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The scribes of the Isaiah scroll knew what they were doing
The question being asked on the list: were the scribes messing up? has
been studied quite a bit, and thankfully, what are "errors" to some are
clues to others.
In 1959 the great Aramaist E.Y. Kutscher published his _Halashon vehareqa'
halashoni shel megilat yeshiyahu_ (translated and published some years
later as "The Language and Linguistic Background of the Isaiah Scroll") In
it he argued that the most consistent "errors" in IQISa were signs of a
vulgar textual tradition which reflected the linguistic situation in
Palestine in the last centuries BCE. The scribes who worked on this scroll
(which is in many ways atypical of the diverse but usually meticulously
copied body of texts from Qumran) had merely stopped trying to imitate
Classical Biblical Hebrew style and were rendering Isaiah into language
they understood better. Anyone familiar with the Mishnah or Targumim will
recognize many of the "errors" as typical, and correct, for later Hebrew
Such regular "errors" as "Darmeseq" for "Dameseq" and "Yeshiyah" for
"Yeshiyahu", "tanhumim" for "nihumim", etc. consistently reflect a
language transitional between Late Biblical and Mishnaic Hebrew. Gutturals
such as the ayin of ya'aqov were often accidentally omitted in copying
because they were no longer clearly pronounced. Other issues, such as the
spelling of the pronouns for "he" and "she," "hu" and "hi" respectively,
with a final aleph, are more complex.
Not every statement is accepted today (an up-to-date summary of what we
know about the language of the Scrolls is available from Kutscher's
student Elisha Qimron in James VanderKam's fine _Dead Sea Scolls Today_,
and scholars such as Michael Wise disagree about the scribal character of
the Scrolls--see his _Thunder in Gemini_) but his work remains the
starting point for any discussion of the language of the Great Isaiah
Scroll from Qumran.
Seth L. Sanders
Dept. of Near Eastern Studies
The Johns Hopkins University