The Dead Sea Scrolls

The following is an article published in the AHAF Journal Vol. 30 Number 4, July-August 1997.


The Dead Sea Scrolls

A Graphological Investigation


by Heidi H. Harralson, CG


Exactly 50 years ago, in 1947, the controversial Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. Despite half a century’s worth of research and investigation by teams of scholars, the ancient documents still remain an enigma to both academic circles and the general public. During the past few years, a tremendous amount of new information about the Scrolls has been released to the general public including the translation and publication of many heretofore unreleased manuscripts. It seems only appropriate that graphologists should also contribute to the new information and light being shed on these timeless manuscripts. During a recent visit earlier this year to Israel, I had the opportunity to view, firsthand, the Dead Sea Scrolls housed in the Scrollery in the Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem. In order to understand the writing on the Scrolls better, I had to first know about the environment and history surrounding the writing and had to take into account certain paleographic considerations such as the style of writing used in the 1st and 2nd centuries B.C. as well as the type of writing materials employed. To facilitate a better understanding of the graphological observations made in this paper, I have shared these same considerations with the reader.


The Dead Sea Scrolls are a collection of ancient manuscripts totaling about 700 scrolls and fragments of documents. The Scrolls, which predate Christ, were written on materials such as parchment, papyrus, leather and thin sheets of copper. They were discovered in 1947 in several of the numerous caves in the northwestern Dead Sea desert region by a young Bedouin shepherd who later sold them to museum curators and antiquities dealers. Some of the most important of the Scrolls are now housed in the Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem. To protect them from further deterioration, they are encased in silk screen sheaths. The temperature, humidity and light is carefully monitored within the Scrollery in order to preserve the ancient manuscripts.


The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls was hailed as an important discovery because it provided archaeological proof of the antiquity of the Old Testament scriptures. Although the authorship of the Scrolls is debated among scholars, it has been generally accepted that the Scrolls were written by a little known community whom many scholars identify as the Essenes that resided in the Qumran area of the Dead Sea desert. The Essenes were an ascetic community that preserved various portions of the Old Testament scriptures, religious ordinances and non-Biblical scriptures by writing them out on scrolls which were carefully wrapped in linen and placed in sealed earthen pottery and secreted away to caves before the community was overtaken by marauding Roman soldiers in the 1st century A.D. They were a solitary group who maintained a strict physical regimen and dedicated themselves to their spiritual beliefs. Before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, most of the historical information available about the Essenes was written by Josephus, a Jewish historian who lived during the first century A.D. and witnessed the revolt of the Jews against the Romans. Josephus remarked, in detail, about some of the customs, beliefs and environment of this curious group of devout Jews who broke away from society to live in solitary confinement in the desolate Dead Sea region. Josephus records that many of the Essenes were celibate who lived in a communal type of society. They were pious and devoted in their strict and puritanical beliefs and took "great pains in studying the writings of the ancients". Josephus further comments that they were also very idealistic and felt it a privilege to die as a martyr for their faith.


Preserving and copying scriptures was an important task for the Essenes. During archaeological excavations at Qumran, a Scriptorium was discovered housing long, stone tables which were supposedly used to write manuscripts. In this room were also found a few inkwells, made of terracotta and bronze. Chemical tests performed on the dry ink in the inkwells and on the Scrolls show that the scribes used a non-metal, carbon-based, black ink. Tests run on this ink revealed that the ink was surprisingly resistant to bleaching and deterioration, which is probably one of the reasons why the ink on the documents is still adhering to the leather and parchment documents to this day. The dryness and low humidity of the desert also contributed to the preservation of the Scrolls. Still, many of the Scrolls were so damaged and deteriorated that the writing could not be seen on them. In some cases, infra-red photographs were taken as illustrated on a portion of the Thanksgiving Scroll shown in Figure 1. Scribes used a stylus to mark lines and margins on the leather pages. The use of a stylus by scribes dates back to ancient times, well before the time that the Dead Sea Scrolls were written.

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Figure 2

Equipped with these writing utensils, the scribes used the square Hebrew script or Aramaic script in most of the scrolls [see Figure 2]. This script is so similar to modern day Hebrew, that educated Jews today could read the Scrolls. However, some special considerations about the script must be noted.

1) It is written from right to left and it is read, to this day, the same way.

2) The script on the Scrolls does not use any type of punctuation or capitalization. The punctuation is implied by the structure of the language.

3) Vowels or vowel points are not used in the ancient square Hebrew script. Only consonants are used and the pronunciation of the vowels is dependent on the context of the script.

4) Spacing between words is not used in any significant way and oftentimes spacing between words is not used at all.

5) The ends of paragraphs and chapters are indicated by line spaces.

6) Although many of the scrolls are written in Aramaic script, other languages were also used, such as Greek. Some fragments were written in old Hebrew called Paleo-Hebrew and a few were written in a secret script for initiates. An interesting and important scroll called the Habakkuk Commentary [Figure 3], is an illustration of square Hebrew script or Aramaic used in the 1st and 2nd centuries B.C. Note, however, the use of an ancient Hebrew script employed on line 10 to write the divine name of the Lord. The slant on the four letter word which represents the name of God as YHWH also has a different lettering style.

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Figure 3

One of the oldest of the Scrolls is a complete copy of the book of Isaiah. The leather scroll is 24 feet in length and is made of 17 leather sheets sewn together with linen thread. The scroll has a total of 54 columns written on the leather sheets. The famous Isaiah scroll [Figure 4] uses a beautiful style of writing. Compared to the highly rigid style employed by other scrolls such as the War Scroll [Figure 5], Isaiah has some flair and style. Although guides are used, the baseline shows fluctuation. The script also has more curvature than the Temple Scroll script. There is still debate by scholars as to the true age of this particular scroll as some think that it may be older than the Qumran community. This may be the reason for the style variances in this script compared to others such as the Temple Scroll or the War Scroll.

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Figure 4 and Figure 5

An important preliminary consideration to be taken into account when viewing the scrolls from a graphological perspective is the fact that Hebrew writing is written from right to left. In graphology, we know that right tendency shows extroversion, the father figure, the activities of tomorrow and the future. Writing with strong left tendency reveals introversion, the mother figure, the activities of yesterday and the past. How do we use the symbolism of left and right to interpret a writing system based on leftward movement? The Israeli people are a race who are very attached to their past. To this day, they practice holidays and rituals that are thousands of years old and are devoted to the study of scriptures written by Moses that are as equally old. They are proud of their descent from their ancient forefather and patriarch Abraham and are very attached to the land of Israel that Abraham inherited. As a people so concerned with their past, they are not prone to easily change their beliefs or ways to conform to the present or orient themselves to the future. This aspect of the personality of the Jewish race as a whole is graphically visible in the general leftward flow of their basic handwriting script.


Of particular interest, is the placement of the baseline in the Hebrew script. Upon initial observations, I thought I was perhaps viewing the Scrolls upside down because the baseline seemed to rest at the top of the middle zone instead of at the bottom. But this was not the case. The baseline is at the top of what we would consider middle zone letters. We know that the baseline is the line of reality, the line that reveals how well we are coordinating the three spheres of the upper, lower and middle zones. In the Palmer writing system, this line divides the spheres of the middle zone and the lower zone. Because downstrokes are easier to write and we are taught to return to the baseline, our copybook system places more emphasis on the lower zone than on the upper zone. As a result, our society, as a whole, stresses importance on instinctual and material gratification and desires. This seems to be reversed in the Hebrew script. The baseline emphasis is placed between the middle zone, the zone of reality, and the upper zone, the zone of intellect, spiritual beliefs, imagination and aspirations. This seems to correspond with the ancient Jewish society and particularly the Essenic belief system. The Essenes believed in detaching themselves from the entrapments of the materialistic world in an effort to become more spiritually in tune with God.


The upper zone is particularly accentuated in the Isaiah scroll. In more than a couple of instances, the upper part of the letter nearly touches the bottom part of the line above it. The long hook on the upper part of the extension of the letter looks like the vertical equivalent of the horizontal crossing. Note the extensive hook on the t crossing which indicates the collection and acquisition of knowledge. This same type of hook is prevalent on the letter of the Isaiah Scroll and on a few of the other Scrolls. However, because it is not used consistently, this long hook formation appears to be an individual characteristic of the writer rather than the adherence to a copybook standard. Accordingly, the hook indicates that the writer is collecting knowledge and acquiring spiritual truths. The act of transcribing the scroll alone by the scribe would seem to validate this opinion.

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Figure 6

The Temple Scroll [Figure 6] relates, in detail, the rigid religious practices, laws and beliefs of the community and criticizes the priesthood in the temple in Jerusalem of their unholy and impure practices. The writing style employed in this Scroll seems to reflect the harsh, regimented and critical contents of the manuscript. The square Hebrew/Aramaic script is a very structured yet fragmented alphabet which predominantly uses a mixture of the square and angle in the formation of most of its letters. It lacks the connected, circular, rhythmic quality we are accustomed to in the Palmer script. The Hebrew script is rigid and practical; simple, yet intellectual with strong form showing the ability to deal with abstract logic. It shows strength and common sense, for the middle zone is well-developed with unusual emphasis in the upper zone. While the lower zone is not neglected, the upper zone has longer extensions. In many of the Scrolls, the scribes write in a rigid and precise manner which is enhanced, no doubt, by the fact that they are writing copies of documents rather than writing original composition. However, the disconnectedness, control, vertical axis, angularity, exclusive use of consonants and precision of the writing exhibits a strong left brain dominance. The handwriting reveals that the scribes were highly educated intellectuals with strong reasoning skills and linear thinking who were consciously aware of their actions and maintained a strict control over their work and behavior.


The upper zone is intriguing in the Hebrew/Aramaic script. Because downstrokes are usually more dominant than upstrokes, at first glance I wondered if I were viewing the manuscripts upside down. But this was not so. The upper zone extensions have a great deal of height and forcefulness which indicates the Essenes’ concern with the spiritual, religious sphere. The preconscious and the superego are developed in this writing. The strong, heightened upper zone of the writer indicates a conscious force of will to unite himself with God. The emphasis on the superego is further enhanced by the straight right margin (which would be the equivalent of the left margin in the Palmer system), the control in the writing and the careful layout.

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Figure 7 (actual size is about 1 3/4 inches X 1 1/2 inches)

As an illustration of the high level of control and tedious attention to detail practiced by these people, I came across a tiny fragment called the Tefillin Slip No. 3 [Figure 7] which is a copy of verses from the Old Testament books of Exodus and Deuteronomy. Figure 7 is reproduced in its actual size. The writing on the fragment is so tiny that a magnifying glass is needed to decipher it. Upon closer examination under magnification, I found the letters of the fragment to be remarkably well formed considering the miniscule size. The amount of concentrative effort and attention to detail is remarkable on this ancient microscript. Scrolls such as these were folded carefully into tiny pouches and carried on the person as devotionals.


The foresight and dedication exhibited by these people 2,000 years ago to preserve their library for posterity is truly remarkable. During a time when the Jewish nation was split by factions and being consumed by the Roman troops, these devoted people took the time and energy to wrap and seal the Scrolls carefully and hide them away in caves in the desert. It makes one wonder if these people knew they would never have the opportunity to retrieve their library. This behavior seems to exhibit such a devotion to the things of the spirit and the mind that their faith transcended the earthly cares of their own safety during a time of war and pillage. They responded to the higher workings of their conscious to preserve for future generations something tangible belonging to ancient culture, language, and religion that survived the legacy of destruction that shamefully marks so much of the history of the human race.


As a result of my graphological study of the Dead Sea Scrolls while in Jerusalem and my visit of Qumran near the Dead Sea, I feel that I better understand the Jewish people and particularly the mysterious Essenic community. Their script reveals a devoted society concerned with the things of the spirit rather than the physical. They could be harsh and regimented in their practices, but they were also committed and took care, effort and will in the things they did and believed in.


Interestingly enough, when sorting through the hundreds of fragments and trying to match them like so many pieces in a jigsaw puzzle, the team of scholars working on the Scrolls found that very few of the manuscripts were written by the same scribe. As such, the primary criterion used to sort the fragments was the individual characteristics found in the handwriting of the scribes. To a graphologist though, these "individual characteristics" unlock a store of psychological information. Graphology is a key to personality, but when used historically, it is also a window into the past revealing a better understanding of the people and society of yesterday. It is a tool to unlocking history that has yet to be tapped to its full potential.



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