Subscribe to The Jewish Standard free weekly newsletter

 
font size: +
 

From Qumran to Teaneck

Dead Sea Scrolls and advanced technology

 
|| Tell-a-Friend || Print
 
 
Zuckerman’s West Semitic Research Project uses technology to study scrolls
image
Bruce Zuckerman is founder/director of the West Semitic Research Project.

Digitizing the Dead Sea Scroll fragments in Teaneck led to an important discovery, said Bruce Zuckerman, professor of religion in the College of Letters, Arts & Sciences at the University of Southern California and founder/director of the West Semitic Research Project.

While the shooting itself took only several days, later analysis, conducted back at USC, revealed a possible new tool for refining the dating of the scrolls.

“We were very pleased; it was a complete surprise,” he said.

Zuckerman said he had known about the Teaneck fragments for a long time, “though not exactly what was there.”

Last year, he received a call from Weston Fields, executive director of the Dead Sea Scrolls Foundation, who “is very good at finding interesting things.” Fields — who wanted to support an exhibition of scrolls at the Milwaukee Public Museum — told him that he had approached Archbishop Mor Cyril Aphrem Karim of St. Mark’s Syrian Orthodox Cathedral in Teaneck.

“He said that no one had carefully examined the scrolls for a long time and asked if he could take a fragment to Milwaukee. The archbishop was gracious and sincerely interested in being helpful to scholars. He said he would allow one fragment to be used there.”

image
Steven Fine of Yeshiva University, left, and Kenneth Zuckerman, West Semitic Research, photograph a Dead Sea Scrolls fragment using Highlight-RTI (Reflectance Transformation Imaging). Courtesy Yeshiva University

According to Zuckerman, Fields further proposed that it would be a good time to get the fragments photographically documented, something that had not been done since the 1940s. Would Zuckerman be interested?

“I said I’d make it happen,” said the WSRP founder.

Reflecting now on his experience in Teaneck, Zuckerman said “the archbishop was a model of cooperation. He and his colleagues were really wonderful to us.” And not only were they well-treated, but the study team also made a significant finding.

Initially, he explained, the four-member group was planning for the first time to use reflectance transformation imaging technology (RTI) on Dead Sea Scrolls — an imaging tool first shown to him 12 years ago by Hewlett Packard scientist Tom Malzbender, who demonstrated the concept by manipulating images of a bowl of rice. The aim was to get a detailed picture of the texture of the skin of the scroll, in order to gauge its condition primarily for purposes of conservation. In addition, he thought he might learn more about the hair follicle patterns on the skin. “I thought we might be able to pick something up,” he said. Pointing out that every skin is unique, “like a fingerprint,” Zuckerman said he hoped the technique might tell his team what kind of animal was used for the scrolls and would allow them to match fragments based on common patterns of follicles.

Shooting a series of 32 images at different light angles — later combining them into a master image allowing him to move the light around — Zuckerman found that he could see the skin patterns very clearly.

But even more, after enhancing the reflectivity of the surface, “we realized we could see the thicknesses of the ink strokes on top of the skin. In fact, we could even see the thicknesses of individual ink strokes and see which were made first, second, third.”

This has significant implications for paleography, he said. Traditionally, scholars have looked at the overall shape of the letters when studying ancient scripts. Now, with RTI, they can see much more — offering tantalizing new possibilities for the study of
the Dead Sea Scrolls.

One expert in the field has suggested that more than 50 of the scrolls were written by the same scribe, he said. “She looked at them and evaluated them by eye, but if we could get RTI images of these texts, we would have better empirical evidence to guide and test this kind of expert opinion.”

“It got us all very excited,” he said, noting that his Teaneck team included longtime colleague and WSRP associate director Marilyn Lundberg, Yeshiva University history professor Steven Fine, and Zuckerman’s brother Kenneth, a technical photographer with some 30 years experience photographing ancient texts, whom he credits with developing many of the techniques WSRP uses today.

“Almost every one of our advances is something he thought of,” said Zuckerman, joking that his brother was “born with a camera in his hands.”

The research project — created to make available high-resolution images of ancient Near Eastern texts — was founded by Zuckerman in the early1980s. The group focuses primarily on areas along the Mediterranean, looking at texts in Hebrew or in similar languages.

InscriptiFact, the database application that makes this information available — what Zuckerman calls “the distribution end of the project” — was begun in the late-1990s and became active as a public resource in 2004. Now, said its founder, it contains more than 50,000 images and is used by scholars in some 40 countries.

The professor recalled that in the 1970s, first as a graduate student and later as a “new Ph.D., I was always frustrated when I tried to study ancient inscriptions closely related to the Bible. You can’t read it if you can’t see it,” he said. “It’s hard enough even if you can see it.”

He cited one case where there were “20 different readings of a crucial passage, all depending on one murky photograph … yet major issues would turn on how you read that, how you interpreted a letter. I asked, ‘Why doesn’t someone work on that?’”

Solving the problem was not so easy, he said, pointing out that generally, “scholars can’t shoot and photographers can’t read,” noting that even the most photogenic pictures are often inadequate because a photographer, no matter how technically expert, cannot do the best documentation if he or she does not have scholarly foreknowledge.

Realizing that someone should try to master both disciplines, he set out to learn more about available technology.

“I didn’t have to go too far for help,” he said. “My brother was on the cutting edge of photography and computer imaging technology.”

According to Zuckerman, one of the reasons for WSRP’s success is that “we use technology as an incentive,” approaching museums and other collectors and telling them that WSRP will make the pictures, it won’t cost them a dime, and it will enhance the study of the collection itself.

“Our only request is that we be allowed to post [the images] on our database,” he said. While the site, InscriptiFact.com, is not “purely public,” users are asked to abide by a simple set of rules, agreeing that images will be used for study or education purposes and that — if a user wants to reproduce the image — he or she seek permission from the item’s owner. Once a user has agreed to these conditions, access is free of charge.

Zuckerman said he loves involving students in his work. “They’re the next generation; the ones who will be leading the charge.”

He said that Fine’s YU students “are incredibly well-trained. They can read ancient Hebrew like The New York Times. I can give them a better view — show them what’s possible,” he said. “It’s a natural relationship.”

In addition to his own students and YU students, Zuckerman has also worked with groups from the University of Illinois who have done high-resolution imaging of the school’s collection of Mesopotamian seals.

“It was a groundbreaking project,” he said, adding that “the idea is to give students a wonderful opportunity to use the technology. They take to it like a duck to water.”

Zuckerman said he has done some work with Dead Sea Scroll fragments at Azusa Pacific University in California and hopes, by the end of this month, to have begun work on a collection in Fort Worth, Texas.

“We have new ideas to try,” he said, adding that he is “trying to establish proof of concept before going to major collections like those in Israel. They don’t like to pull [the scrolls] out for no good reason. They need to make sure there’s a justification.”

He said he has just begun to test the combination of RTI and infrared imaging. While the latter has proved effective with scrolls, “no one has ever applied both together. We’ve adapted a camera that will allow us to do that.”

Whether his new technology will change the face of scholarship still remains to be determined, said Zuckerman.

“But I am confident that it will change things, that we will have a level and quality of information that we didn’t have before. How that plays out in terms of what we learn, I don’t know. We have to take this step by step and see how it goes.”

But, he promised, “we’ll move this material into the public domain with all deliberate speed.”

 

More on: From Qumran to Teaneck

 
 
 

The Dead Sea Scrolls: Scenes from a tragicomedy

The story of the Dead Sea Scrolls discovery and fate — and how fragments ended up in Teaneck — “is enormously interesting,” said Hershel Shanks, the founder of the Biblical Archaeology Society and the editor of Biblical Archaeology Review.

The author of several books on the scrolls, he was instrumental in widening scholars’ access to them. (And that is a story in itself.)

The story “goes back to 1947,” he said in a telephone interview from Rehovoth Beach, Del., “when the first scrolls were found by the Bedouin” in a cave in Qumran, near the Dead Sea. More than 900 were eventually discovered in the Judean desert, in 15,000 fragments.

 
 

Yeshiva University students and professor take up the Dead Sea Scrolls challenge

“The problem with doing ancient history is that you don’t have very many sources,” said Steven Fine, professor of Jewish history at Yeshiva University and part of the group convened by Bruce Zuckerman to study the Dead Sea Scroll fragments at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Teaneck. “You have to squeeze out as much as you can from everything that does exist.”

Fine, who also heads YU’s Center for Israel Studies, is clearly excited by the project and the doors that Zuckerman’s work have opened for students in the field.

He said that Zuckerman, a friend for some 30 years, first approached him when he was a graduate student in Jerusalem.

“I got a call saying, ‘Stop everything. Next week we’re photographing the Dead Sea Scrolls at the Shrine of the Book.”

 
 

Fragments of history from the Dead Sea Scrolls

Throngs of Jews walk past St. Mark’s Syrian Orthodox Cathedral in Teaneck every Shabbat on their way to shul, unaware that the church is the caretaker of an ancient and precious piece of Jewish history.

When Archbishop Mar Athanasius Yeshue Samuel arrived in New Jersey in 1949, he brought with him four scrolls and fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls, which include the earliest known texts of books of the Bible. Although the scrolls were later sold to an Israeli archeologist, Samuel kept the fragments and they are to this day under the care of the Eastern Diocese of the Syrian Orthodox Church, headquartered in Teaneck.

 
 
 
|| Tell-a-Friend || Print
 
 

Stay tuned for the return of comments

 

Sending socks to the IDF

Teaneck rabbi to bring much-needed supplies to soldiers in Israel

Rabbi Tomer Ronen, rosh yeshiva of Ben Porat Yosef in Paramus, and his wife, Deganit, are the proud parents of a son in the IDF.

Their son, a 20-year-old who went all the way through SAR in Riverdale and then went to Israel, where he studied at a yeshiva for a year and then joined the IDF exactly a year ago, is in a parachute unit. “For the last three weeks, they were training and training and training,” Rabbi Ronen said. Last Thursday, “he called and said, ‘Abba, Ima, we are out. We are giving away our cell phones.’ So we knew that it was happening that night.”

So now the Ronens are both proud and worried parents; worried enough, in fact, to decide that they could no longer sit at home in Teaneck and worry. “To be the parents of a lone soldier is hard,” Rabbi Ronen said. “To be the parent of a lone soldier and know that he is going in — that is even harder.”

 

Turning grief into action

Stephen Flatow talks about his long quest for justice for Alisa — and the fine assessed against BNP Paribas

As more and more bleak news from Israel continues to chill hearts here, the parents of all four murdered boys — the three Jews and the one Arab — will have to learn how to live without them.

It is a pain that they will feel forever, but they will learn to manage somehow, each in his or her own way.

In this country, Stephen Flatow models a way to take grief, fashion it into a lance, and wield it powerfully in his quest for justice. Ever since his daughter, Alisa — a Brandeis student who graduated from the Frisch School in Paramus and was spending her junior year abroad in Israel — was killed by terrorists, blown up, along with everyone else on board, as she rode a bus to an Israeli beach, Mr. Flatow has fought to make her murderers, and the terrorist state that supported them, pay for her death.

 

Growing up in Palestine

Fort Lee woman recounts some of her journey from Poland to Israel

By the time she was 10 years old, in 1933, Molly Kis of Fort Lee had gone to school in three countries — Poland, Germany, and Palestine.

By the time she was 15, she had joined the Haganah, the Jewish paramilitary force that fought the British in Palestine and later morphed into the Israel Defense Forces. And by the time she was 25, she saw the British take down their flag over Haifa and then the newborn Jewish state unfurl its own.

Now, she looks back over a life filled with adventure, and recounts some of the twists in her long, deeply lived path.

It is always helpful to be born into a wealthy family, as Regina Spitz was. (Along with her many moves came many accompanying changes of name. Regina Spitz was the one Molly Kis was born with.) Her mother’s family, the Nadels, had a flourishing business selling building materials in a Polish town called Przemyse. Her father’s family, the Spitzes, “were part of a long line of modern Orthodox intellectuals,” Ms. Kis said, and her father, too, was a scholar.

 

RECENTLYADDED

Jews in the Garment Center

Local documentary maker looks at Jewish garmentos, anarchists, musicians, and other unusual Americans

What exactly is a garmento?

Is it a cringe-making label or a badge of honor?

Does the stereotypical garmento embody traditional Jewish values? Or does he (or far less often she) defy or deny them?

Why did so many Jews go into the rag trade anyway?

And Sam, really, why did you make the pants so long?

Steven Fischler of Teaneck and his business partner, Joel Sucher of Hartsdale, N.Y., examine these questions — well, at least some of them — and similar ones in a documentary, “Dressing America: Tales From the Garment Center.” Created in 2009, it will be broadcast a number of times on Channel 13 and on WLIW, beginning on September 2, to mark Fashion Week in New York City.

 

Paddling the Mediterranean

Local man navigates many-legged kayak trip from Spain to Cyprus

That may seem a pretentious term for someone who has done his seafaring not on a big ship, but in an 18-foot sea kayak. But it is fitting for an adventurer who has covered about 2,500 nautical miles, weathering strong winds and battling currents, and who has touched shore in seven Mediterranean countries, all under paddle power.

His journey was to take him from Barcelona, Spain, to Israel, but he ended the trip just short of his goal, in Cyprus, still covering a formidable distance.

“It was a personal odyssey,” Mr. Neimand said. “I traveled far outside the box. I saw wonders and lived legends. It was just amazing.”

While Mr. Neimand was soothing his sore muscles in Ma’ale Admim, Israel, where he lives, sighs of relief and pride were heard back in Teaneck, where Mr. Neimand’s parents, Jane and Jerry, admitted to having had the jitters over their son’s multiyear venture.

 

Unity from tragedy

Local group goes to Israel to show support, share grief and love

It was not a normal trip to Israel, this hastily organized, 80-person two-bus weeklong journey.

The travelers, mainly from Bergen County and almost exclusively from the New York metropolitan area, overwhelmingly veterans of many voyages to the Jewish state, did not go as tourists. Their goal, instead, was to provide comfort and support to Israelis, who are battered both by the rockets Hamas fires at them and by the disdain much of the rest of the world showers on them.

Rabbi Shmuel Goldin of Congregation Ahavath Torah in Englewood led the trip. “Our congregation has gone in the past, under pretty much the same circumstances — the intifada, the Gulf War, Operation Cast Lead,” Rabbi Goldin said. “I will never forget being handed gas masks as we walked off the plane during the Gulf War. My image of that trip was walking through Yad VaShem holding a gas mask.”

Still, he said, the feeling this time was different. “The vulnerability seemed even greater.”

 
 
S M T W T F S
1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30
31