Dead Sea Scrolls, Paleo Hebrew in Hashem’s Name, and More – Written by 2nd Graders?

I’ve always been fascinated by the Dead Sea Scrolls, where it came from, the enigmatic Essenes sect, and more. When I last saw the Dead Sea Scrolls at a museum exhibit in Toronto a couple of years ago, I noticed that while the rest of the text was written in Ksav Ashuris, a very similar version as to our handwriting today, Hashem’s YKVK was written in Ksav Ivri – Paleo Hebrew.

I spoke with some so-called bible scholars that told me that Paleo Hebrew was the original writing, and that only Hashem’s name was written as such because that was the only way to preserve the text.

Knowing my own traditions and how we Jews live today, I had my own opinion of how this was done as our traditions haven’t deviated that much over the years. Just like today we have print and script (for everyday usage), the Israelites “everyday” writing was written during that time was in Ksav Ivri, which is evident in coins of those days.

As for the scrolls? I suspect that, since in those days people didn’t have copy machines, the Essenes like many others had to copy texts by hand as there was no other way. In order to make readable texts for teaching, reviewing, and more while not making the text necessarily “sacred,” they wrote Hashem’s name in a more “mundane” handwriting in a manner similar to how we write Hashem’s name in the form of a Heh-apostrophe or Dalet-apostrophe so that we know what the word should say, but that the text shouldn’t become too holy to throw out (not that the Essenes did, but that’s a different story).

Think about it: for all we know the scrolls were written for scribal practice!

Hashem in Paleo Hebrew - Dead Sea Scrolls

Hashem in Paleo Hebrew – Dead Sea Scrolls

My hypotheses turned into a theory when the following happened:

1. When visiting the Dead Sea Scrolls website, I reviewed the scroll of Habbakuk among others and saw, aside from Hashem’s name being written in Ksav Ivri, there were “X’s” and clear grammar edits:

habakkuk-xs-corrections

scroll-corrections

2. I heard someone tell me how in certain areas, some Jews would write Hashem’s name as a “….” in order to not compromise text space. After getting a link to the Dead Sea Scrolls Israel website, I saw the section on the dead sea scrolls, and found a text with such a mark.

The images below are attributed to the gallery “4Q Testimonia.” Notice the “….” in the second word as part of the sentence “Vayedaber Hashem [....] El Moshe Le’Emor!” Also note the many mistakes and corrections. Does this look like a scroll one would read publicly?

3. Among the classical texts were scrolls regarding legal documents in Greek, personal letters, and more. If the bottled-up scrolls were holy, they would have been placed separate from legal scrolls.

The Importance of the Dead Sea Scrolls

Nevertheless, it is very impressive what has been worked on in order to verify our authenticity for at least 2,000 years. However, the theory that Tagin came in the 13th century by Professor Judith Schlanger now needs to be revisited as the scrolls in question have now been proven to be for regular use, be it for scribal practice, ancient textbooks or something else.

Another important element of the Dead Sea Scrolls is the Apocraphical texts, which are essentially explications of the classic Biblical texts. Those were done perhaps in a manner as students take down notes. However, these are important as one can get more of a “taste” and detail of events as they transpired from a much closer source.

So What If The Texts Are Rough Drafts?

So far, the claim that our texts/writing are subjected to the Dead Sea Scrolls simply because they are the oldest texts we have has no basis. For all we know they could have been textbooks used/written by 2nd Graders from 2,000 years ago! That thought must be pretty depressing to those that paid millions of dollars to restore these scrolls. Still, there are other uses for those texts. However, Biblical scholars would be prudent to not use the Dead Sea Scrolls as a yardstick to compare how all texts were written back then to how they are written now. Also, they shouldn’t  tell us Orthodox about when Tagin came out, comparing our texts to scrolls that clearly were used for more private, and not public, use.

Post By Rafael (Rafi) Hecht (462 Posts)

Rafi Hecht is a leading SEO Consultant and Web Programmer, employed full-time at iRISEmedia.com, an online marketing company, and currently residing in Toronto. He has been in the IT workforce since 2003, and has focused on Search Engine Optimization and Web programming since 2007. Rafi holds a Bachelor of Science in Management/Information Systems from Touro's Lander College for Men as well as a Master of Science degree in Information Systems at Stevens Institute of Technology. He also is a devoted husband and father. His personal blog can be found at http://blog.rafihecht.com.

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  • Aaron

    Okay, so for your argument that the Hebrew Ashuri script that we use today is actually the original Hebrew, and that Hebrew Ivri was for common use it would have to mean a few things.

    Number one, that the Palestinian Talmud is wrong in it’s claim that Hebrew Ivri was the original script.

    That all the other hundreds, if not thousands, of discoveries of all ancient Hebrew being written in the Ivri is just a mere coincidence, and that the fact that we never find Ashuri script anywhere near as old, is also a coincidence. For example, these silver scrolls that have the Birkat Kohanim: http://www.biblearchaeology.org/post/2010/01/06/The-Blessing-of-the-Silver-Scrolls.aspx

    And it would also have to be a coincidence that the Samaritans (that are still around) and who have a Mesorah that is as old as Ezra have a writing very similar to the Paleo Hebrew: http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-RYoU4R5pASo/Uta6KU1lETI/AAAAAAAACN8/96GevSUKoqE/s1600/Samaritan+High+Priest+with+Torah.JPG

    i write this post in hopes that people will become more aware of the overwhelming amount of evidence that when it comes to our writing script, that we have a broken Mesorah.

    • http://www.rjhsolutions.ca Rafi Hecht

      Thank you for replying. This actually is a loaded topic. The reality is that Jews have been using this script which we took from Ashur. In Daniel this script is called “Ktav SheNishtaveh,” the script that has been changed.

      Here’s another fun fact from the Talmud: According to Mar Zutra, the first tablets of the ten commandments were written in Ktav Ashurit (see Responsa Radbaz 3:442) but once Israel sinned with the Golden Calf they were deemed unworthy. They could not be trusted to use Ktav Ashurit for purely sacred matters.

      Therefore, the second tablets and the Torah scrolls written for general use were in Ktav Ivri.

      Aside from scriptural proofs, the fact is, the Essenes have in fact been using Assyrian script for their scrolls, using Paleo-Hebrew for G-d’s name. As a practicing Jew that has followed traditions of my own father, grandfather, etc. I know that writing G-d’s name in a different manner from the Paleo-Hebrew text is used in everyday, “non-holy” writing. The beauty of practicing time-honored traditions means you have as much of a first-hand experience as possible.

      Yes, certain aspects of our Mesorah have been broken to a degree due to centuries of persecution, but not entirely. We Jews have been able to maintain a vast majority of our traditions, in many cases to such a scary-accurate degree.