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.

Review of Trine Bjørnung Hasslbalch. Meaning and Context in the Thanksgiving Hymns: Linguistic and Rhetorical Perspectives on a Collection of Prayers from Qumran

Trine Bjørnung Hasselbalch. Meaning and Context in the Thanksgiving Hymns: Linguistic and Rhetorical Perspectives on a Collection of Prayers from Qumran. Early Judaism and Its Literature 42. Atlanta: SBL Press, 2015.

An edited version of this review is posted on Ancient Jew Review.

Meaning and Context in the Thanksgiving Hymns is the revised version of Trine Bjørnung Hasselbalch’s 2011 doctoral dissertation, supervised by Bodil Ejrnæs, which applies elements of the sociolinguistic approach called Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL) and Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) to analyze the texts in the poetic collection, 1QHodayota. 1QHa is the largest extant manuscript of the “Thanksgiving Hymns” from Qumran, discovered among the Dead Sea scrolls of Cave 1 in 1947. The psalms are written from a first-person “I” perspective, and they address God by giving thanks or praising God for special knowledge, spiritual strength, and deliverance from distress. The objective of Hasselbalch’s investigation is to use SFL and CDA to recover information about the social context of 1QHa that has been encoded into the lexicon and grammar of the text and into the selection of certain psalms for this collection.[1]

Hasselbalch is active in Danish and English biblical and Dead Sea Scrolls scholarship. She has contributed to the Danish journals Bibliana and Dansk teologisk tidsskrift and to two volumes of the Forum for Bibelsk Eksegese series of the Museum Tusculanum Forlag.[2] She has also produced several English publications, including one study that interprets 4QMMT using the SFL techniques that she adopted in her dissertation.[3] Hasselbalch is also the author of the entry on sociolinguistics in the T&T Clark Companion to the Dead Sea Scrolls, which is currently in press and scheduled to be published soon.[4] Most recently she held a post-doctoral position in the Biblical Exegesis Section of the University of Copenhagen’s Faculty of Theology for the project, “The Book of Genesis and Related Pseudepigraphic Literature,” which was funded by the Carlsberg Foundation. She is also affiliated with the “Biblical Texts Older than the Bible Project” at the University of Adger and the University of Copenhagen.

Hasselbalch is at the forefront of the application of sociolinguistics in the study of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Although SFL is not entirely new to biblical studies, she is the first to develop a research agenda around the application of SFL to the Dead Sea Scrolls. There have been a few studies carried out by New Testament scholars that adopt SFL for fine-grained examination of New Testament texts and a Hebrew Bible study that assesses patterns of language in Hebrew and Ugaritic poetry.[5] However, these investigations do not use SFL to discern the social context of their compositions, so Hasselbalch has broken new ground within the broader field of early Jewish and Christian texts.

Hasselbalch’s starting point is a critique of the dominate hypothesis that has divided the psalms of the Hodayot tradition into two groups: the Teacher Hymns and the Community Hymns. As many scholars have noted, the psalms do not neatly fall into these two categories, so there is a fundamental problem with the categorization schema. Additionally, there is an interpretive problem, which is embedded into the categories. The speaking “I” of the Teacher Hymns has been regarded as representing a leader of the community, whereas the “I” of the Community Hymns is thought to express the perspective of the general members of the community. Hasselbalch argues that this interpretive framework is an unjustified projection of our assumptions about the organization of the community behind the Dead Sea Scrolls onto the structural and generic differences of the psalms in 1QHa. In other words, just because there are two types of psalms does not mean that we must posit two levels of the sect’s hierarchy behind them. Hasselbalch seeks to jettison the categories and their accompanying framework and to use SFL and CDA to reconstruct a more accurate context for 1QHa.

Hasselbalch’s study proceeds in three phases. In the first phase (Chapter 2), she treats “Special Methodological Issues” by providing an overview of SFL, drawing primarily on Suzanne Eggins’s An Introduction to Systemic Functional Linguistics.[6] She argues that SFL enables her to retrieve inscribed and uninscribed—that is, explicit and non-explicit—information about the context of 1QHa, which allows her to set aside the Teacher Hymn-Community Hymn interpretive framework and reconstruct a new social context for the psalms. CDA is not discussed in the method chapter.

In the second phase (Chapters 3–6), she analyzes five psalms (1QHa 6:19–33; 20:7–22:39; 1QS 9:12–11:22; 1QHa 12:6–13:6; 1QHa cols. 25–26 containing two psalms) in order to demonstrate that the Teacher Hymn-Community Hymn interpretive framework is invalid.[7] She calls these psalms “hybrids” because they complicate the two major categories.[8] The SFL techniques of transitivity analysis and lexical strings are used to explore how the speaker’s agency functions in relationship to God and others. She identifies an elite, intermediary “I” with priestly resonances across all of the psalms—an “I” with which all the members of the Dead Sea community would have identified.[9] She contends that this observation contradicts the notion that some psalms are dedicated to leaders while others are for general members. She also argues that these psalms have been removed from their original contexts, where the “I” of the psalms was not identical, and “entextualized”—that is, integrated and recontextualized—into a new manuscript, 1QHa. The creation of this manuscript resulted in the heterogeneous “I”s being harmonized into one corporate “I.” This new “I” is strongly influenced by what she calls a “maskil ethos,” an elite identity associated with wisdom that she proposes the Dead Sea community has inherited from the maskil communities behind the Daniel and 1Q/4QInstruction traditions.

In the third phase of the study, Hasselbalch constructs a new social background for 1QHa on the basis of her analysis of the psalms. She draws on insights from CDA by Teun A. van Dijk to establish how her reconstructed context is possible in light of the heterogeneous character of the collection. She uses van Dijk’s “mental models” and K-Device 4 to argue that the redactor of 1QHa and his audience shared knowledge and a common perspective as an “epistemic community” that enabled them to make sense of 1QHa, despite its heterogeneous nature. Essentially, they had insider knowledge about the context that modern readers lack. Hasselbalch proposes that these models can “open up a space where we can hypothesize about the meaning of juxtaposing the so-called Community and Leader Hymns.”[10]

Her hypothesis is that the Community Hymns originate from outside of the Dead Sea community from elite wisdom and maskil circles in early Judaism. These circles constitute a single epistemic community that has a special role in God’s agency as both “Goal” and “Actor” in God’s activities. The Teacher Hymns were inspired by the Community Hymns, especially their elite ethos, but were composed by the Dead Sea community with a more exclusive sectarian perspective. They were not intended for leaders, but for all members within the sect. At this stage hybrids were written that combine features of Community Hymns and Teacher Hymns. The elevated position of the speaker in 1QHa is never meant to highlight one historical person or office; rather, it underscores the elevated status of the entire sect over and against that of its opponents.

Most scholars in the fields of biblical studies and the Dead Sea Scrolls will find this study to be a challenging read. Hasselbalch’s work is a new interdisciplinary endeavour, so there will be obstacles for those who are not familiar with SFL and CDA nomenclature and theory. However, it is worthwhile to explore these disciplines because, as Hasselbalch claims, they offer a wealth of resources for analysing texts, which may be heuristically valuable, especially at the clausal and compositional levels.[11]

However, even after reading Eggins’s An Introduction to Systemic Functional Linguistics, from which Hasselbalch derives most of her SFL approach, it is still difficult to understand what it adds to this study that could not be discovered using standard exegetical methods, or how transitivity analysis and lexical strings are really useful in dismantling the Teacher Hymn-Community Hymn interpretive framework and reconstructing a social context for 1QHa.[12] Is it remarkable that a speaker occupies an intermediary role between God and others in prayers? That this pattern of agency is found in various degrees in all prayers in the study may have more to do with the genre of prayer than the intention of the redactor or the elite constitution of the hypothetical community behind this scroll, the so-called “Dead Sea community.” Observations about transitivity and lexical cohesion do not form a very substantial basis for building a redactional history of 1QHa and a reconstructing its social context within the landscape of Second Temple Judaism and its various religious groups.

Another problem is created by bringing together SFL methodology and van Dijk’s approach to CDA in order to establish the context of 1QHa. In “Knowledge in Parliamentary Debates,” van Dijk launched a very strong and extensive critique of SFL, arguing that its notion of context is deeply problematic and incompatible with his own. Van Dijk contends that the concept of context in SFL is “theoretically ad hoc” and “explicitly anti-mentalist,” which is antithetical to his own approach.[13] In other words, the mental aspects of van Dijk’s concept of context, such as the “mental models” and K-Devices that Hasselbalch has utilized, are theoretically at odds with SFL. Perhaps it is possible to reconcile the two approaches that Hasselbalch has combined, but an extended discussion would be required. Unfortunately, van Dijk is only briefly referenced once in Chapter 2, “Special Methodological Issues,” without any discussion of  the compatibility of his approach with SFL.[14] Reflections on integrating CDA and SFL are also absent from Hasselbalch’s discussion of van Dijk’s models in Chapter 7.

Despite these challenges, the attempt to interpret some of the psalms of 1QHa in light of their presence in the same collection is a valuable methodological contribution. The entextualization of psalms into a new collection certainly plays a role in accenting how they were read by ancient audiences, and scholars need to consider this effect when investigating collections and composite works. However, in this regard there also needs to be caution. Modern readers cannot easily discern what those accents were for the ancient audience. Moreover, it would be especially problematic to overstate the effects of entextualization so that all the parts of composite collections are read in a flattened or conflated way. It cannot be assumed that collections were made only because of commonalities between their component parts. Collections and composite works may have been created to highlight their differences too. To harmonize aspects of the psalms because they are in a single manuscript may pave over the particularities that redactors and compilers intended to preserve and emphasize.

In sum, Hasselbalch’s study is a bold effort to employ a new pairing of linguistic approaches to re-envision the social context of 1QHa. She expands the range of vocabulary that has been used to analyse Dead Sea Scrolls and challenges Dead Sea Scrolls scholarship to explore the fields of sociolinguistics and Critical Discourse Analysis. We can look forward to Hasselbalch’s continuing effort to bring these potentially fruitful approaches into the discussion in the future.

[1]. Trine Bjørnung Hasselbalch, Meaning and Context in the Thanksgiving Hymns: Linguistic and Rhetorical Perspectives on a Collection of Prayers from Qumran, EJL 42 (Atlanta: SBL Press, 2015); The Redactional Meaning of 1QHodayota: Linguistic and Rhetorical Perspectives on a Heterogeneous Collection of Prayer Texts from Qumran, Publikationer fra Det Teologiske Fakultet 23 (Copenhagen: Det Teologiske Fakultet, 2011).

[2]. Trine Bjørnung Hasselbalch, “Autoritet, flerstemmighed og forhandling i Genesisapokryfen,” in Bibelske genskrivninger, eds. Jesper Høgenhaven and Mogens Müller, FBE 17 (Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum, 2012), 165–82; “Profeten Ezekiel: Inspirator for apokalyptiske himmelrejser,” Bibliana 10.2 (2009): 7–11; “Moses og Pagten i bibelske genskrivninger fra Dødehavsrullerne,” Bibliana 10.1 (2010): 9–13; “Påfuglen var ”god smag” i antikken: Andre opstandelsessymboler forargede omverdenen,” Bibliana 14.2 (2013): 28–30; “Har du set skriften på væggen?” Bibliana 15.1 (2015): 52–55; ed., “Forord: Guder og mennesker i aksetiden,” Bibliana 15.2 (2014); “En retorisk analyse af en Hodayot-salme fra Qumran : Hvorfor er der to salmisteri 1QHa 12,5-13,4?,” DTT 70.3 (2007): 240–59; “David i fortællingen i verden: En spatial nuancering,” DTT 76.1 (2013): 32–45; “Skriftbrug i Habakkukkommentaren: Den litterære konstruktion af Retfærdighedens Lærers autoritet,” in Skriftbrug, autoritet og pseudepigrafi, eds. B. Ejrnaes and L. Fatum, FBE 16 (Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanums, 2010), 52–66;

[3]. Trine Bjørnung Hasselbalch, “Contextualizing Composite Works: The Case of 4QMMT with a Sociolinguistic Twist,” in Biblical Interpretation beyond Historicity: Changing Perspectives 7, eds. Ingrid Hjelm and Thomas L. Thompson, Changing Perspectives 7 (London: Routledge, 2016), 43–57; “Two Approaches to The Study of Genre in 4Q172,” in The Mermaid and the Partridge: Essays from the Copenhagen Conference on Revisiting Texts from Cave Four, eds. George J. Brooke and Jesper Høgenhaven, STDJ 96 (Leiden: Brill, 2011), 109–18.

[4]. Trine Bjørnung Hasselbalch, “Sociolinguistics,” in T&T Clark Companion to the Dead Sea Scrolls, eds. Charlotte Hempel and George J. Brooke (London: T&T Clark, 2016).

[5].Todd Klutz, The Exorcism Stories in Luke-Acts: A Sociostylistic Reading, SNTSMS 129 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004); Gregory P. Fewster, Creation Language in Romans 8: A Study in Monosemy, LBS 8 (Leiden: Brill, 2013); Ronald D. Peters, The Greek Article: A Functional Grammar of Items in the Greek New Testament with Special Emphasis on the Greek Article, LBS 9 (Leiden: Brill, 2014); Justin R. Woods, “Cohesive Chains in the Transfiguration Narrative of Matthew 17:1-13,” OJML 5 (2015): 302–18; Silviu Tatu, The Qatal//Yiqtol (Yiqtol//Qatal) Verbal Sequence in Semitic Couplets, GUS 3 (Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias, 2008).

[6]. Suzanne Eggins, An Introduction to Systemic Functional Linguistics (London: Continuum, 2007).

[7]. 1QHa 10:22–32 is analyzed as a test case at the end of Chapter 2.

[8]. Hasselbalch, Meaning and Context, 36–37.

[9]. “Dead Sea community” is a somewhat ambiguous term that needs to be clarified in this study, especially in view of the range of possibilities that have been proposed in the discussion about the community or communities behind the Dead Sea Scrolls.

[10]. Hasselbalch, Meaning and Context, 257.

[11]. Hasselbalch, Meaning and Context, 60.

[12]. Eggins, An Introduction to Systemic Functional Linguistics.

[13]. Teun A. van Dijk, “Text and Context of Parliamentary Debates,” in Cross-Cultural Perspectives on Parliamentary Discourse, ed. Paul Bayley (Amsterdam: Benjamins, 2004), 339–72, 345–46.

[14]. Hasselbalch, Meaning in Context, 60.

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.

Some Reflections on the Use of TopHat, the “Comprehensive Teaching Platform,” in a Religious Studies Tutorial


I used the platform TopHat during my tutorial for 1B06 – “What on Earth Is Religion?,” a two-term course offered by McMaster University’s Department of Black top-hatReligious Studies. TopHat is a “comprehensive teaching platform” that helps instructors to make the classroom more interactive with a suite of integrated digital tools. The course instructor, Philippa Carter, gave this platform a trial run in the main lecture, and I decided to do the same in my tutorial of forty students so I could learn more about it and the advantages and disadvantages of using technology in the classroom. Now that the course is complete and the grades are submitted, I wanted to reflect on what the platform did and didn’t do, and how it informed my teaching philosophy and my approach to digital pedagogy.



Concern: Is it really comprehensive?

When I began using TopHat, my biggest question was just what a “comprehensive teaching platform” is. The claim to be comprehensive sets the bar very high. Does this platform really cover all exigencies of the classroom? After exploring TopHat, it was apparent that it is really a complement of tools that facilitates certain aspects of classroom administration and communication. The tasks that I perform in an introductory religious studies tutorial are not highly technical or demanding, but I was only able perform a handful of them using TopHat  with limited success. However, I ultimately had to rely on other platforms for essential classroom tasks. For example, I could not substitute or integrate TopHat with our course management system, Avenue to Learn, to record marks, and I had to use platforms such as PowerPoint and Prezi to present content. Yet, despite TopHat’s limitations, I was able to use it for taking attendance, posing questions to my tutorial members, and facilitating group work both in and out of the classroom.


Initially I was very happy with the attendance function, which allows students to indicate that they are present by texting a code to a TopHat phone number or by entering the code on the TopHat app or website using a computer, tablet, or other wifi-capable device. Then that data could be exported into a comma separated values file (.csv) for importing into Excel. I regularly exported the attendance data because several of my students did not purchase a subscription to TopHat, so I had to enter their marks manually. I appreciated this tool because I could record attendance data without the time-consuming process of taking a roll-call or without the hassle of passing around a sheet of paper and collating the data after each tutorial.

However, after the first term I stopped using this function. It became apparent that students would text the code to friends who were skipping tutorials so that they could log their attendance dishonestly, even though the window for logging attendance was short—usually a couple minutes. Additionally, if students came in late, they had to be manually logged, which made it somewhat less convenient than directing late students to a sign-in sheet. There were also several occasions where students would contest their absences by claiming technical difficulties—claims that are difficult to verify. As a result, I was not getting accurate attendance data for each class. The attendance was only as good as the student’s honesty, memory, and wi-fi connection.

I also noticed that I was not connecting with the students as well as I felt I should. I had taken for granted how important it is to say each student’s name and make eye contact with them—a basic level of engagement that provides a foundation for further interactions, especially with students who are less prone to talk in class or stop in for office hours. So despite the great convenience of the TopHat attendance tool, I took roll-calls for the second half of the course, and, as a result, I had more accurate attendance data and more consistent familiarity with each of my students.


Another feature that I used several times is the “Question” function. This feature enabled me to pose a question to the tutorial, which they could answer on their devices. There are several question formats from which to choose, including word answer, matching, multiple choice, among others. I only used word answers because I was not testing my student’s knowledge—I was trying to facilitate discussion. The questions can be assigned points for correct answers, which are tabulated in the TopHat gradebook; however, I preferred to use questions as a low-stakes means of having students to interact with course topics, so no points were assigned. The students’ answers can be opened for the entire class, so that everyone’s answer is visible to their classmates on their devices and on the projector display in the classroom. After introducing the topic, I would pose a question, have the tutorial break into small groups to discuss and respond, and then we would come back together to discuss the results. At first I was concerned that students would find the questions function to be too gimmicky, but it was well received. It took the place of having groups write responses on the blackboard, only without digging around for extra pieces of chalk or deciphering poor handwriting scrawled on dirty chalkboards. TopHat made this familiar approach to discussing topics more streamlined and easier to document.


A third feature that I used was the “discussions” function. This feature was useful for managing group work throughout the year. My tutorial had a group project on which they collaborated throughout both terms of the course that was broken into two parts: a proposal and the final project. Apart from the initial proposal, there were no other built-in opportunities for feedback, so I used the discussion function to prompt the groups for details about their projects and their progress throughout both terms. I made these responses visible only to myself, and left the discussions open throughout the week so that groups could work on them together outside of the tutorial. These discussions provided a valuable set of a data to draw upon when I calculated the final participation grades—I had both quantitative attendance data and qualitative records of what each of the tutorial members did in their groups.


TopHat is a useful suite of tools that was mostly helpful for engaging students in my tutorial and for facilitating group work outside of the classroom. Although the attendance feature saves time, it is not foolproof, and unscrupulous students can easily take advantage of the system. While TopHat is a valuable set of tools, it is far from comprehensive, and I had to supplement it with other platforms, such as PowerPoint and Avenue to Learn (our course management system). The most problematic aspect of TopHat is that it did not integrate into Avenue, which is where attendance marks and participation marks ultimately needed to be recorded. I could collect data on the completion of certain activities by each student and their attendance, but there was no simple way to transpose them into another system. In sum, there are some promising aspects of TopHat that I would like to see integrated into a more comprehensive course management system, but as a stand-alone platform, it was primarily useful for eliciting and recording student feedback.

As regards digital pedagogy, my experience with TopHat is an example of how digital tools are only good insofar as they can work in tandem with others. While there were many innovative features of TopHat that I did not describe in this review, they could not be easily implemented without a way to integrate them into the course management system. Furthermore, the attendance feature is an example of how technology in the classroom can save time, but at the cost of creating distance between the instructor and the students. In contrast, the questions and discussions functions are examples of how digital tools can make classroom participation easier and provide instructors with a record of what happened in the classroom. In other words, digital tools like TopHat have the potential both to create barriers and to break them down. It falls upon the instructor to recognize how digital tools are playing out in their learning environment and to set aside those that do not make a substantial contribution.

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.