Biblical Archaeology Review 34:6, November/December 2008

Strata: Scrolls’ Scribe and Sectarian Spaces

One of the mysteries of the approximately 900 documents known as the Dead Sea Scrolls is whether they form a single collection—most often described as an Essene library—or whether they come from several different collections (perhaps brought to different caves by refugees fleeing from the Romans). Some have proposed that as many as 500 different scribes wrote the scrolls found in 11 caves near the ruins of Qumran.1 Now we have new evidence, which, however, only adds to the mystery.

Ada Yardeni is one of Israel’s leading paleographers. Ancient handwriting is her specialty. Her examination has revealed that one scribe copied texts found in Caves 1, 2, 3, 4, 6 and 11, as well as scrolls found at Masada. This tends to support the position that the Dead Sea Scrolls are a single large library. She dates these scrolls, based on the shape and form of the letters, to sometime in the late first century B.C.E. to the beginning of the first century C.E., precisely at the turn of the era.

This active scribe, who inscribed more than 50 different scrolls, wrote in handwriting that is “orderly, spacious and elegant, indicating a skilled professional and trained hand, easily recognizable thanks to its peculiar lamed [L],” to quote Yardeni.2 He inscribed sectarian scrolls (often identified as Essene) as well as Biblical and other texts that do not reflect a particular Jewish sect.

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