A New Generation of Dead Sea Scroll Study

After the Editio Princeps of the Dead Sea Scrolls

By Stephen J. Pfann, Ph.D.

The University of the Holy Land, Jerusalem

The publication of the Dead Sea Scrolls in just one generation following their discovery is a wonderful achievement. From the major scrolls found in Caves 1 and 11 – including those published in the Dead Sea Scrolls from St. Mark’s Monastery and The Dead Sea Scrolls of the Hebrew University, as well as 11QpaleoLeviticus, 11QTargum of Job, and 11QTemple Scroll – to the other, often more fragmentary scrolls found in Caves 2-10 (published in DJD), the first editions (editio princeps) are now available for all to read, student and scholar alike, in both photo reproductions and transcriptions.

While transcribing damaged letters, the first editions of the Dead Sea Scrolls generally used two different diacritical marks to indicate degrees of certainty as to the reading. In all of these first editions, a dot above the letter represented a more certain reading than a circlet, if these diacritic marks were applied at all. However, many of the original editors, while brilliant scholars, were often more textual commentators than trained epigraphers or palaeographers. Thus, over the past 55 years of the production of these editions, these diacritics—the dot and the circlet—were understood differently by the more than sixty individual first editors of the scrolls.

For example, to some editors, a broken or malformed letter that was certain or nearly certain deserved a dot, while for others it remained unmarked. For still other editors, the dot was placed only above letters in which there was some uncertainty as to the reading, but less uncertainty than one over which a circlet would be placed (which could almost be any letter). This inconsistent use of the diacritical marks has left the readers unsure of just how certain the transcriptions in these editions really are.

In this new treatment of the Dead Sea Scrolls each of the Biblical and non-Biblical manuscripts has been reread by the editor and his staff with a view toward the consistent application of an expanded set of diacritical marks. Rather than two marks, there are now three, designed to convey a more graduated scale of certainty as to the reading of the letters than has been afforded until now. The following definition of the diacritics has been applied:

Dot = this letter is damaged or malformed, but is certain or nearly certain.

Dash = this letter is damaged or malformed, but may be one of two or three letters.

Circlet = this letter is damaged or malformed, but may be one of four or more letters.

As new sources of information and new methodologies develop, both the original editors and a new generation of editors continue to improve on the certainty of readings and the rearrangement of scroll fragments. Although the transcription of a text may remain substantially the same, it’s an important process that will remain on the agenda of Dead Sea Scroll study into the distant future.

This new resource will be made available in the near future in a number of scholarly and user-friendly formats. The Biblical scrolls of this new edition is projected to first appear in Spring 2008 as part of the Logos Bible Software package.

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