Monday, April 16, 2012

Identifying Unknown Manuscripts

Today I saw a slideshow of significant manuscripts from the Green Collection, and their image 14 here claimed to be an early text of Genesis from the Dead Sea Scrolls. Since they did not give a precise reference, I thought this might be a fun exercise to go through the process of identifying the text of an unknown manuscript.

Photograph taken from the slide show on Fox at

First, I recognized the partly damaged תאמרון "you will say" in line 3 (not counting the small ink traces at the very top left of the fragment). I figured this probably wouldn't be the best word to search, since it is such a common word and has a somewhat unusual spelling. If I had not known this manuscript was a biblical manuscript, this older spelling might have been a good hint that it was biblical, however.

I then noticed right above it the word שעיר, which I suspected might be the place name "Seir." After searching for this name, I noticed that Genesis 32:4 in the MT has ארצה שעיר שדה "to the land of Seir, the country of...", which exactly matches the preserved letters in line 2, ]אר[  ]שעיר ש.

I then looked to the broader context to see if this identification matched there as well. I immediately saw in the next verse תאמרון "you will say" with the same unusual spelling. By shrinking the column width of my BibleWorks text, I was able to align תאמרון below and slightly to the right of שעיר, which then gave me the approximate column length (about 28 letters). It also helped me identify the partly damaged reading מלאכים "messengers" above and to the left of שעיר. With these three points of contact, we have identified the text conclusively.

Here is my basic transcription and reconstruction of the fragment:

            וישלח יעק]ב מלאכים [לפניו אל עשו אחיו
          אר[צה] שעיר ש[דה אדום ויצו אתם לאמר
            כה תאמרון לא[דני לעשו כה אמר עבדך
          יע]קב עם לבן גרת[י ואחר עד עתה ויהי לי
              שור וחמו[ר צאן ועבד ושפחה ואשלחה  
               ל[הגיד] ל[אדני למצא חן בעיניך וישבו

This text is exactly identical to the consonantal text of the Leningrad Codex, even in matters of orthography. I have identified all of the letters that can be conclusively identified, though there are a number of poorly preserved letters in the reconstructed parts. The last line could have begun with לאדני, since the following word also begins with ל and the tops of two לs appear to have been preserved at the very bottom of the manuscript. The column width probably argues for the reconstruction given above. An empty line is evident above the first line (between the first line and two illegible letters at the very top), indicating that this text begins a new paragraph, as also in the Leningrad Codex.

This manuscript was not listed for this passage in Ulrich's The Biblical Qumran Scrolls, so I knew it was probably not from Qumran. I then checked Lange's Handbuch on the biblical manuscripts, and the only manuscript which seemed to match up with my identification is Mur1 (or MurGen-Ex.Num-a), a Pentateuch manuscript from Murabba'at. The handwriting in the fragment is clearly late, and Lange says Mur1 is in a post-Herodian formal hand from the beginning of the second century AD. According to Lange, this manuscript agrees precisely with the Leningrad Codex, and is therefore clearly proto-Masoretic. Unfortunately, when I looked up Mur1 in DJD 2, Milik's transcription is radically different.

      וישלח יעקב] מלאכים לפניו אל עשו אחיו
      וי]צו [א]תם לאמר

He includes text not in our picture and omits text obvious in our picture, so he was obviously not looking at the same photograph. If that's the case, then I am at a loss as to the identification of the manuscript. It is clearly a Genesis manuscript containing 32:4-6, but I cannot connect it with any manuscripts listed in Lange's Handbuch. Could this be a new fragment, or am I missing something?

1 comment:

  1. Matthew Hamilton informs me that this is an as-yet unpublished Genesis fragment normally dated between the Herodian period and end of the 1st century AD. Apparently it has been known since around 2006, but has not been published yet. The Green Collection claims to have the second largest private collection of DSS, all of which are as yet unpublished. Unfortunately, details about their holdings and publishing timelines are difficult to get.