Friday, February 11, 2005

The DSS Website of the West Semitic Research Project

The West Semitic Research Project, run by Professor Bruce Zuckerman at USC, has a nice educational site on the Dead Sea Scrolls. It contains a brief introduction on the discovery of the Scrolls and a basic bibliography for beginners. It also has selections from a number of texts and excellent photographs to go with each.

One of the points I made in my lecture on Tuesday was that although when people think of the Dead Sea "Scrolls" they tend to think of reasonably complete "scrolls" like this column from 4QTestimonia (4Q175), in fact such well-preserved columns, let alone well-preserved scrolls, are rare. Consider that 1QWords of Moses (1Q22) is thought of as a reasonably well preserved text worth using as an educational showpiece! And consider also that DJD 33 is devoted entirely to 41 photographic plates comprising close to 2900 "unclassified and unidentified" fragments from Cave 4, the vast majority of which bear only a few damaged letters and no readable words.

The much-maligned original team of scholars who reassembled the fragments into manuscripts - insofar as that is possible at all - deserve more credit than they often get. Those manuscripts everyone uses didn't just emerge from those shoe boxes in the form we have them now. The original team spent ten years painstakingly putting the pieces together, using content, script, leather quality and color, and the like as clues. What a dreary and thankless task! If any of them had been inclined to make a copyright issue of the use of their work, I wonder if the rest of us might not be in a little trouble.