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.


13 Responses

  1. Steve Borger 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?

  2. 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.

  3. Joe Cantello 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.

  4. Robert Feather says:

    Amazing that invariably whilst there is a fascination for the nature and origins and history of the DSS and Qumran, and enormous effort is expended in obtaining translations of the DSS, very few scholars bother to try and explain the extraordinary anomalies in the underlying meaning of the texts. They just seem happy to accept them for what they superficially say. One day someone will respond to my claims that there are huge black holes in our understanding of the scrolls- or are academics just too scared to take up the challenge.

  5. Bernard says:

    Why would a single scribe imply it was not a non-sectarian general Jewish library? Maybe the refugees fleeing the Roman destruction of Qumran selected a section from a general library?

  6. Steve Bush says:

    Did the mystery scribe make any “corrections” to 1QIsa?

  7. Jerry Neal says:

    Since the last scroll was penned in 38, there is no connection between this scribe and Masada. What happened to his scrolls afterwards is anybody’s guess.

  8. Joseph Borseth says:

    While there are thousands of possibilities surrounding the Scrolls, and we can only speculate based on the incomplete evidence, I find it quite a curiosity that so many funda mentalist Christians (at least here in Louisiana) have never heard of the Scrolls, Masada, or any other realities surrounding that time period. Just the King James Bible & whatever their preacher tells them (which becomes holy writ as soon as they hear it)

  9. David Stacey says:

    Equally the scribe could have been based in, for example, Jerusalem with the scrolls reaching Qumran and Masada at widely different times.

  10. DJ Zitko says:

    From the opening paragraph, we learn that this scribe’s work was found at BOTH locations.

    “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.”

    This strengthens our understanding that the scribes working in settlements below the Qumran caves, hid what they could, and then fled to the Masada fortress avoiding the Roman invasion

  11. batyac says:

    Tantalizing information. What exactly is the connection between the writer of these Qumran Scrolls and Masada?

  12. Varghese says:

    Ada Yardeni, kol ha havod!

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