Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Great Isaiah Scroll and Its Damaged Exemplar

In DJD 32, Ulrich and Flint make the case that the Great Isaiah Scroll does not reflect a later stage of development than the MT (contra Kutscher), but instead often reflects an earlier stage of development to which the MT adds significant insertions. They cite seven examples of "Insertions in M highlighted by 1QIsa(a)": 2:9b-10; 34:17-35:2; 37:5-7; 38:20b-22; 40:7; 40:14b-16; 63aβ-bα. In reading the Isaiah scroll recently, I believe I have noticed a pattern which would undermine the major pillars of their thesis.

Preliminarily, it should be admitted that it is quite possible that the Isaiah scroll preserves earlier, pre-expanded texts. 40:7 may be an example, as the original scribe omitted the verse entirely. The Old Greek also omits this verse. The verse is redundant with v. 8. It also disrupts the connection between vv. 6 and 8. Furthermore, the way v. 7 explicitly identifies the referents in the metaphor is characteristic of explanatory glosses. So v. 7 may be a late expansion in the MT. On the other hand, it may be a simple case of haplography in the Greek and Isaiah scroll.

That said, I have noticed a pattern, which may alternatively explain four (34:17-35:2; 37:5-7; 38:20b-22; and 40:14b-16) of Ulrich's and Flint's seven examples. First, none of these can be explained by homoioteleuton. Second, each of these verses are secondarily inserted into the manuscript, bringing the text into alignment with the MT. Third, the original scribe intentionally left one or more blank lines at each of these points, possibly indicating awareness of textual problems. And fourth, each of these four minuses occur at approximately the same location in their respective columns. Noting these patterns, I would like to propose an alternative explanation for these examples.

The four first-hand omissions in 1QIsa(a) at 34:17-35:2; 37:5-7; 38:20b-22; and 40:14b-16 do not reflect a pre-MT stage in the development of the text of Isaiah, but rather a damaged exemplar used by the original scribe of 1QIsa(a). Upon reaching the damaged edges, the scribe left blank spaces in his new copy to be filled in with the correct text from another manuscript at a later time and then continued with the first subsequent legible texts. It is unlikely that the original scribe would have known the expanded text of Isaiah well enough to note the absence of such innocuous additional texts and to note them while copying a non-expanded text (contra Ulrich and Flint). Rather, the consistent pattern of blank spaces and their consistent locations in the text indicate a defective exemplar, which the original scribe copied as best as he could, leaving blank lines for later insertion of the lacunae.

I have rearranged the columns in 1QIsa(a) from photographs on the Israel Museum website to approximate what this reconstructed exemplar must have looked like. The red base line indicates the bottom margin of the exemplar, and the blue boxes mark off the damaged portions of the text. This reconstruction can only be approximate, since 1QIsa(a)--and probably its exemplar--has uneven column widths, but it is sufficient to show that the physical reconstruction of the manuscript provides an obvious explanation for the minuses.

As we can see, all four of the major minuses occur at the bottom margin (potentially you could make the same case for the top margin) of the exemplar in close proximity. If the scroll had been damaged at that point, we would have a very straightforward explanation for how the verses could have been omitted in 1QIsa(a).

This proposal has several advantages of Ulrich's and Flint's proposal.

1) It does not require complex hypotheses about the scribe copying the non-expanded text while having in the back of his mind the expanded text, leaving room for (but not including) this alternative text. I would be interested to see if they can cite any other examples where this kind of procedure was followed. But I consider it quite unlikely that the scribe would have known both texts that well and followed such a scribal practice. My solution is much simpler and much more natural.

2) It explains why these "MT insertions" concentrate on such a small section of text, rather than being equally spread out across the entire book.

3) It explains why all of these were later inserted according to the MT, including one claimed by Ulrich and Flint to be in the original hand (37:5-7). Also interesting is the fact that (if their analysis is correct), the original scribe in 37:5-7 stopped mid-word, and then secondarily inserted the missing text! This would seem to be clear evidence for an exemplar whose bottom edge was defective.

For all of these reasons, my theory of a damaged exemplar for 1QIsa(a) seems to me to account for the evidence in a much simpler and more realistic manner than Ulrich's and Flint's proposal that it reflects a pre-MT stage of development. Careful attention to the physical characteristics of the manuscript and the practical mechanics of copying manuscripts has helped resolve several major textual problems. Without these central pillars, Ulrich's and Flint's theory is based on slender evidence indeed.

Update (10 April 2013): I have posted about the publication of my full DSD article on the Isaiah scroll here.


  1. Very interesting. Good work. Have you read Pulikottil's book on 1QIsa-a? If you did, what did you think of it?

  2. Hi Brian,

    Thanks for the kind comments. I have a full article coming out soon in DSD on the topic, where I more fully develop my ideas, if you want to pursue the topic further.

    I read chunks of Pulikottil's book when writing the article, but I haven't dealt with the entire thing in detail. My general impression is that it was helpful in taking the text of 1QIsa-a seriously as an entity in itself, but I'm skeptical about our ability to isolate the theology of particular scribes from the text we find in MSS. It is very difficult to prove that a "singular" reading actually came from the hand of the scribe who copied a MS, and it is even more difficult to prove some sort of intentionality behind it and draw out a particular theology from that. Pulikottil's work mentioned two of the passages I discussed in the article, and he feasibly claims inter-textual influence of a parallel passage on one (without recognizing the damaged exemplar). On the other, he said that the scribe changed the text to avoid contradiction, but I think it has to do with the damaged margin. In all, I don't think it is fair to this scribe's intention to treat him as a co-author. He was simply accurately trying to preserve the text that was handed down to him in a faulty exemplar. At times he made mistakes or attempted reconstructions, but I doubt he ever would have said he was rewriting the text based on his theology. I haven't looked at all of Pulikottil's examples, but I'm pretty skeptical. It seems way too subtle and speculative for my tastes.

    Have you interacted with it at all? I would be interested to hear your impressions.



  3. I am working on ויסרני in MT Isa 8:11. Pulikottil's conclusion, that 1QIsa-a evidences sectarian ideology, supports my argument. I have not thought through every example he discusses, but I will be reading the book more carefully in the next few weeks. My argument is not dependent on his take on 1QIsa-a, but I am not writing him off either.

    There's an interesting overlap with Pulikottil and a recent article from van der Kooij.

    Van der Kooij (rough reference: "Preservation and Promulgation," The Hebrew Bible in Light of the Dead Sea Scrolls 2012-ish) argues that some biblical scrolls in the Second Temple period were copied more freely as "study texts," including a little more explanatory glossing. These were for "promulgation." Others were copied more reservedly for "preservation." If I'm not mistaken, he refers to 1QIsa-a and "b" as prime examples--"a" promulgation, "b" preservation.

    Still thinking through it all.