Thursday, March 7, 2024

Perceptions of Writing in Papyri Recordings Online

The video recordings of presentations from the Perceptions of Writing in Papyri conference are now available online. This is a great overview of current work on how digital tools have impacted the study of ancient manuscripts.

HT Isabelle Marthot-Santaniello

Monday, February 5, 2024

Kantor on the Pronunciation of the Name Jesus

Ben Kantor has a useful article/video on the pronunciation of the name Jesus/Yeshua in Greek and Hebrew/Aramaic sources in the time of Jesus. This is a helpful resource for those confused by the pseudo-scientific discussions of Jesus's name that are abundant on the internet.

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Isaiah 9:6 and the Antiquity of the Masoretic Tradition

Today I was reading Isaiah 9:6 (Eng. v. 7) with some colleagues and came across a textual variant I had never noticed before.

5 וַיִּקְרָ֨א שְׁמ֜וֹ פֶּ֠לֶא 
יוֹעֵץ֙ אֵ֣ל גִּבּ֔וֹר אֲבִיעַ֖ד שַׂר־
שָׁלֽוֹם׃   6 לַם רַבָּה הַמִּשְׂרָ֜ה 
וּלְשָׁל֣וֹם אֵֽין־קֵ֗ץ 
and he is named Wonderful 
Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of 
Peace.  7 His authority shall grow continually, 
and there shall be endless peace (NRSV)

In the Aleppo and Leningrad codices, the second letter of v. 6 is a final mem yielding לם רבה, whereas a Qere note in the margin (marked with קׄ) says to read למרבה as one word with a non-final mem.

Detail of Leningrad Codex. Photographer: Bruce E. Zuckerman.

My first instinct was to explain this away as a scribal error in the Aleppo codex I was reading from. This kind of confusion is common in the Dead Sea Scrolls, but I noted that it most commonly occurs on the archaic ־מו prefix (meaning "them") rather than in the middle of a word. A little more digging showed that the Leningrad codex has the same exact peculiarity, so this is certainly no accidental innovation in these manuscripts. 

In 1QIsa-a, the scribe does not use a distinct form of final mem, but does leave a space between למ and רבה. It is worth noting that the scribe does not always write a distinct final form, as is evident in the second detail below from just a few lines above our verse. Thus, it appears that our scribe here likely read למ רבה as two words rather than one.

Details of 1QIsa-a. © The Israel Museum.

Looking at the Septuagint, Ziegler reconstructs the Greek text as:

καὶ καλεῖται τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ Μεγάλης βουλῆς ἄγγελος·

ἐγὼ γὰρ ἄξω εἰρήνην ἐπὶ τοὺς ἄρχοντας, 

εἰρήνην καὶ ὑγίειαν αὐτῷ (some mss αυτων). 

(6) 7 μεγάλη ἡ ἀρχὴ αὐτοῦ, 

καὶ τῆς εἰρήνης αὐτοῦ οὐκ ἔστιν ὅριον

and he is named Messenger of Great Counsel, 

for I will bring peace upon the rulers, 

peace and health to him (some mss them). 

7(6)  His sovereignty is great, 

and his peace has no boundary (NETS)

For our verse, the Greek translator--who often translates rather freely--is clearly struggling to make sense of a difficult text, reading something like:

אבי(א) עד שר(ים) שלום (שלום ובורי/בריאות?) למ(ו) רבה המשרה

The extra "peace and health to him" may have been added by the translator for some reason, or it could have been a Hebrew reading known to him or at least supposed by him. Note the similarity between a conjenctured retroversion like שלום שלום ובורי and שלום למו רבה. If so, the translation could perhaps reflect a double translation of the Hebrew representing two possible readings of the difficult Hebrew text before him. Either way, the translation αὐτῷ μεγάλη seems to imply a source text that read לם רבה as two separate words.

Thus, the final mem in the medieval Masoretic codices is no accident, but an accurate record of a textual variant that can be traced back to the 2nd century BCE in 1QIsa-a and the LXX! The inherited reading tradition preferred to read למרבה as one word (cf. the similar noun form in Isa 33:23), a tradition which can be traced at least as far back as the 2nd century CE (see Theodotion's translation τω πληθυνειν την παιδειαν; so also το εβρʹ λεμαρβη αμμισρα according to Chrysostum). But for over 1000 years, some (not all) Jewish scribes faithfully copied the alternative text with two words לם רבה inherited from their exemplars. This variant then gives us a remarkable window into the deep roots of the (sometimes multiple and conflicting) readings embedded in the traditional Masoretic text in one of the most famous passages in all of the Hebrew Bible.

Friday, December 15, 2023

Studies on Book Bindings

De Gruyter has published a new edited volume on manuscript bindings in comparative perspective.

Bausi, Alessandro and Friedrich, Michael, eds. Tied and Bound: A Comparative View on Manuscript Binding, Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter, 2023.


The present volume contains twelve chapters authored by specialists of Asian, African and European manuscript cultures reflecting on the cohesion of written artefacts, particularly manuscripts. Assuming that ‘codicological units’ exist in every manuscript culture and that they are usually composed of discrete elements (such as clay tablets, papyrus sheets, bamboo slips, parchment bifolios, palm leaves), the issue of the cohesion of the constituents is a general one. The volume presents a series of case studies on devices and strategies adopted to achieve this cohesion by manuscript cultures distant in space (from China to West Africa) and time (from the third millennium bce to the present). This comparative view provides the frame for the understanding of a phenomenon that appears to be of essential importance for the study of the structure of written artefacts. Regardless of the way in which cohesion is realised, all strategies and devices that allow the constituents to be kept together are subsumed under the term ‘binding’. Thus, it is possible to highlight similarities, convergences, and unique physical and technical methods adopted by various manuscript cultures to face a common challenge.

Monday, November 6, 2023

Scriptura Job Openings for Exegetes on the Psalms

Scriptura is looking to hire several new exegetes to produce exegetical materials on the Psalms for Bible translators. If you have strong Hebrew language and exegetical skills and are interested in studying the Psalms for a living, Scriptura provides a great opportunity for full-time, remote work that will utilize your skills in the context of the ground-breaking Psalms: Layer-by-Layer project with an amazing team and collaborative research environment.

For a full job description and to apply online, see here.

Friday, September 22, 2023

Postdoc on Ben Sira and AI

Frédérique Rey has posted an advertisement for a postdoc doing interesting work on the textual history of Ben Sira:


Before the appearance of the printing press, the only way of reproducing and spreading a text in written form was manual copying. During this process, accidents, errors and intentional modifications occurred, progressively modifying the text of each witness. The revised text, whether modified deliberately or accidentally, then served as a template for other copyists and the changes would thereby be propagated. For the philologist interested in the reconstruction of text history and the texts genealogical relations (similar to a genealogical tree, called stemma codicum), it has been imperative to study these different variants and suggest methods for the objective construction of such trees (called stemmatology methods).
Retrieving the genealogical lineage of the Hebrew manuscripts of the Ben Sira (book of Ecclesiasticus or Sirach) has been one of the major focus of the laboratoire Écritures at the University of Lorraine. In this project, we suggest to improve the manual work performed in the critical edition of the Hebrew manuscripts of Ben Sira by applying the latest advances in applied mathematics and natural language processing to reconstruct the stemmas of the Ben Sira’s Hebrew manuscripts. This initial work will then be extended to other textual traditions. This project takes place as a partnership between the center of researchs Écriture, LORIA and IECL.
In this context, we are looking for a two years fellow for a post-doctoral position, to fulfill the objective of building the genealogical lineage of the Hebrew manuscripts of Ben Sira through computational stemmatology algorithms.

Fellow’s responsibilities
Over the course of the project, the fellow will be asked to lead and innovate to complete the following objectives:

Analysis, classification and typology of Hebrew manuscripts variants The postdoc’s task will be to collate, analyze and classify by typology all the variants of the Ben Sira manuscript and several Dead Sea scrolls selected for the project (1QIsa, 1QS, etc.). They will also be responsible for training automatic variant analysis models between manuscripts.

Modelization of scribal behavior In collaboration with mathematicians, the postdoc will have to provide field expertise and insights into scribal behavior according to previous observations, leading to statistical models.

Comparison of automatic stemmata to manual stemmata In collaboration with computer scientists and NLP specialists, the postdoc will analyze the automatically generated stemma and compare them to the existing "manual" stemmata, and in particular to the stemmata of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Cairo Genizah manuscripts.

Draw original conclusions regarding the Ben Sira’s manuscripts geneaology Given the finally selected stemma, the candidate will draw original conclusions regarding the Ben Sira textual tradition and discuss their results to draw new conclusions regarding manuscripts transmission.

Required skills
Hebrew skills

  • The candidate must have a PhD in Religious Sciences, Jewish Studies, Theology or Ancient Hebrew Linguistic.
  • An experience in linguistic analysis of ancient Hebrew large corpora.

Textual criticism

  • An excellent knowledge and expertise in textual criticism, philology and biblical studies.
  • A knowledge of stemmatology methods and the current state of the art.

Technical skills

  • Basic knowledge of JSON and XML TEI encoding as well as collation tools.
  • Basic knowledge of SQL and NoSQL database management would be a plus (e.g. mongodb, MariaDB).
  • Being familiar with the Python ecosystem for data manipulation and analysis (pandas, sklearn, tensorflow, Keras), would be a plus.

The candidate is expected to have a good level in English. Knowledge of French would be a plus.

Terms and tenure
This two-year position will be based at the centre of research Ecritures (EA3943), Ile du Saulcy, 5700 Metz. The duration can not exceed 24 months.

The target start date for the position is 1st November 2023, with some flexibility on the exact start date.