could measure up to my go-to word processor for serious academic writing, Mellel 4.

Although most word processors allow one to toggle between LTR and RTL, to my knowledge, only Mellel has the “direction breaking space” that tells the program where a change in direction between LTR and RTL occurs in the middle of a line. This feature of Mellel is critical when combining numbers, punctuation, and a mixture of LTR and RTL in a line. For example, in my research I work with Dead Sea Scrolls, which are referred to by sigla such as 4QGena, where the number indicates the cave where the scroll was found, Q = the site of Qumran, Gen = Genesis, the composition in the scroll, and a indicates that the scroll is the first copy of the composition to be identified in that cave. These documents are written almost entirely in Hebrew and Aramaic, which are RTL scripts, so it is common to quote a scroll in RTL script followed by a citation using the LTR siglum, all on the same line. Furthermore, in editions of these scrolls, there is an apparatus that compares differences of wording between the surviving copies, versions, or translations, which combines strings of numbers, letters in various scripts, brackets, and symbols. An apparatus is fairly easy to write in Mellel, but it has always been a struggle on other platforms because they lack a direction changing space for mid-line transitions. Toggling the direction of writing for the entire paragraph is often the only option, and it cannot accommodate these finer, mid-line transitions. Changing the input source does not remedy the problem either.

This post will test Scrivener 3 to see if it can handle the complex strings of characters found in an apparatus and whether it has closed the gap on Mellel’s superiority for mixed LTR and RTL writing.

I have copied six lines of text and five lines of apparatus from Eugene Ulrich’s The Biblical Qumran Scrolls: Transcriptions and Textual Variants.1 This section of Ulrich’s text contains the kind of mixed scripts that word processors struggle to produce, with the exception of Mellel and its direction breaking space.

Example: Mellel 4

Mellel did everything Ulrich’s edition required of it. The only challenge was closing the brackets around the wawyod and lamed in the first line of the apparatus—the second section that is justified to the left margin. The brackets disrupt the order that the string of characters had to be typed, which made it more challenging to compose, though not impossible.

Example: Scrivener 3

Scrivener 3 accomplished most of the task, but it could not handle RTL script followed by “4QGen” in the apparatus.

On every line of the apparatus, Scrivener 3 moved the “4” of “4QGen” to the left side of the Hebrew characters. The lack of a direction changing space in Scrivener 3 is a significant limitation for this kind of technical writing, and it is the reason that I continue to use Mellel for writing my dissertation. Furthermore, Scrivener’s “change of direction” option is buried in the paragraph menu, with no toggle switch in the toolbar or hotkey to make switching the direction of paragraphs simpler. Even if this option were available in the toolbar, it would not address the challenge of mid-line directional changes.

I want to emphasize that Scrivener 3 is an excellent writing platform for compositions written entirely in either LTR or RTL scripts and for projects that do not combine LTR and RTL in the same line. Aside from its handling of mid-line directional changes, I have found no better application than Scrivener 3 for writing composite documents and that supports the various aspects of the writing process, from planning to publishing. For technical writing combining LTR and RTL, however, Scrivener 3 has not quite closed the gap, though it is only a feature or two away.

1. Eugene Charles Ulrich, The Biblical Qumran Scrolls: Transcriptions and Textual Variants, VTSupp (Leiden: Brill, 2010), 2.

Some Reflections on the Intersection between Conventional and Digital Approaches to Scrolls Research

Over the last seventy years, Dead Sea Scrolls research has carried on in a permanent state of revolution, with new methods, technologies, and bodies of evidence overturning or qualifying old consensuses. To current PhD students like myself, who are dissertating on the Scrolls, many of the recent advances in digital approaches and tools appear to be changing the face of the discipline; however, to seasoned scholars this revolutionary change is nothing new. Scrolls research has always been like Menelaus wresting an oracle from the shape-shifting Proteus—change and adaptation are the norm. The ill-conceived myth of the triumph of digital scholarship over conventional scholarship simply does not apply. The key consideration for early-career Scrolls scholars is how to follow in the footsteps of earlier generations in usefully integrating new tools and approaches without abandoning the conventional. During research that I carried out this summer in Jerusalem on the Thanksgiving Hymns from Qumran (1QHodayota), I frequently found myself combining the old with the new to address pressing research questions.

1QHa is a particularly challenging scroll to study because unlike many of the rest of the Dead Sea Scrolls, new high quality images, such as high-resolution multispectral images or RTI (reflectance transformation imaging) images are not yet available. Even if they were, however, the plates in the Dead Sea Scrolls of the Hebrew University,[1] the Shrine of the Book images, and the plates in the edition of 1QHa in volume 40 of the Discoveries in the Judaean Desert series would still be indispensable.[2]

The older images document the state of the manuscript in the years after its discovery and in the process of its unrolling—a resource that new digital tools or approaches cannot replace. Consequently, I find myself drawing heavily on conventional editions and photographs, even as I am making digital reconstructions of columns in GIMP and rolling them in three-dimensional environments to compare patterns of damage in digital modeling suites like Blender. When creating a reconstruction of a scroll in its rolled state, it is best to use these early images so that any modern shrinkage, decay, or damage are not baked into the model. Thus, even digital Scrolls research is forever anchored to those initial images.

In addition, when working on problems of material reconstruction, there are questions that cannot be answered relying solely on either editions or digital tools. Scrolls are three-dimensional objects, and certain aspects are not fully captured by existing images; e.g., texture, thickness, shrinkage, light damage, and the extent of delamination. What appear in photos to be patterns of repeating damages, or potential joins between fragments, may be ruled out upon first-hand inspection of the fragments themselves, especially with the help of conservators who are intimately familiar with the physical manuscripts and causes of damage. I found this to be the case when I visited the Shrine of the Book, where 1QHa is archived. Hasia Rimon, a conservator who has worked closely with the Shrine’s manuscripts since 2012, helped me to see and understand the condition of the manuscript and how it has been conserved since its discovery. The same applies for conservators at other institutions that conserve Dead Sea scrolls, most notably the Israel Antiquities Authority, which is responsible for the vast majority of the Judean Desert manuscripts, including the other Hodayot manuscripts.

Shrine of the Book, Israel Museum
Shrine of the Book, Israel Museum. Photo Credit: Author.

Furthermore, a visit to the Shrine of the Book or the IAA is the only way of tapping into the institutional memory of the discovery of the Scrolls and their condition over the course of the last seventy years. For example, anyone who has visited the Shrine of the Book will know of Irene Lewitt’s formidable knowledge of the whereabouts of the Shrine’s scrolls and their photos over the last 70 years—especially that of 1QHa and the other Hebrew University scrolls. A similar knowledge-base exists at many of the institutions in Jerusalem with historical ties to the Scrolls, like the Orion Center, the École Biblique, the Rockefeller Museum, and the Albright Institute.

One of the perennial methodological concerns for digital scholarship is how to use new tools and approaches judiciously and in ways that actually advance the field. For Scrolls research, implementing new digital approaches requires a thorough consideration of the conventional resources, tools, and institutional memories to gain new insights. This combination of innovation and convention is nothing new—it is business as usual for Scrolls scholarship in making use of every available means to yield new insights into the Dead Sea Scrolls.

[Expanded from 2017 Newsletter of the Orion Center for the Dead Sea Scrolls. First published on the Sherman Centre for Digital Scholarship Blog]

[1] E. L. Sukenik, The Dead Sea Scrolls of the Hebrew University (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1955).

[2] Hartmut Stegeman and Eileen Schuller, DJD 40.

Works Cited

Schuller, Eileen and Hartmut Stegemann. Qumran Cave 1.III: 1QHodayota with Incorporation of 1QHodayotb and 4QHodayota-f. DJD XL. Oxford: Clarendon, 2009.

Sukenik, E. L. The Dead Sea Scrolls of the Hebrew University. Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1955.

A Font-based Approach for Testing Space for Textual Reconstructions in Dead Sea Scrolls Manuscripts

[Originally published on the blog of the Sherman Centre for Digital Scholarship]

One of the challenges of working with reconstructions of Dead Sea scrolls is checking the work of other scholars. In 1963, Hartmut Stegemann reconstructed the manuscript 1QHodayota, a collection of hitherto unknown psalms found only at Qumran. His groundbreaking work remained unpublished until 2009, so there has been relatively little work done to verify his fragment placements. I am writing a dissertation on this manuscript, so I need to carefully check the less certain parts of his reconstruction. My Sherman Centre project is dedicated to checking one of the most uncertain placements of fragments 10, 34, and 42.

An important aspect of evaluating Stegemann’s reconstruction involves testing the adequacy of the space between fragments for his proposals of textual reconstructions and the text from overlapping manuscripts. For example, 4QHodayota contains text that overlaps with 1QHodayota in column 7, allowing Stegemann to place fragments 34 and 42 near to fragment 10. If there is sufficient space between fragments in a reconstruction for the words supplied from other manuscript witnesses, then a reconstruction is valid—though not necessarily proven. However, if the spacing is inadequate, there are grounds for critiquing the reconstruction.

For testing the spacing between fragments, I am currently developing a custom font that is modelled on the hand of Scribe A of 1QHodayota. Other methods, such as calculating average letter spaces or cropping and supplying letters from other parts of the manuscript in Photoshop, can be time-consuming processes, especially if one has to reconstruct long stretches of text. However, if one has a font that can be sized and spaced to that of the manuscript, it is quick and simple to supply the text in a word processor and superimpose images of the fragments. However, if one wants to critique a fragment placement, it is best to use multiple approaches to strengthen the argument.

I learned about this approach from Daniel Stökl Ben Ezra at manuSciences ’15, a summer school that was devoted to scientific and interdisciplinary approaches for studying ancient manuscripts. When it was first introduced to me, the process of designing a custom font seemed too time-consuming and beyond my capabilities, but, after a little research and some trial-and-error, it was a manageable project. I used the open-source font editor, FontForge, to produce my font. The application allowed me to import images of letters that I cropped from the manuscript so I could quickly trace them and map them as glyphs onto a standard Unicode Hebrew font.

The take-away from this project summary is not that everyone should design his or her own font. Rather, regardless of the type of research problem one faces, it is worthwhile to try new approaches and develop new skill sets. One does not have to be a programmer or innovate a radically new method. With a little creativity, most projects can be tackled with existing tools and platforms.

The Puzzling Case of Fragment 10 — Update

[Originally published on the blog of the Sherman Centre for Digital Scholarship]

It has been some time since my last post, so what follows is an update on the progress of my project and what the next steps will be. To summarize briefly, the problem addressed by this project arises out of Hartmut Stegemann’s placement of fragments 10 + 34 + 42 in column 7 in his reconstruction of the Dead Sea scroll, 1QHodayota.[1] He placed this cluster of fragments on the basis of patterns of damage that he presumed the scroll had incurred while rolled and deposited in Cave 1 at Qumran. There is no textual or physical link between these fragments and the rest of column 7, and they have distinctive spelling and content that is incongruous with the surrounding material. Elisha Qimron has suggested that this cluster has been misplaced and belongs in an earlier column of the scroll; however, he has not proposed a specific placement or discussed the ramifications of removing the fragments from Stegemann’s column 7.[2] Most of the discussion about this problem has taken place in the footnotes of various publications, and a more thorough treatment is needed to outline the possibilities before they can be critically examined and adjudicated. My project seeks to elucidate and to contribute to the discussion using digital tools and recently developed methods to validate the placement of fragments in Dead Sea scrolls reconstructions. For more details on my project, please refer to my prior posts.

There have been two major developments since my last blogpost. I presented the initial phases of my research in the session, Dead Sea Scrolls II, at the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies Annual Meeting held at the University of Calgary on May 29, 2016. The paper was titled “Testing Stegemann’s Placement of Fragment 10 in the Reconstruction of 1QHodayota: Two Digital Approaches.” I discussed my use of two digital approaches for testing the spacing of textual reconstructions in between fragments (See previous post): one approach that uses a custom font modeled on the handwriting of the scribe and another that supplies “cloned” letters copied from extant parts of the manuscript. The presentation summarized the initial phase of my project, which was dedicated to establishing the research problem and experimenting with digital tools and methods on a smaller, lower-stakes aspect of the problem—Stegemann’s textual reconstructions—before tackling the more complex challenges of examining alternative placements for fragments 10 + 34 + 42 using the same approaches.

After presenting at CSBS, I had the opportunity to spend several days in Jerusalem to examine the manuscripts 1QHa and 4QHa at the archives of the Shrine of the Book and the Israel Antiquities Authority. Although I have access to images of these scrolls, sometimes there are questions that cannot be answered without seeing the manuscripts themselves. The columns of 1QHa are illegible in natural light because they have darkened due to decay, and in many cases one can only distinguish the ink from the writing surface with infrared images. Only infrared photos of 1QHa have been published so far, as they are useful for reading; however, they tend to flatten the features of the leather itself. Questions involving the reconstruction of a manuscript involve paying close attention to the words, the features of the leather, and the patterns of damage that persist throughout the scroll—a task for which IR images are ill-suited. Even if there were a series of high quality photos of 1QHa in natural light, they would not be as helpful as seeing the fragments themselves. One of the major concerns with fragments 10 + 34 + 42 and column 7 is the uneven shrinking and warping of the material and how it complicates attempts to judge the spacing necessary for textual reconstructions. Fragments are three-dimensional objects, so the evidence of shrinking and warping is clearest when viewed in person.

Having completed the initial phase of my project over the summer, I have since devoted my efforts to funding the final stages of research during an extended research trip to Jerusalem in the late Spring/early Summer of 2017. My brief visit to Jerusalem last summer impressed upon me the importance of being close to the manuscripts and to the network of Dead Sea Scrolls scholars in Israel. I have successfully applied for a research scholarship, which is offered by the Orion Center at the Hebrew University. This Center is part of the Institute of Jewish Studies and is dedicated to fostering scholarship on the Dead Sea Scrolls and its intersections with Jewish history and religion in the Second Temple period. The Orion Center Research Scholarship is intended to support a specific project relating to the Scrolls, which is to be carried out in Jerusalem. I proposed my larger thesis project, of which my work on the problem of fragments 10 + 34 + 42 is a fundamental first step. I intend to carry out the final stage of my project while in Jerusalem, after which I will begin to bring the project to a close by writing, visualizing, and disseminating the results.

In the next post, I will summarize some of the reasons that scholars have regarded the placement of frgs. 10 + 34 + 42 in col. 7 to be problematic.

[1]          Hartmut Stegeman and Eileen Schuller, DJD 40.

[2]          Elisha Qimron, The Dead Sea Scrolls: The Hebrew Writings, Volume One, (Jerusalem: Yad Ben-Zvi Press, 2010), 66.

Works Cited

Qimron, Elisha. The Dead Sea Scrolls: The Hebrew Writings, Volume One. Jerusalem: Yad Ben-Zvi Press, 2010.

Schuller, Eileen and Hartmut Stegemann. Qumran Cave 1.III: 1QHodayota with Incorporation of 1QHodayotb and 4QHodayota-f. DJD XL. Oxford: Clarendon, 2009.

The Puzzling Case of 1QHodayota Fragment 10 — The Research Problem (Part 2)

[Originally published on the blog of the Sherman Centre for Digital Scholarship]

In my last post, I described two kinds of reconstructions that are relevant to my research problem: reconstructions of manuscripts and reconstructions of text. A manuscript reconstruction is an arrangement of fragments in the order that they are hypothesized to have stood in the manuscript before it was damaged, whereas a textual reconstruction is a proposal of a section of text where the written lines of a manuscript have decayed or have become illegible. Textual reconstructions may be made on the basis of text that is found in other manuscripts containing the same work, on the basis of similar phrases found in other works, or on the basis of what the scholar is willing to extrapolate. When there is parallel text in another copy that can be used as a guide, textual reconstructions are used to justify the placement of fragments. In other cases, where there are no other manuscripts containing parallel text, fragments are placed by identifying material joins where the edges of fragments match neatly or by placing fragments by their shapes and how they match repeating patterns of damage in the scroll. In this latter case, any subsequent textual reconstructions are contingent upon the accuracy of the scholar’s reconstruction of the manuscript, which ultimately cannot be verified. In other words, where there is no parallel text available, a textual reconstruction is only as sound as the manuscript reconstruction.

Stegemann’s reconstruction of column 7 of 1QHodayota is complex because the fragments are placed using different kinds of evidence: some fragments are placed on the basis of a material joins or textual parallels, while others are placed solely on the basis of shape. This blog post will explain how Stegemann reconstructed 1QHa col. 7 and his reasoning for placing each fragment. Unfortunately, I cannot display copyrighted images of col. 7 itself, but a contour drawing of the column is sufficient to show where Stegemann placed these fragments in the column.

1QHodayota col. 7 DiagramUndisputed Aspects of Stegemann’s Reconstruction of Column 7

Stegemann’s col. 7 is composed of several fragments of various sizes, most of which are undisputed. Much of the surviving material is a large fragment extending from the left edge of column 6 to the right edge of col. 8. Two other large pieces from cols. 6 and 8 also contain text from the right and left edges, respectively, of the writing block of col. 7. Other smaller fragments have been added to these large pieces of the manuscript. At the bottom-right of the column, frg. 32 has been placed without any textual parallel because its top and right edges neatly match the manuscript’s edges; thus, we have a material join. Similarly, SHR 4276 was added by Émile Puech on the basis of another convincing material join.[1]

Disputed Aspects of Stegemann’s Reconstruction of Column 7

The fragment placements at the bottom of the column are uncontested; however, the placements of frgs. 10, 34, and 42 are more tenuous. Unlike frg. 32 and SHR 4276, these fragments cannot be physically joined to the rest of the column nor is there a helpful textual parallel that ties them to this location. Stegemann placed frg. 10 in the middle of the upper half of the column because he expected there to be a piece of manuscript roughly that size in that location in light of the contours of the damaged remains of the upper parts of cols. 5–6. Stegemann considered the case for placing frg. 10 to be strong enough that it could, “be proposed with some confidence,” despite the lack of a material join.[2]

The Textual Parallel in 4QHodayota

4QHa contains the only overlapping text for frg. 10, but it does not yield any evidence that allows us to link frg. 10 to any part of col. 7. Although 4QHa allows us to place frgs. 34 and 42 just to the left of frg. 10, it does not shed light on where this cluster of fragments should be placed in the manuscript. Another possibility is that the fragments come from cols. 1–3, for which we have only a handful of small, tentatively placed fragments. These columns are the only other part of the scroll that could accommodate such a large cluster of fragments. They could not fall anywhere in the latter columns of the scroll because a second scribe began copying midway through col. 19, and the handwriting on frgs. 10, 34, and 42 belongs to the first scribe. In sum, the cluster of fragments constituted by frgs. 10, 34, and 42 has no material join or textual links to col. 7, and it is only placed there on the hypothesis that it completes a pattern of damage that this scroll sustained while rolled.

Stegemann’s Textual Reconstruction of Line 21

Stegemann was confident enough in the placement of the frg. 10 cluster to reconstruct part of the text between the right edge of col. 7 and the right edge of frg. 10 on line 21 of the reconstructed column. In the rest of his reconstruction of 1QHa, Stegemann was reluctant to reconstruct letters in lacunae unless he had a convincing case, so we can infer that he was confident in his reconstruction.

He reconstructs the following:

ב֯ר֯ו[ך אתה אל הרחמים ב]ש֯י֯ר מזמור למ֯ש[כיל]°°°[          ]ד֯ רנה

  1. Bless[ed are you, God of compassion, with a ]song, a psalm for the Ins[tructor] °°°[…]d glad cry […]

Brackets enclose the part of the text that Stegemann is reconstructing, and circlets are placeholders that denote traces of letters that are too faded or damaged to read.

In another publication, he claims that “[t]his [reconstruction] would fit the gap perfectly,” though he also allows for the possibility that another similar “blessed are you” formula may have been used.[3] But does this textual reconstruction fit in the space between the fragments? And does it create a text that has precedence in other Dead Sea Scrolls compositions? Moreover, there is also the larger question of whether the placement of frg. 10 in col. 7 solely on the basis of its shape is warranted. If frg. 10 is incorrectly placed, then Stegemann’s textual reconstruction of line 21 is almost certainly inaccurate.

In the next post, I will discuss some of the reasons that scholars have regarded the placement of frg. 10 in col. 7 to be problematic, and why Stegemann’s textual reconstruction is almost certainly not possible on the basis of insights drawn from my project at the Sherman Centre for Digital Scholarship.

[1]. Émile Puech, “Un hymne Essénien en partie retrouvé et les béatitudes,” RevQ 13 (1988): 59–88, 62; pl. III, no. 2.

[2]. Hartmut Stegeman and Eileen Schuller, DJD 40, 99.

[3]. Hartmut Stegemann, “Methods for the Reconstruction of Scrolls from Scattered Fragments,” in Archaeology and History in the Dead Sea Scrolls: The New York University Conference in Memory of Yigael Yadin, ed. Lawrence H. Schiffman, JSPSup 8 (Sheffield: JSOT, 1990), 189–220, 197.

Works Cited

Puech, Émile. “Un hymne Essénien en partie retrouvé et les béatitudes.” RevQ 13 (1988): 59–88.

Schuller, Eileen and Hartmut Stegemann. Qumran Cave 1.III: 1QHodayota with Incorporation of 1QHodayotb and 4QHodayota-f. DJD XL. Oxford: Clarendon, 2009.

Hartmut Stegemann. “Methods for the Reconstruction of Scrolls from Scattered Fragments.” Pages 189–220 in Archaeology and History in the Dead Sea Scrolls: The New York University Conference in Memory of Yigael Yadin. Edited by Lawrence H. Schiffman. JSPSup 8. Sheffield: JSOT, 1990.