Biblical Archaeology Review 29:1, January/February 2003

“Will Marty Abegg Ever Find a Job?”

Scroll Scholar Thrives Despite Unauthorized Publication

By Martin Abegg, Jr.Michael PhelpsHershel Shanks

The monopoly over access to the Dead Sea Scrolls was broken in 1991. One of the key events in that breakup was the publication of Dead Sea Scroll texts that had been reconstructed by computer from a concordance. We will here detail this important, but little known, incident—but first, a little history. By 1960, the eight-man Dead Sea Scroll publication team had some remarkable achievements under its collective belt. The team had already transcribed all of the thousands and thousands of scroll fragments in their possession—estimated at between 15,000 and 25,000. Transcription is the first step in the publication and study process. With a transcription, a scholar can easily read the letters that a fragment contains (if the letters are uncertain, this is noted), instead of having to break his or her eyeballs looking through a magnifying glass at an ancient parchment that is about to crumble.

Once transcriptions are completed, the next step is to concord them—to list every word in the fragments with a notation as to where it appears and what the adjacent words are. This is the beginning of the process of understanding what the texts really say—comparing each word to its other occurrences and its sense in one fragment to its sense in others. Of course, many other steps are involved in evaluating the text of a fragment and, hopefully, connecting it with other fragments.

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