Could studying ancient ink help shed new light on the Dead Sea Scrolls? – The Jerusalem Post

Posted By on February 26, 2020

Could studying the ink used to pen the Dead Sea Scrolls help scholars shed light on the many mysteries still surrounding them?According to Ira Rabin, senior scientist at the Federal Institute of Material Research and Testing (BAM) in Berlin and the Center for the Studies of Manuscript Cultures (CSMC) in Hamburg the answer is a resounding yes.Ancient Jewish Sages were very well aware of the importance of ink in Jewish practice.As it was taught Rabbi Meir said: When I was with Rabbi Yishmael, I used to put iron sulfate into the ink [with which I wrote Torah scrolls], and he did not say anything to me. When I came with Rabbi Akiva, he prohibited me so, reads a passage of Talmud in the Tractate of Eruvim (13a, William Edison Edition translation via Sefaria.org).Several passages in the Bible mention the action or the need of writing something down. From those, the question of the Sages became what constitutes writing. Beginning at the time of the Mishna, the rabbis discussed the issue in several perspectives: from the fact that writing was an activity prohibited on Shabbat which therefore required a precise understanding to the characteristics of a kosher Torah scroll (fit for use for a public reading in the synagogue) as well as of other objects such as tefillin and megillah scrolls. The ingredients that could be employed to produce inks were also mentioned. A few centuries later, Moises Maimonides would systematically cover these issues in his Mishneh Torah.Today, the study of manuscripts offers scholars a treasure trove of information hidden in plain sight, complementing those presented by the texts themselves, as Rabin explained to The Jerusalem Post after a workshop devoted to identifying and investigating historical ink types held at the National Library of Israel on Tuesday.The materiality of a manuscript is part of the manuscript itself and it offers a lot of information about the time, place, use and technological development of when it was created, she explained.The scholar pointed out that while the study of inks has been important in conservation for quite a while, especially because of the corrosive nature of certain types of ink, its understanding as an archaeological discipline is very recent.It has been developing basically in the past 10 years, she noted.At the workshop, she highlighted that the center where she works in Germany focuses on bridging the gap between the humanities, the natural sciences and technology and does so by assisting paleontologists, archaeologists and other scholars with their needs.According to Rabin, much could be discovered by analyzing the Dead Sea Scrolls which are one of her areas of expertise. In her studies so far, she has especially focused on the parchments.The Dead Sea Scrolls are a group of dozens of manuscripts dating back to a period between the 3rd century BCE and the 1st century CE that were uncovered in eleven caves near the site of Qumran. They include both manuscripts that are the most ancient known copies of parts of the Hebrew Bibles as well as other religious writings. They are currently kept at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.The ink of the Dead Sea Scrolls has not been properly studied yet, and I hope that the Israel Antiquities Authority will allow it soon, Rabin highlighted.She explained that some of the manuscripts were analyzed in the Nineties, including one, Genesis Apocryphon, which was almost completely destroyed by the corrosiveness of the ink used, something very unusual, because corrosive types of inks appeared only much later on, in the Middle Ages.Most of the Dead Sea Scrolls were written in carbon ink, the most ancient ink on earth, in use since at least 2,000 BCE and up until today, she pointed out, adding that carbon ink is created through a dispersion of carbon particles in a binder and is not corrosive.We do not know however, if other materials, and especially metals, were mixed in the ink as well in some of the manuscripts, Rabin told the Post.One of the questions that intrigues scholars in the field is why at some point, after using a certain type of ink for centuries if not millenniums, people started to use other materials, an instance of which happened around the 3rd century BCE.I personally connect this event with the figure of Alexander The Great, who assembled a great empire and created a need for more ink. Since carbon ink was expensive people started to adulterate it with other substances making similar ink but not as expensive, Rabin said.I do think it is very important to further study the ink of the manuscripts of the Dead Sea Scrolls, because of the knowledge the materiality of the manuscripts can give us and because I hope very much to be able to produce a three-dimensional or four-dimensional socio-geographic map of the times and the places where people were using different inks from the 4th century BCE to the 6th/7th century CE, the expert concluded.

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Could studying ancient ink help shed new light on the Dead Sea Scrolls? - The Jerusalem Post

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