State-of-the-art technology revealed how two scribes ‘deceived’ modern scholars about one of the biblical texts.
Ientists say they managed to show for the first time, with the help of Artificial Intelligence (AI), that two scribes – and not just one person, as previously believed – wrote part of the mysterious ancient Dead Sea manuscripts.
The tests were performed on the longest text in the ancient Dead Sea manuscripts, known as the Great Isaiah Scroll.
The researchers found that probably two individuals, whose identity remains unknown, copied the words using almost identical handwriting.
The scrolls, which include the oldest known version of the Bible, have been a source of fascination since their discovery, some 70 years ago.
The first sets were found by a Bedouin in a cave in Qumran, near the Dead Sea, where the West Bank is now occupied by Israel.
They contain manuscripts, most written in Hebrew, as well as in Aramaic and Greek, and are believed to date from around the 3rd century BC.
Isaiah’s Great Parchment is one of about 950 different texts discovered in the 1940s and 1950s. It is different from all other texts in that it is the only one with its 54 columns divided into halves, written in an almost uniform style.
Researchers at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands examined Isaiah’s Great Scroll using AI and cutting-edge pattern recognition technology. They analyzed a single Hebrew letter, aleph, which appears more than 5,000 times on the parchment.
In an article published by scholars Mladen Popovic, Maruf Dhali and Lambert Schomaker, they said that “they managed to extract the traces of old paint as they appear in digital images”.
“The old ink strokes are directly related to a person’s muscle movement and are specific to that person,” they said, using a technique that helped produce evidence that more than one scribe was involved in the parchment.
“[The] likely scenario is [that there were] two different scribes working together and trying to maintain the same style of writing, but [each] revealing their individuality.”
The researchers said the similarity in handwriting suggests that scribes may have undergone the same training at a school or family.
They said that the scribes’ ability to “imitate” each other was so good that modern scholars have so far been unable to distinguish them.