A New Direction

By Michael Brooks Johnson, 2015 Sherman Centre Fellow

As I’ve further developed my dissertation proposal, I’ve altered my Sherman Centre project to better serve the changing demands of my research. Initially, I was looking into comparing the syntax of the texts of two ancient Jewish corpora, the Psalms and the Thanksgiving Hymns (transliterated Hebrew title: Hodayot). The book of Psalms is well known from Jewish and Christian Bibles, but the manuscripts of the Thanksgiving Hymns are relatively recent and less studied. They are collections of distinctive psalms that we’ve only been aware of for almost 70 years, since their discovery among the Dead Sea scrolls in 1947. However, there are some basic questions about the most important manuscript of the Thanksgiving Hymns, 1QHodayota (1QHa), that need to be addressed before sound comparisons with other literary corpora can be made. I am refashioning my former, stand-alone project on syntax into a more integrated and directly relevant series of smaller projects that will allow me to address a key issue in 1QHa—the placement of fragment 10 in column 7 of 1QHa.

When the antiquities dealer Feidi Salahi sold 1QHa to the archaeologist Eleazar Sukenik of the Hebrew University in 1947, it was delivered in two bundles. One included three well preserved but disconnected sheets from the middle of the scroll, while the other was a smashed and twisted mass of decayed fragments from the sheets at the extremities of the scroll. My thesis supervisor, Eileen Schuller, co-published Hartmut Stegemann’s reconstruction of this scroll, originally his 1963 dissertation but only translated into English, edited, and made public in 2009.[1] The reconstruction assumes that repeating patterns of damage can serve as a reliable guide for putting the fragments of the scroll back into order. In the majority of cases this approach to reconstruction has produced good results that were later confirmed by the overlapping texts found in the Cave 4 Thanksgiving Hymns scrolls that Schuller published in 1999.[2]

However, the placement of fragment 10 of 1QHa is difficult in a number of ways. It does not physically touch other fragments in the reconstruction, and its shape is not an obvious fit when compared with the contours of damage preceding and following its proposed place in the scroll. It also creates a superscription that is unique and perplexing in light of other titles and headings in ancient Hebrew texts by combining an in-composition subheading format with a compositional title for a work. In view of the peculiar title it creates and the inconclusive grounds for placing the fragment, it is possible that this fragment has been located in the wrong place in the reconstruction 1QHa.

My dissertation research is on the Community Hymns, the subgroup of Thanksgiving Hymns that includes the title and text created by the placement of fragment 10. Accordingly, I need to look more closely at this fragment placement before I use the text in my study. The objective of my Sherman Centre project is to try various approaches and technologies for testing fragment placements on other possible locations for fragment 10 in the scroll. My top priority is to answer a high-stakes question for my dissertation, but I also want to contribute my evaluation of techniques and method to the broader discussion of manuscript reconstruction in my discipline.

In the next blog posts I will share my progress on testing the placement of this fragment using computer-aided methods—some which are currently being used by scrolls scholars tackling similar challenges, and one that I’m developing specifically for 1QHa. Stay tuned for more!


[1]. Hartmut Stegemann and Eileen Schuller Qumran Cave 1.III:1QHodayota with Incorporation of 1QHodayotb and 4QHodayota–f DJD XL (Oxford: Clarendon, 2009).

[2]. Eileen M. Schuller, “Hodayot” in Qumran Cave 4.XX: Poetical and Liturgical Texts, Part 2 (eds. E. Chazon et al.; DJD 29; Oxford: Clarendon, 1999).

Works Cited

Schuller, Eileen and Hartmut Stegemann. Qumran Cave 1.III: 1QHodayota with Incorporation of 1QHodayotb and 4QHodayota-f. DJD XL. Oxford: Clarendon, 2009.

Schuller, Eileen. “Hodayot.” Pages 69–254 in Qumran Cave 4.XX: Poetical and Liturgical Texts. Part 2. DJD XXIX. Edited by Esther Chazon et al. Oxford: Clarendon,1999.


Michael Brooks Johnson is a PhD candidate in the Department of Religious Studies at McMaster University. He specializes in early Judaism and the Dead Sea scrolls found at Qumran in Israel. His research focuses on poetic collections from the scrolls, especially the Thanksgiving Hymns (Hodayot) and how we can better understand them and the communities that read them by examining the compositions’ rhetorical features. He is also interested in how digital scholarship offers new ways to reconstruct ancient manuscripts and study them.

2 Comments on “A New Direction

    • Dale Askey says:

      Odd question: you aren’t by chance the Robert Labig who attended IBC in Colorado back in the early 80s, are you? If so, I have to chuckle at the coincidence, being the son of the academic dean.

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