Monday, June 03, 2013

A new reading in the DSS

Scholars owe new Dead Sea Scrolls reading to Google:Why was Canaan really exiled? A website featuring ultra-high resolution photographs of the Dead Sea Scrolls brings hidden letters to light for the first time (Nir Hasson, Haaretz). Excerpt:
Prof. Elisha Qimron had been working on the final stages of the second volume of the new edition of the Hebrew writings of the Dead Sea Scrolls when a particular fragment of a Dead Sea Scroll had been posted on the joint website of Google and the Israel Antiquities Authority − the Leon Levy Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library website.

The website features very high resolution photographs of the Dead Sea Scrolls using a special camera, which not only records the condition of the actual scrolls to help preserve them, but also brings to light for the first time faded and hidden letters.


The word “El” appears close to the phrase “tent of Shem,” and might indicate that the intent was to “Hashem” as a synonym for God. By comparing this text with another of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the scholars have come up with another interpretation. The scholars believe that the word “tent” can be interpreted as “land,” and that the text may mean that Hashem ‏(God‏) lives in the “land of Shem.” Thus, Canaan invaded a land that was not his, and that was the reason his descendants were exiled, not because of his father’s sin.

This interpretation is also known from the Apocryphal Book of Jubilees, which survived in the Ethiopian sacred language of Gez and in Greek. There, it also states that Canaan’s sin was in taking the land in a manner different than the way Noah had intended to divide it, ignoring his brothers’ warning not to do so. “Whoever wrote this text knew this interpretation from the Book of Jubilees,” Ariel said. The conclusion is that this alternative tradition to the biblical version was common in the Judean Desert in Second Temple times and later disappeared.

Disappointingly, the article does not say which Qumran fragment this is. I have seen some speculation on Facebook, but nothing I find persuasive yet.

For more on the Google/Israel Museum Digital Dead Sea Scrolls Project and its efforts to recover lost text on the Scrolls, see here and links.

Bit by bit, a letter at at time, whatever it takes. Until we're done. I've been saying that a lot lately, which I take to be a good sign.

UPDATE: A number of people are suggesting that the text is 4Q180. I don't have time to verify for myself.

UPDATE (4 June): Confirmed: it is 4Q180-4Q181.