Epigraphy, the microscope and statistics: tools of the trade (updated)

Epigraphy, the Microscope and Statistics: Tools of the Trade

Beginning 34 years ago, as a graduate student, Dr. Stephen Pfann studied Greek and Coptic epigraphy at Berkeley (well known for its epigraphers and its classics scholars including Finegan, Wire, Dillenberger and their students). It was the heyday of the release of Nag Hammadi codices and a reexamination of the associated libraries of the Bodmer and Chester Beatty papyri. During that time and since then, he has taught Greek language and literature for more than 18 years. He produced a paleographic description of 7Q5 (the so-called Greek “Gospel of Mark” fragment from Qumran) in JBL 1999 with Robert Gundry.


When he arrived in Jerusalem 25 years ago, his focus turned toward improving his Semitic languages and epigraphy. Accordingly, Dr. Pfann and his wife Claire studied epigraphy for 2 years with Joseph Naveh, as contemporary students with Ada Yardeni.


Dr. Pfann is part of the International Team of Editors for the Dead Sea Scrolls. During the past 15 years he has edited one scroll of Daniel and 50 to 100 fragmentary papyrus and parchment scrolls written in Cryptic A script. Drawing on his earlier years as a biology major coupled with an astute eye for form, he developed a system to sort and identify fragmentary parchment scrolls based upon microscopic observation of the arrangement of hair follicles over the surface of the fragments (published in Discoveries in the Judean Desert XX). For fragmentary papyri he developed a system of sorting and identification based upon 20 criteria (as part of his work produced in Discoveries in the Judean Desert XXXVI, both volumes under the editorship of Prof. Emanuel Tov). He has also developed a system of statistical analysis for fragmentary manuscripts and worked out the history of the Cryptic A script for his Hebrew University doctoral dissertation under Prof. Michael Stone. He and his wife Claire produced most of the concordances to the official publications of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

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Dr. Pfann is presently generating a paleographic script chart for the local Greek inscriptions of the Second Temple Period for the Shrine of the Book’s new educational center. With staff and colleagues at the University of the Holy Land, he is also working on the development of various forms of digital imaging (including multispectral and stereo-optic imaging) of scrolls and other inscribed surfaces. He is happy to spend time in research and in training the next generation of students who, like him, want to see the text for themselves.

Selected Publications

‘Scripts and Scribal Practices’ in ed. John Collins, The Dictionary of Early Judaism, Eerdmans Publishers (in preparation)

‘Reassessing the Judean Desert Caves: Libraries, Archives, Genizas and Hiding Places’ Bulletin of the Anglo-Israel Archaeological Society 25 (2007)139-162.

‘A Reassessment of CJO 703: Mary Magdalene has left the Room’ Near Eastern Archaeologist 70 (2007).

‘Dated Bronze Coinage of the Sabbatical years of Release and the First Jewish City Coin’. Bulletin of the Anglo-Israel Archaeological Society 24 (2006) 101-113.

‘Qumran’, Encyclopedia Judaica (New York: Keter and Macmillan Publishers, 2006).

‘Concordance’, Hebrew and Aramaic Concordances for each of volumes XI, XIII, XVIII–XX, XXII, XXIII, XXV-XXX, XXXIV–XXXVI, XXXVIII of Discoveries in the Judaean Desert. (Oxford, 1993–2001)

‘”313c. 4QcryptA Calendrical Document B,” “317. 4QcryptA Lunisolar Calendar,” “324d. 4QcryptA Liturgical Calendara,” “324e. 4QcryptA Liturgical Calendarb,” “324f. 4QcryptA Liturgical Calendarc?” “324g. 4QcryptA Calendrical Document F?” “324h. 4QcryptA Calendrical Document G?” “324i. 4QcryptA Mishmarot J”.362. 4QcryptB Unidentified Text A,” “363. 4QcryptB Unidentified Text B,” “363a. 4QcryptC Unidentified Religious Text,” “363b. 4Qcrypt Miscellaneous Texts”.’ In Wadi Daliyeh II: The Samaria Papyri from Wadi Daliyeh and Qumran Cave 4.XXVIII: Miscellanea, Part 2, ed. Douglas M. Gropp et al., Pls. XLI-XLIII. DJD 28. Oxford: Clarendon, 2001.

The Character of the Early Essene Movement in the Light of the Manuscripts Written in Esoteric Scripts from Qumran, unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Hebrew University, 2001.

‘The Writings in Esoteric Script from Qumran.’ In The Dead Sea Scrolls: Fifty Years after Their Discovery. Proceedings of the Jerusalem Congress, July 20-25, 1997, ed. Lawrence H. Schiffman, Emanuel Tov, and James C. VanderKam, 177-190. Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society in cooperation with the Shrine of the Book, Israel Museum, 2000.

‘Cryptic Texts: 249a-z, 250a-j and 313-313b, Discoveries in the Judaean Desert XXXVI (2000) 515-701; pls. xxxv-xlix.

‘Sons of Dawn’, Encyclopedia of the Dead Sea Scrolls. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000) 891.

‘249. Midrash Sefer Mosheh, Discoveries in the Judaean Desert XXXV (1999) 1-24; pls. I-III.

‘No Nu in Line 2 of 7Q5: A Final Disidentification of 7Q5 with Mark 6:52–53’, (in collaboration with R. Gundry). Journal of Biblical Literature 118 (1999) 698–707.

‘From John Trever to Digital Imaging: Photographing the Dead Sea Scrolls’, with G. Bearman and S. Spiro, in The Dead Sea Scrolls Jubilee Volume (Leiden: Brill, 1998) 472-84.

‘298. 4QcryptA Words of the Maskil to All Sons of Dawn’, with Menahem Kister, Discoveries in the Judaean Desert XX (1997) 1-30.

‘4Q249: Midrash Sefer Moshe’, in Legal Texts and Legal Issues: Proceedings of the Second Meeting of the International Organization for Qumran Studies, Cambridge, 1995 (STDJ XXIII; Leiden: Brill, 1997).

‘Physical Descriptions’ in The Damascus Document (4Q266-273), J. Baumgarten, ed. (DJD XVIII; Oxford: Clarendon, 1996).

‘4QDanield: A Preliminary Edition’, RevQ 17 (Milik Festrschrift; 1996) 37-71.

‘4Q298: Word of the Maskil to All Sons of Dawn’, Jewish Quarterly Review (1994) 203-235.

The Dead Sea Scrolls on Microfiche: Companion Volume (in collaboration with Emanuel Tov). Brill/IDC, 1993, 2nd ed. 1995.

‘Chronological List of the Negatives of the PAM, IAA, and Shrine of the Book’, chapter 3 in The Dead Sea Scrolls on Microfiche: A Comprehensive Facsimile Edition of the Texts from the Judean Desert (in collaboration with Emanuel Tov). Brill/IDC, 1993.

‘Sites in the Judean Desert Where Texts Have Been Found, Chapter 5 in The Dead Sea Scrolls on Microfiche: A Comprehensive Facsimile Edition of the Texts from the Judean Desert (in collaboration with Emanuel Tov). Brill/IDC, 1993.

‘The Aramaic Text and Language of Daniel and Ezra in the Light of Some Unpublished Manuscripts from Qumran’, Textus 16 (1991) 127-37.

Click to see Dr. Pfann’s CV

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