Project Description

By means of computerized analytical tools and the new possibilities afforded by digital visualizations of data, the Scripta Qumranica Electronica project seeks to expand upon traditional methods of scrolls studies and to bring them into the new millennium. This aim will be achieved through the production of online work­spaces for the recon­struction of ancient manuscripts and for textual analysis of the compositions they contain, providing an Environ­ment for Digital Scholarly Editions of the Qumran Texts. The backbone of the project is two large specialized databases: the Digital Images and cataloguing database published online as the Leon Levy Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library, which is curated, updated, and maintained by the Israel Antiquities Authority, Jerusalem, and the Textual and Linguistic Database, which was created for the Qumran-­Wörter­buch-­Projekt (Qumran Dictio­nary Project, QWB) housed at the Göttingen Academy of Sciences and Humanities.

The basic idea behind the project is to connect two major scholarly databases for the first time, and to make all data usable to provide the means to produce a Digital Scholarly Edition of the Dead Sea Scrolls. First envisioned in a smaller range, one of the driving forces behind the project was (among a number of contributors from the field) Prof. Dr. Shani Tzoref from the University of Potsdam who is, albeit no member in the strict sense, still a personal cooperation partner and counsellor of the Göttingen Team. In a way, the project can be described as an expanded and updated version of an envisioned earlier project by Tzoref.

Two Major Databases Connected

The IAA’s Leon Levy Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library became accessible to the public in December of 2012 under the leader­ship of Pnina Shor, curator and director of the IAA’s Dead Sea Scrolls Project. This website and cor­respond­ing database, funded by the Leon Levy Foundation, with the additional support of the Arcadia Fund, represents the efforts of the IAA to create new high resolution, multispectral images of the Dead Sea Scrolls and to make them publicly available along with scans of the older PAM plates. Google R&D, Israel, sponsored the develop­ment of the website and enables it. The access that the project has provided to images of the scrolls, both old and new, has already proven to be an invaluable resource for researchers.

The Team at the Israel Antiquities Authority is composed of Pnina Shor, along with Oren Ableman, Orit Rosen­garten, Beatriz Riestra, and the curator team (Lena Libman, Tanya Bitler, Tanya Treiger, Asia Vexler, and Yana Frumkin). The IAA cooperates with a team of the National Library of Israel (NLI) to publish the majority of the images on a IIIF Server.

The Qumran-­Wörter­buch (QWB) project which is directed by Reinhard G. Kratz and Annette Steudel was approved as a long-term project of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) in 2002. It was resituated in the Göttingen Academy of Sciences and Humanities in 2006. The inno­vative linguistic data­base that stands at the core of the QWB project was created and developed by Ingo Kottsieper. It contains transcriptions of all Dead Sea Scrolls along with lexical, morphological, and bibliographical data. It has already been used fruitfully for numerous projects on a controlled basis. The integration of the QWB database within the SQE project will now provide public access to this important resource for the very first time.

The QWB database was recently enhanced to enable Noam Mizrahi from Tel Aviv University and his team to add an array of classi­fiers that denote the precise nature of each variant in the part of scroll corpus that were later also included in the Hebrew Bible.

A Pioneer Tool for Producing Digital Scholarly Editions of the Dead Sea Scrolls

The coordination of data from these two repositories, at the University of Göttingen (Reinhard G. Kratz, IT and Editorial Team) will enable SQE front-end web applications to provide a new suite of innovative and powerful tools for Dead Sea Scrolls and related research, in cooperation with the other project member, i.e. University of Haifa (Jonathan Ben-Dov, Editorial Team; now Tel Aviv University). The Haifa team will also cooperate with Daniel Stökl Ben Ezra from the École Pratique des Hautes Études, Paris, France, Section des Sciences Histo­riques et Philo­logiques).

The use of computer software in the service of manuscript reconstruction, a Göttingen “specialty,” has steadily gained ground in the last decade. Dead Sea Scrolls scholars are increasingly using image processing programs and even word processing solutions to simplify taking measure­ments, to test new joins and fragment arrange­ments, and to evaluate the feasibility of textual reconstructions. Such software is even now being used to simplify some facets of the so-called Stege­mann method for the material recon­struction of fragments from scrolls as well. SQE intends to provide a standard­ized and adaptable workspace, a “digital scrollery,” that will encompass and extend beyond current techniques of digital manuscript reconstruction.

The SQE Digital Scrollery aims to include features that aid in material reconstruction proper: that is, the arrange­ment of fragments irrespective of textual concerns, but rather based upon damage patterns and other physical features. SQE‘s Digital Scrollery will be greatly enhanced by access to the IAA images and cross referenced fragment cataloguing between the IAA database and QWB.

Computer Aided Image and Text Analysis

The usability of the IAA images will be further extended by the Computer Science team at Tel Aviv University, headed by Nachum Dershowitz and Lior Wolf. The team is working towards the ability to link the transcribed text of a fragment from the QWB with coordinates on the IAA images so that it will be immediately evident how a transcription does (or does not) correspond to the writing on a given scroll fragment. It will enable the user to automatically generate script charts; to suggest readings for damaged letters; and even to create a kind of font for visualizing reconstructed text. The project plans to link corresponding images of fragments so that a user may, for instance, flip a fragment over to see its back side or easily scroll through all images of any given fragment – vastly simplifying usage of the PAM plates. In addition, it should be possible to subtract major parts of the back­ground from all scroll images, so that the decision between black ink or a dark shadow will be far easier to make. The computer science team at Tel Aviv also plans to build upon the algorithms for suggesting manuscript joins. For that goal, the team will bring their extensive experience working with the Friedberg Genizah Project to the SQE. The team has already developed preliminary algorithms for several important tasks: the matching of transcribed text to its location on an image; automated suggestions for fragment joins; and fragment matching. All of these methods of computerized image analysis and more will facilitate the data curation needed for successful operation of the SQE digital scrollery.

Digital Scholarly Editions: Beyond the Limitations of Print Editions

The sum result of all the efforts outlined above is a rich inter­linking of image and textual data. By drawing upon a host of multi­dimensional relation­ships, the editions produced by the SQE will stand as unique and advanced models for what digital editions can accomplish when they break free from the domi­nation of the printed page over the conditions of the primary data. In this way the project finds relevance for the wider scholarly community and represents a significant and timely con­tribution to the vibrant discussion of digital editions in the humanities. Importantly, the dynamic nature of interaction with the curated data and with the editors’ discussions in these editions will allow readers themselves to choose the level of sophistication with which they wish to engage the SQE editions. This will certainly further the cause of access to the scrolls, for through these editions the non-specialist and even the interested public will be able to interact at their own level in meaningful ways with the images of the scrolls and the text they contain.

Pioneer Digital Editing Projects

Alongside with the results of the SQE project, several pioneer Digital Scholarly Editions of Qumran Text will be published, among them (in Göttingen) the Damascus Document, Cairo Damascus / Sefer Berit Dammeśeq (CD, QD) in its relation to the Community Rule, Serekh ha-Yaḥad (QS); the wisdom text Instruction, Musar le-Mevin (4QInstr), and the Rule of the Congregation, Serekh ha-ʿEdah (1QSa); the latter two by the Haifa Editorial Team. In addition, Antony Perrot in Paris is working on the Opistographs from Qumran.

For the manuscripts of the texts to be included in the books of the Hebrew Bible, an exemplary edition of 4QSamuela = 4Q51 (Göttingen) will be published. The re­con­struc­tion of that manuscript will require a combination of the tools provided by the digital scrollery and a parallel text workspace which would provide much needed clarity on a large scale.

The production of Digital Scholarly Editions for the SQE project will at the same time benefit from the continuing work on the SQE subproject with the goal of better accounting for types of textual variation found among the Scrolls that later became part of the Hebrew Bible. This subproject, lead by N. Mizrahi, will result in enhanced data for the respective manuscripts and extended functio­nality for the analysis of parallel text within the SQE project.

SQE — The Next Generation of Dead Sea Scrolls Research

The Digital Scholarly Editions produced by SQE will demonstrate the features of a new standard online platform for Dead Sea Scrolls Editing, and will also be significant scholarly contributions in their own right, although they do not represent the sole outcome of the project itself. It is the intention of the SQEproject to provide the public with world-wide free access to its tools for collaborative Dead Sea Scrolls research. End users will be able to import the project’s data into their own digital work­spaces and manipulate the frag­ments and text as they see fit. They may then share their own personal editions with others or even enter into collaborative efforts with groups of users. Since all inter­actions within the workspaces can be logged, it will remain simple for people working in groups to identify who is responsible for each edit made to the joint editions. This dynamic, extensible, and collabo­rative platform will ultimately set the stage for the next gene­ration of Dead Sea Scrolls research.

The above description is a shortened and slightly reworked version of the more detailed article by Bronson Brown-deVost, “Scripta Qumran­ica Electron­ica (2016–2021),” Hebrew Bible and Ancient Israel (HBAI) 5, p. 307–15, Tübin­gen: Mohr Siebeck, 2016.
P. Porzig