Chapter 17 Conclusion: Movement towards a Comprehensive Reconstruction of Instruction

In: Material and Digital Reconstruction of Fragmentary Dead Sea Scrolls
Jonathan Ben-Dov
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Asaf Gayer
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Eshbal Ratzon
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Part 1 of this book presented in detail the method for reconstruction, and part 2 exemplified how utilizing this method produces significant results in the reconstruction of a specific scroll, 4Q418a, a copy of Instruction. In this conclusion we survey what we consider to be the main achievements of the book. At the end of the chapter we take one step further, demonstrating the achievements such a method can carry for the entire Instruction.

The suggested method makes use of previously-used tools alongside some innovations, yet even the older tools discussed in this book are updated and sometimes critically examined. The method begins with meticulously recording and examining the entire material and photographic record for every fragment and wad, recto and verso (chapters 1, 6, 7). Beyond this basic practice, the main methodological innovations of this volume are as follows:

  1. Calculating a potential margin of error for every reconstruction. The figures reached in the reconstruction must be considered as operating within a range rather than as absolute numbers. The factors impacting the error must be quantitatively assessed using the methods that are commonly used in the experimental sciences. After raising this issue in chapter 2, we offer for the first time a method for calculating the error. The method is recounted in the long appendices 1, 3, and 4. In addition, it is employed throughout the reconstruction of 4Q418a in chapter 16. The consistent application of the method to various stages in the procedure, each incurring its own potential error, yields a balanced result. On the one hand, multiple factors carry a larger potential error. On the other hand, the accumulation and cross-validation of various pieces of data checks this error and yields smaller, more reasonable figures.

  2. Defining a policy for image manipulation and repair, as well as handy methods for removing the image background and scaling it (chapters 3, 4, 5).

  3. Assessing the current methods for text demarcation (chapter 8).

  4. Using a custom-made computer font for various scrolls in order to trace the sizes of individual columns and long stretches of text. The method for preparing and using such a font is described in chapter 10. A scientific experiment carried out in order to validate this method is recorded in Appendix 1, and a tentative method for computerized automatic generation of fonts is described in Appendix 2.

  5. Controlled use of the Stegemann method for material reconstruction in the newly-available digital environment. Ultimately, a canvas is created for each scroll encompassing all the various textual and material data (chapters 9, 11, 12).

  6. Extrapolating the digital canvas of one scroll to other, parallel scrolls (chapter 13). This method is further exemplified in the present chapter.

When running this procedure for 4Q418a we carefully traced the wads of this scroll. We extracted the maximum information from them, both in terms of the scant text preserved in them and in terms of the material clues they suggest for analyzing the images of 4Q418a and arranging its layers. The information has led us to create a digital canvas of 4Q418a that concomitantly led, for the first time, to a comprehensive view of the entire Instruction. That is, the literary passages represented in 4Q418a are now placed not only in relative order to each other, but also in absolute order in one continuous sequence. Since some of the fragments of this copy parallel other, longer sections in other copies, we are able to place these sections on the canvas too, gaining an enhanced grasp of the layout of the entire composition. The text of the parallel sections was cast on the canvas of 4Q418a in the material format of this scroll.

The canvas of 4Q418a contains several new fragments that were discovered as we enacted the method delineated here. There are various kinds of new fragments, and together they give hope for “discovering” new fragments in other scrolls as well, not only in the caves but also at the laboratory using advanced equipment. Some of the new fragments belong to the previously unknown wad E, discovered under frag. 22 by means of a close scrutiny of the LLDSSDL images. Other fragments were found by mining the earlier log of PAM images. Yet others were “discovered” by the material reconstruction, that is, their existence was required by the calculation of the scroll’s patterns of decay. The new fragments lend further checks to the material reconstruction and potentially buttress it. Finally, these small fragments add a small amount of new text, which could fit with the text of the known fragments and offer improved readings.

The reconstruction had initially been based on the sequence of PAM photos, the earliest of which was 41.909 taken in December 1955. We were fortunately able to verify our reconstruction by means of a chance discovery that turned out to be a providential accident. At a late stage of our work we discovered the earlier PAM 41.410 (taken December 1954), which contains an earlier record of wad B, earlier than the one known to Strugnell himself, and shows two more layers of this wad. This discovery could have had the potential of dismantling the entire edifice built in the digital canvas. In reality, however, not only did it not require any modifications in the canvas, but it has also perfectly matched our independently proposed reconstruction. The match pertains not only to the fully-extant fragment 22 but also to the “manufactured” fragment 22c and to the placement of that fragment next to frag. 20+21.

Moreover, bits and pieces of skin that stuck on subsequent layers of the wads, either on the verso or the recto of other fragments, joined the known readings to produce a meaningful text, as described in chapter 15. These considerations provide strong proof for the validity of the suggested canvas.

The canvas supports the initial proposal by Tigchelaar, who suggested the order of the wads of 4Q418a and accordingly arranged the entire work. This arrangement was embraced by Qimron and is endorsed in this book. Wad B contains the theological-apocalyptic portion, while frags. 18, 19, and 22 contain the practical advice found in 4Q417 2 and 4Q416 2. The change of focus between these two pericopae took place somewhere in the intervening fragments 9, 20+21, 22c, 22b, or 22a.

The reconstruction achieved here will serve as infrastructure for future work on other copies of Instruction, whose material layout can now be better understood. Once such work is achieved for all eight copies, the road will be open for the placement of additional text in the sequence of this enigmatic composition. Hundreds of fragments from other copies of Instruction are yet to be placed. We ultimately hope to pave the way for a better understanding of the content and flow of Instruction, which, despite the advance achieved so far, remains partial.

The digital canvas of 4Q418a provides important building blocks for the canvasses of other copies and for the structure of the entire composition. For example, we can now tell the absolute distance between the pragmatic instruction preserved in 4Q417 2 and 4Q416 2 to the general teaching of 4Q417 1. Had it been only dependent on 4Q417 we would not be able to ascertain this distance in the absence of unequivocal signs of material decay in that scroll. Using 4Q418a, this distance is anchored by means of a fragment of the latter scroll located in each of the separating columns, and thus verifying not only the mere existence of the columns but also their layout. This find, like all other finds in the present book, operates with a margin of error and thus in fact dictates a range of distances rather than exact figures. This range suffices, however, for a good overall sense of Instruction.

In the present chapter we draw several trajectories that can be developed on the basis of the hereby presented skeleton of 4Q418a. The ultimate result will be a fully-fledged score, a partiture as-it-were, of the eight copies of Instruction, alongside a continuous textual composition of its contents. All of these trajectories are followed in our current work, and some of them have been published. Those parts that have been peer-reviewed elsewhere will be summarized here, while other aspects, that have not been published yet, should be considered more tentative until fully substantiated.

1 The Length of the Introductory Section in 4Q416, 4Q417

The copies of Instruction attest to two main sections that may be considered introductory. One of them is preserved on 4Q416 1 (and parallels) and is commonly considered to be the opening of the entire composition, because the fragment shows a rather wide right margin and another piece protruding to the right.1 A second and longer introductory section appears in 4Q417 1, at the right-hand column of the respective sheet. In earlier stages of research it was suggested that the introductions were not meant to operate together, and that the section presented in 4Q417 1 is the product of sectarian redaction of Instruction.2 This view is no longer tenable, as proven in chapter 16. The two introductions seem to have co-existed, as our reconstruction also verifies.3 In chapter 16 we also established the distance between them, i.e., the number of columns that separated the former from the latter. Figure 120 presents the text of these introductions in the layout of 4Q418a, based on the fragments of the latter scroll that have been placed along this textual sequence. The rightmost fragment of this scroll, frag. 12, does not reach as far as the text of 4Q416 1.

Figure 120
Figure 120

Columns IIV of the canvas of 4Q418a. Column I contains the text of 4Q416 1, while columns III–IV contain the text of 4Q417 1.

© IAA, LLDSSDL, Najib Anton AlbinaOnline version available at

2 The Layout of 4Q415

Wads C+D as well as wad A represent later parts of Instruction, where the long overlaps with 4Q416 and 4Q417 are no longer operative. This part of the scroll overlaps to some extent with the literary units on marriage and matchmaking preserved in the fragments of 4Q415. Specifically, the overlapping parts are 4Q415 11 // 4Q418a 15+13, and 4Q415 6 // 4Q418a 7. These units seem to have constituted a long section on these matters, in addition to the similar content of 4Q416 2 iv. However, the order and constitution of this unit in 4Q415 and 4Q418a remained vague. A material (Stegemann) reconstruction of 4Q415 produced several new joins of fragments as well as the traces of recurring damage patterns.4 But the work could not have been completed without merging the outline already established for 4Q418a.

Hila Dayfani carried out the protocol described in chapter 13 to project data from the canvas of 4Q418a onto the canvas of 4Q415. Calculating the number of letters in a given sequence of columns led, first, to establishing the number of lines in 4Q415, which turned out to be smaller than that of 4Q418a. This datum in turn led to establishing the width of lines in 4Q415. Being an opisthograph, this particular scroll presented a unique type of information, since its columns squarely overlap the columns of 4Q414 written on the verso. Combining these variegated pieces of data together, Dayfani was able to present a material reconstruction of 4Q415, spreading over seven columns and incorporating 13 fragments. This constitutes considerable improvement of our knowledge available on this scroll (see figure 121).

Figure 121
Figure 121

Section of the Canvas of 4Q415. The overlaps with 4Q418a, shown in green letters, provide the text outside the fragments. Graphics: Hila Dayfani

© IAA, LLDSSDL, Shai HaleviOnline version available at

3 Extrapolation for Other Copies of Instruction

While other copies of Instruction do not lend themselves to long-scale material reconstruction like the former scrolls, quite a few insights can be achieved on a smaller scale. Most of these insights pertain to the copy 4Q418. This multi-fragment copy contains ca. 300 fragments, the great majority of which are rather small, holding a mere several words to several lines. Most of these fragments do not display deterioration patterns apparent enough to produce a full-scale material reconstruction. Stretches of the material of 4Q418 were successfully reconstructed, however, by Asaf Gayer,5 notably a sequence of four columns discussing “wisdom of the hands,” i.e., practical advice to artisans and other manual laborers. This textual unit and other like it are placed on the canvas of 4Q418, whose contours were determined by the canvas of 4Q418a (figure 122).

Figure 122
Figure 122

Section of the canvas of 4Q418 (fragments 81, 81a, 101, 102, 103, 122, 126, 137, 139)

© IAA, LLDSSDL, Shai HaleviOnline version available at

Anna Shirav and Jonathan Ben-Dov used the canvas of 4Q418a for reconstructing the order of 4Q417. Joins were suggested by Shlomi Efrati for the scrolls 4Q423 and 1Q26, in sections relating to agriculture and priestly tithes. The text of these fragments seems to fit in the later part of Instruction, far beyond the end of the canvas of 4Q418a. Nevertheless, this canvas provides the framework for the later fragments as well. The method suggested here and the canvas developed on its basis thus provides a way to a reconstruction of Instruction that is more comprehensive than earlier work on this text.

The method presented here thus offers a promising path for future work on many other fragmentary scrolls. If adopted and properly operated, it could lead to a new wave of improvements of DSS editions. After having been read and published, the fragments still preserve a large amount of material that needs to be properly mined and efficiently put to use. Many of the scrolls that lie in the DJD volumes may find new reconstructions and provide new information. After seventy years of enormous achievements, we may shed yet more light on these precious fragments.


The introduction was sorted out and published by Tigchelaar, Increase Learning, 175–93; Tigchelaar, “Towards a Reconstruction,” 99–126. We have recently cast doubt on the assignment of 4Q418 fragments to this section and suggested alternative layouts inducing a change of the unit’s theme. See Jonathan Ben-Dov, “Family Relations and the Economic-Metaphysical Message of Instruction,” JSP 30 (2020): 87–100; Asaf Gayer, “Measurements of Wisdom: The Measuring and Weighing Motif in the Wisdom Composition Instruction and in Second Temple Literature,” (PhD diss, University of Haifa, 2021), 170–88.


Torleif Elgvin, “An Analysis of 4QInstruction,” 54; Armin Lange, “Wisdom Literature from the Qumran Library,” in Outside the Bible: Ancient Jewish Writings Related to Scripture, ed. Louis H. Feldman, James L. Kugel and Lawrence H. Schiffman (Philadelphia: JPS, 2013), 3.2399–443, here 2437.


Tigchelaar, Increase Learning, 191–92, remains ambiguous about this question. Qimron, The Dead Sea Scrolls, 2.147–48 places both passages in the running text of Instruction.


Damage patterns in 4Q415 were pointed out by Elgvin, “An Analysis of 4QInstruction,” 26–27. Joins and initial material reconstruction were suggested by Gayer, “New Readings and Joins”; and incorporated in Dayfani, “Material Reconstruction.”


Asaf Gayer, “A New Reconstruction.”

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