Artificial intelligence unveils the secrets of Isaiah’s great scroll



More than twenty centuries separate the Dead Sea Scrolls, also called the Qumran Scrolls, and the rise of artificial intelligence. However, it is by using the second that researchers at the University of Groningen, the Netherlands, have made it possible to reveal a little better the author of the longest of the manuscripts, the Large Scroll of Isaiah. Or rather the authors.

Two authors with almost identical writing style

Because, if the names of the scribes who transcribed the 17 sheets of parchment remain unknown, the analysis is formal: two people are at the origin of the text, even if the writing turns out to be almost identical. According to Dutch work, published in Plos One, at the end of April, the two copyists each wrote half of the seven-meter-long roll, the first having written columns 1 to 27 and the second those from 28 to 54.

Specialists already knew that scribes had reworked this transcription of the Book of Isaiah, dated between 300 and 100 BC. In some places, later insertions and corrections are indeed visible. But the number of hands at the origin of the text remained debated: the writing style remains constant and identical, but the parchments present “cut” structures. By analyzing both the structure of the text (spacing, margins, alignments, etc.) and the formation of letters (inclinations, legs, lines, etc.), artificial intelligence confirms the existence of two distinct authors.

Scribes from a common school or from the same family?

“The similarity of writing between the different scribes can indicate a common education, for example a joint school or a close family context, for example a father having taught his son to write”, say the researchers. The identity of the scribes remains unknown, and further analyzes will be necessary to find out whether they wrote other fragments among those that have been found.

→ INVESTIGATION. Qumran, a major discovery

More than 900 fragments of texts have been unearthed from 1947 in caves of the archaeological site of Qumran, in the West Bank. While most are in Hebrew, a small part is written in Aramaic or Greek. All are dated between the IIIe century BC. and the IIe century AD. Their origins, their authors, their presence on this site and the possible links with the nearby ruins of Qumran are still the subject of lively scientific debate.

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