Monday, August 14, 2017

One letter can make a big difference

PALEOLOGRAPHY: Alphabet Soup in Dead Sea Scrolls Opens a Window to an Ancient Hebrew World. With a little help from his wife, researcher Alexey Yuditsky substituted one letter for another and got a lesson on the expulsion of man from the Garden of Eden (Nir Hasson, Haaretz).
Yuditsky says his wife proposed that if this was the story of the Garden of Eden, then one of the words he didn’t understand, dalal (thin out) should be kalal (curse). The problem was that the letter involved looked like a dalet (ד) or a resh (ר), not a qoph (ק) as kalal would seem to require.

Sure enough, things made more sense when he substituted a qoph for a dalet or a resh in a few cases. The qoph he found was part of a little-known Hebrew alphabet. Later, the researchers viewed the Israel Antiquity Authority’s new photographs of the Dead Sea Scrolls – a product of multispectral photography that can reveal letters invisible to the human eye.

Understanding the use of the qoph and examining the new photographs allowed Yuditsky to decipher 25 words from the scroll.
(This is a premium Haaretz article, so you may need a (free) registration to view it.)

The revived paleo-Hebrew script of the Second Temple and Roman periods can be difficult to understand. And surprisingly often with the fragmentary Dead Sea Scrolls, the proper reading of a single letter, or even a single blank space, can be of significant aid for deciphering the text. For another example, see my story about 4QGenesisj here.

Bit by bit, a letter (or blank space!) at a time, whatever it takes. Until we're done.

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