Cracking the code of the Dead Sea Scrolls


Graphic: Two 12×12 Kohonen maps (blue colourmaps) of full character aleph and wager from the Useless Sea Scroll selection. Each of the figures in the Kohonen maps is fashioned from numerous…
watch more 

Credit rating: Maruf A. Dhali, College of Groningen

The Useless Sea Scrolls, uncovered some seventy several years ago, are famous for made up of the oldest manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible (Outdated Testament) and many hitherto unknown historical Jewish texts. But the unique folks guiding the scrolls have eluded researchers, mainly because the scribes are nameless. Now, by combining the sciences and the humanities, University of Groningen scientists have cracked the code, which enables them to discover the scribes guiding the scrolls. They presented their benefits in the journal PLOS A person on 21 April.

The scribes who developed the scrolls did not indication their function. Students recommended some manuscripts ought to be attributed to a one scribe based mostly on handwriting. ‘They would check out to locate a “smoking gun” in the handwriting, for example, a quite distinct trait in a letter which would recognize a scribe’, points out Mladen Popovi&cacute, professor of Hebrew Bible and Historical Judaism at the College of Theology and Spiritual Research at the College of Groningen. He is also director of the university’s Qumran Institute, committed to finding out the Lifeless Sea Scrolls. Even so, these identifications are rather subjective and often hotly debated.


That is why Popovi&cacute, in his challenge The Arms that Wrote the Bible which was funded by the European Exploration Council, teamed up with his colleague Lambert Schomaker, professor of Computer Science and Synthetic Intelligence at the Faculty of Science and Engineering. Schomaker has prolonged labored on methods to permit computer systems to read through handwriting, often from historical components. He also done research to look into how biomechanical traits, like the way in which an individual holds a pen or stylus, would influence handwriting.

In this examine, with each other with PhD candidate Maruf Dhali, they concentrated on 1 scroll in distinct: the popular Excellent Isaiah Scroll (1QIsaa) from Qumran Cave 1. The handwriting in this scroll appears in the vicinity of-uniform, still it has been prompt it was built by two scribes sharing a identical composing design and style. So how could this be resolved? Schomaker: ‘This scroll incorporates the letter aleph, or “a”, at least 5 thousand situations. It is difficult to evaluate them all just by eye.’ Computers are very well suited to analyse massive datasets, like 5,000 handwritten a’s. Digital imaging can make all types of computer system calculations achievable, at the microlevel of people, this kind of as measuring curvature (referred to as textural), as properly as entire figures (named allographic).

Neural community&#13

‘The human eye is remarkable and presumably usually takes these levels into account much too. This allows industry experts to “see” the hands of distinctive authors, but that selection is typically not attained by a transparent approach,’ Popovi&cacute states. ‘Furthermore, it is practically unattainable for these gurus to system the huge amounts of info the scrolls offer.’ That is why their final results are frequently not conclusive.

The very first hurdle was to educate an algorithm to individual the textual content (ink) from its track record (the leather-based or the papyrus). For this separation, or ‘binarization’, Dhali developed a condition-of-the-art artificial neural community that can be trained applying deep learning. This neural network retains the original ink traces built by the scribe extra than 2,000 many years ago intact as they surface on the digital images. ‘This is critical simply because the historic ink traces relate directly to a person’s muscle motion and are person-specific’, Schomaker points out.


Dhali done the to start with analytical exam of this research. His assessment of textural and allographic features confirmed that the 54 columns of text in the Great Isaiah Scroll fell into two different groups that were being not dispersed randomly by way of the scroll, but were being clustered, with a transition all around the halfway mark.

With the remark that there may well be much more than a single writer, Dhali then handed the data to Schomaker who then recomputed the similarities amongst the columns, now utilizing the designs of letter fragments. This second analytical phase confirmed the existence of two distinct. Various more checks and controls were executed. Schomaker: ‘When we added further sounds to the facts, the end result failed to change. We also succeeded in demonstrating that the next scribe exhibits additional variation within just his composing than the initial, though their producing is extremely similar.’


In the 3rd stage, Popovi&cacute, Dhali, and Schomaker have produced a visible examination. They produced ‘heat maps’ that include all the variants of a character throughout the scroll. Then they manufactured an averaged edition of this character for the initial 27 columns and the final 27 columns. Comparing these two average letters by eye exhibits that they are unique. This inbound links the computerized and statistical investigation to human interpretation of the information by approximation, mainly because the heatmaps are neither dependent nor generated from the key and secondary analyses.

Selected aspects of the scroll and the positioning of the textual content experienced led some scholars to advise that after column 27 a new scribe experienced begun, but this was not generally recognized. Popovi&cacute: ‘Now, we can verify this with a quantitative analysis of the handwriting as effectively as with robust statistical analyses. Alternatively of basing judgment on a lot more-or-much less impressionistic proof, with the intelligent aid of the laptop or computer, we can reveal that the separation is statistically sizeable.’

New window&#13

In addition to transforming the palaeography of the scrolls – and most likely other ancient manuscript corpora – this study of the Good Isaiah Scroll opens up a absolutely new way to analyse the Qumran texts centered on physical characteristics. Now, researchers can entry the microlevel of particular person scribes and carefully notice how they labored on these manuscripts.

Popovi&cacute: ‘This is very interesting, because this opens a new window on the ancient environment that can reveal a lot more intricate connections concerning the scribes that manufactured the scrolls. In this review, we observed evidence for a really comparable crafting design shared by the two Excellent Isaiah Scroll scribes, which indicates a prevalent training or origin. Our subsequent step is to look into other scrolls, where we could uncover different origins or schooling for the scribes.’

In this way, it will be attainable to study far more about the communities that generated the Lifeless Sea Scrolls. ‘We are now equipped to detect distinct scribes’, Popovi&cacute concludes. ‘We will never ever know their names. But right after seventy many years of research, this feels as if we can lastly shake hands with them as a result of their handwriting.’


Additional details:&#13

Digital images of the Dead Sea Scrolls and of the Great Isaiah Scroll had been kindly provided by Brill Publishers and the Israel Antiquities Authority (the Leon Levy Lifeless Sea Scrolls Digital Library).

From 6-8 April 2021 an global on the net conference took position, Digital Palaeography and Hebrew/Aramaic Scribal Lifestyle, arranged by the College of Groningen. A website link to displays will appear soon on this website page:

Reference: Mladen Popovi&cacute, Maruf A. Dhali, and Lambert Schomaker, Synthetic Intelligence Dependent Writer Identification Generates New Evidence for the Unfamiliar Scribes of the Dead Sea Scrolls Exemplified by the Good Isaiah Scroll (1QIsaa)&#13

Disclaimer: AAAS and EurekAlert! are not dependable for the precision of information releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any facts by the EurekAlert procedure.