The Great Isaiah Scroll was discovered in the late 1940s and is one of the seven original Dead Sea Scrolls. The Asia Society, Hong Kong Center, has it on view. According to a new analysis, this scroll writes by two scribes.
According to a new analysis, a famous Dead Sea Scroll manuscript was written by not one but two scribes, using artificial intelligence (A.I.) and statistics to detect subtle variations in handwriting on the ancient text.
The two scribes wrote in such a similar manner, according to the report, that the differences between them are not visible to the naked eye. According to the researchers, a detail indicates the scribes may have undergone similar training, possibly at a school or in an immediate social environment.
Mladen Popovi, a professor of the Hebrew Bible and ancient Judaism at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, told Live Science in an email, “This is just the first step.” “We have opened the door to individual scribes on a micro basis.” will provide new opportunities to research all of the scribes. Who worked on the Dead Sea Scrolls. As well as a new and possibly better understanding of the type collection, collections of manuscripts, we are dealing with.”
In the late 1940s, the Dead Sea Scroll finds for the first time. When a young shepherd in Qumran, West Bank, searched for a stray goat, he discovered some manuscripts in a cave. More than 900 manuscripts were discovered in 11 caves by researchers and local Bedouins over the next decade. These manuscripts, which date from the fourth century B.C. to the second century A.D., are the oldest surviving Hebrew Bible texts. However, since the scribes did not sign their names, it is unknown who or how many people wrote them, according to the new study’s researchers.
That has not prevented biblical scholars from making educated guesses on how many scribes worked on the numerous Dead Sea Scroll manuscripts. “They will look for a smoking gun’ in the handwriting, such as a particular feature in a letter that would mark a scribe,” said Popovi, who is also the director of the Qumran Institute at the University of Groningen. These “smoking gun” analyses, on the other hand, were frequently subjective and, as a result, fiercely debated, he said.
Popovi and his colleagues investigated the Great Isaiah Scroll, one of the seven scrolls discovered by the Bedouin shepherd, using a different artificial intelligence and statistics method. This well-preserved scroll from about 125 B.C. is long — 24 feet (7.3 meters) long and 10 inches (26 centimeters) tall — and contains 54 columns of Hebrew text. Between columns 27 and 28, there is a slight break in the text and a new “page,” where two sheets see together, which caught Popovi’s attention. Popovi’s team decided to see whether they could solve the mystery of whether this scroll was written by one or two scribes, as other scholars had already discussed.
A picture in grayscale. The Great Isaiah Scroll’s Column 15 (left). Its BiNet-created corresponding image (middle) and the cleaned-corrected image (right). Take note of how the middle and right images have been rotated and geometrically transformed, resulting in a more suitable image for processing. (Image credit: reprinted with permission from Brill Publishers from Lim TH, Alexander PS. Volume 1. In: The Dead Sea Scrolls Electronic Library. Brill; 1995 under a CC BY license, original copyright 1995.)
In the analysis, the researchers wanted to see “whether subtle differences in writing should be treated as natural variations in one scribe’s handwriting or as identical scripts of two different scribes.”
Popovi told Live Science that the researchers’ methods observed: “subtle and complex variations in [the] handwriting that we cannot [discover] with the human eye alone.” He claims that the finding of two scribes working together on the Great Isaiah Scroll proves that ancient scribes “worked in teams.” Moreover, unlike the “smoking gun” studies, this study “is not only a hypothesis but is now focused on fact,” according to Popovi.
How did they do it?
To say the difference, the researchers had to train the algorithm between the text, which was ink, and the background, which was animal skin or papyrus. Binarization developed by study co-researcher Maruf Dhali, a doctoral student in the University of Groningen’s artificial intelligence department, who created an artificial neural network that could train using deep learning. Even when these ancient letters converted into digital images, this neural network recorded the original ink traces on the manuscript.
In a quote, study senior researcher Lambert Schomaker, a computer science and artificial intelligence professor at the University of Groningen, said, “This is significant because the ancient ink traces relate directly to a person’s muscle movement and are person-specific.”
From the Dead Sea Scroll book. Two self-organizing maps of the Hebrew letters aleph (left) and bet (right). As the zoomed-in box shows, each letter made up of several instances of similar letters. Researchers used artificial intelligence to examine the fragments of each letter in the Great Isaiah Scroll to figure out how many scribes were involved (fragmented character shapes). (Photo courtesy of Maruf A. Dhali of the University of Groningen)
According to the neural network review, the Great Isaiah Scroll’s 54 columns of text fall into two distinct categories, with a transition about halfway through the manuscript. Schomaker did a separate study after Dhali suggested there might be more than one researcher, but the results were the same. Schomaker looked at fragments, or sections of letters, that “can be more accurate, distinctive, and informative in identifying significant shape variations than the full characters,” according to the study’s findings.
The team applied checks and controls to the text to be extra careful. “We did not change the result when we added more noise to the results,” Schomaker said. “We were also able to demonstrate that, though their writing is very similar, they are very different.”, the second scribe’s writing is more varied than the first.”
An illustration of the Hebrew letter aleph demonstrating how heatmaps for individual letters create. (Photo courtesy of Maruf A. Dhali of the University of Groningen)
The team then used “heat charts” to conduct a visual analysis. These maps included many of the letter variants used in the scroll, such as the Hebrew letter aleph (). They produced an average version of the letter using the first 27 columns and a different version using the last 27 columns. They compared the averaged letters and discovered that there were significant variations between them. Also, the variations were statistically significant, according to Popovi.
Popovi and his colleagues want to look into other scrolls, which might reveal different sources or scribe training, he said. These studies can also shed light on the Dead Sea Scrolls’ authors’ cultures. “Understanding the scribes of the Dead Sea Scrolls allows us to understand better what I call the Hebrew Bible’s cultural evolution,” Popovi told Live Science.
Shira Faigenbaum-Golovin says the new study is “the first time an automated technique used to classify the change of style in the Great Isaiah Scroll.” In an email to Live Science, a researcher at Tel-Aviv University’s Department of Applied Mathematics who specializes in biblical-era handwriting analyses said. The analysis did not include Faigenbaum-Golovin. “Through rigorous binarization, the approach used in this analysis effectively addresses the challenges posed by the scroll’s poor state of preservation.”