Computer solves mystery of Dead Sea Scroll

Part of the large Isaiah scroll. Photo by Ardon Bar Hama

Isaiah scroll was written by two people

Computer solves mystery of Dead Sea Scroll

It was in fact two people who wrote the famous large Isaiah scroll, one of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Scientists discovered this by using advanced computer technology to analyse the manuscript.
26 April om 12:26 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 26 April 2021
om 12:26 uur.
April 26 at 12:26 PM.
Last modified on April 26, 2021
at 12:26 PM.


Door Christien Boomsma

26 April om 12:26 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 26 April 2021
om 12:26 uur.

By Christien Boomsma

April 26 at 12:26 PM.
Last modified on April 26, 2021
at 12:26 PM.

Christien Boomsma

Achtergrondcoördinator en wetenschapsredacteur
Volledig bio
Achtergrondcoördinator en wetenschapsredacteur
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Mladen Popović, director of the Qumran Insitute which studies the Dead Sea Scrolls, and Lambert Schomaker, an expert in artificial intelligence, have spent years on their project The Hands that Wrote the Bible. By combining Popović’ knowledge of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Schomaker’s advanced handwriting analysis technology, they hope to gain insight into the anonymous writers who put together the Old Testament.

Academics have been arguing over whether the Isaiah scroll had been written by one or two writers for years. ‘They’ve been trying to find evidence. They’ll take something specific about a letter, for example, to try and identify a writer’, says Popović. But the identification can be subjective, and it’s open to discussion.

Computer analyses

But the article published in research journal PlosOne on Wednesday proves it. ‘The book scroll contains the letter aleph, the a, more than five thousand times’, says Schomaker. ‘It’s impossible for a person to compare them all.’ His computer analyses, however, can compare the letters. 

One of the things Schomaker looks at is how the way someone holds their pen affects their handwriting. His analysis showed that a second writer took over after the twenty-seventh column. ‘Instead of using impressionistic evidence, we used the computer to prove that the difference between the two parts of the scroll is statistically significant’, says Popović. 

Complex relationships

Popović is happy with the results. ‘This opens a new window to the distant past, giving us insight into the complex relationships between the writers who created these book scrolls.’ The writers of the Isaiah scrolls had similar styles of writing, which could indicate they have the same training. ‘Our next step is to analyse other book scrolls to see if we can identify writers who had different training.’

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