What is the difference between a text, a manuscript, and a composition?

A text is a unit of writing. It could be a hymn, a legal contract, or an inscription on a clay potsherd. A manuscript is a physical object, the material form of a recorded text. Only about a dozen of the Qumran Cave Scrolls were recovered intact as complete scrolls. Most manuscripts survived only in fragments. Scholars sorted all of these fragments on the basis of physical material and shape, content, and handwriting in order to reconstruct the original manuscripts when possible. Each Dead Sea Scroll manuscript is unique, even if its content is also found in other manuscripts. A composition is a specific literary or documentary entity, such as Genesis or a Deed of Sale, which has been recorded on a manuscript. A composition may be preserved in a single copy among the Dead Sea Scrolls, or found in several manuscripts.

How are the texts labeled?

Each manuscript is identified by a manuscript number.
For example, the manuscript number 4Q41 designates the 41st manuscript cataloged from Qumran Cave 4.

Where it was possible for scholars to identify the composition preserved in a manuscript, they assigned a name to the manuscript. The manuscript name is usually in an abbreviated form. For example, 4Q41 is commonly referred to as 4QDeutn: 4Q refers to the site (Qumran Cave 4); Deut indicates the composition name (Deuteronomy); and the superscript n means this is the 14th copy (or manuscript) of the composition cataloged from this cave.

4Q41
4Qlocation (Qumran Cave 4 )
41the 41st manuscript from the cave

4QDeutn
4Qlocation (Qumran Cave 4 )
Deutabbreviated composition name (Deuteronomy)
n14th copy of the composition (Deuteronomy) from the cave

What are plates?

In the 1950s, scholars spent many years arranging and rearranging Dead Sea Scrolls fragments on plates according to manuscript. As they identified and organized fragments, they photographed and catalogued them. They documented the process of successive arrangements in infrared photographs throughout the 1950s, referred to as PAM (Palestine Archaeological Museum) negatives. They are numbered from 40.059 to 44.361.

Today, the fragments are kept on over 1200 plates in the IAA's climate-controlled vault.
Each of these plates is imaged initially in order to map the fragments. After mapping, the spectral imaging system creates 58 images of each fragment: 28 images of the recto (front), 28 images of the verso (back) and an additional two images which are color images generated by the system. The website currently displays the image of the plate and two spectral images of each fragment: the most legible infrared image in black and white and a composite color image that the spectral imaging system generates.

Where do the fragment numbers on the images come from?

The fragment numbers used on this site come from the IAA imaging system, which automatically assigns numbers to the fragments on each plate as it images them. These system-generated numbers are new numbers. Unlike the previous convention of numbering fragments by manuscript, the fragments on this site are now numbered according to plate.

The Qumran Caves Scrolls have been published in the 40-volume series of Discoveries in the Judaean Desert (DJD). In DJD, the texts are organized according to manuscript number and manuscript name. Every fragment is assigned a fragment number within a manuscript, even if fragments from the same manuscript are on different plates. When scholars refer to published Qumran scrolls, they use the manuscript number and/or manuscript name, the DJD fragment number, and the column numbers of the particular section of the manuscript that they are citing

As part of the digitization project, the IAA is correlating the new fragment numbers with the DJD notations, and future versions of the website will provide the user with this information.

What is the imaging technique used?

There are three main types of images on this website: 1) scans of the infrared negatives taken in the 1950s, 2) new infrared images, and 3) new full spectrum color images. The new infrared images were taken at the IAA Dead Sea Scrolls imaging lab with the most advanced spectral imaging system available today. Imaging at different wavelengths reveals traces of ink and characteristics of the fragments that are not visible to the naked eye and provides the data for the conservation monitoring program. In addition to these three categories, the site also displays high quality digital color images of plates taken as part of the IAA's documentation and conservation processes.

1. The PAM (Palestine Archaeological Museum) film negatives, taken in the 1950s, are infrared negatives that appear in black and white and are numbered in the IAA archives from 40.059 to 44.361. They were scanned with the highest quality optical lenses.

2. The five infrared bands are 706, 728, 772, 858, and 924 nm, beyond the limit of human vision. These infrared images appear to the observer in black and white, and reveal faded text.

3. The full spectrum color images combine seven bands in the visible spectrum between 445 nm and 704 nm. They are calibrated with an X-RiteColorChecker to provide color accuracy that exceeds any standard color camera.

What are the historical periods of the texts?

Iron Age1200-586 bce
Persian539-332 bce
Hellenistic-Roman332 bce-324 ce
Early Hellenistic332-165 bce
Hasmonean165-37 bce
Herodian37 bce-73 ce
Roman63 bce-324 ce
Byzantine324-638 ce
Islamic638-1099 ce
Crusader1099-1291 ce