Ancient Scribe Links Qumran Scrolls to Masada

Sidnie White Crawford discusses handwriting discoveries by Ada Yardeni

Ada Yardeni identified the same ancient scribe’s unique handwriting on this Hosea commentary and many other Qumran scrolls. Photo: Courtesy Israel Antiquities Authority/Photographer Tsila Sagiv.

There has been a great deal written about the community of scribes that penned the Qumran scrolls. These studies rarely focus on an individual ancient scribe; they generally consider the religious orientation and scholarship of the broader community. Israeli paleographer Ada Yardeni recently identified over 50 Qumran scrolls penned by the same scribe; moreover, she identified a manuscript from the desert fortress at Masada written by the same scribe. In the November/December 2012 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, Sidnie White Crawford discusses the implications of the important paleographic discoveries made by Ada Yardeni.

Ada Yardeni identified the handwriting of a single ancient scribe on Qumran scrolls found in six different caves. According to Sidnie White Crawford, the discovery of a single scribal hand in multiple caves suggests that “the scribe was a member of that sect who also copied Jewish scriptural scrolls, countering the idea that the Qumran collection was a non-sectarian ‘general Jewish’ library.” Moreover, she argues that a single scribe’s penmanship in multiple caves counters the idea that each cave reflects a separate collection belonging to a different Jewish group.

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Ada Yardeni noticed that the ancient scribe who penned these Qumran scrolls also penned an apocryphon woven on the Book of Joshua that was discovered at Masada. The text bears resemblance to certain Qumran scrolls, and even before Yardeni’s handwriting analysis, scholars suggested that the manuscript may have been the product of a Qumran scribe.

Sidnie White Crawford establishes a second scribal connection between Masada and the Qumran scrolls. Nine copies of the sectarian Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice manuscript were discovered in two caves at Qumran, and another was discovered at Masada in the same locus as the Joshua Apocryphon. Sidnie White Crawford posits that “it seems likely that some manuscripts from Qumran were carried south by refugees fleeing the Roman destruction of Qumran in 68 C.E. But that’s only a best guess.”


BAS Library Members: Read the full article “Scribe Links Qumran and Masada” by Sidnie White Crawford as it appears in the November/December 2012 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

Not a BAS Library member yet? Join the BAS Library today.

Cheek-by-jowl with Herod the Great’s handsomely decorated palace complex at Masada are the tattered remains of the Jewish defenders who, Josephus tells us, committed suicide rather than surrender to the Roman army. Did Masada excavator Yigael Yadin find the lots by which the Jewish rebels decided who would be the last to live? Back to Masada, edited by Hebrew University professor Amnon Ben-Tor, brings the siege of Masada vividly to life.

This Bible History Daily feature was originally published in November 2012.


Posted in Archaeologists, Biblical Scholars & Works, Dead Sea Scrolls.

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  • Steve says

    I am fascinated by Ada Yardeni’s discovery… I am not a scholar in any way, shape or form. I don’t even speak or read Hebrew but my fascination has me learning something every day… And I am not sure if I am right, but I found 2 distinct hand writings on the Isaiah Dead Sea Scroll…. Ada, have you noticed this or am I in error?

  • paul says

    One thing that has bewildered me about the DSS, what other documents were they copied from?

    Think about it, there is at least 600-800 years of history of the nation of Israel until the time these scrolls were written & stored away in those caves. This tells me there are more documents even older than the DSS. That would be the real treasure trove to find.

  • Joe says

    Obviously that scribe must have been a good copyist in order to be responsible for so many of the ‘scrolls’ found around the Dead Sea and Masada.

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