James Wilson Henderson

Lost in translation? Did the people who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls live at Qumran, a settlement near the caves where the scrolls were found? A crude inscription on two pieces of pottery recently discovered at Qumran, shown here, may contain the answer.

As reported in our last issue, Harvard scholar Frank Moore Cross and Hebrew University scholar Esther Eshel believe these inscribed sherds, called ostraca, record a gift of property made to the LYH|D, or “Community,” the term the writers of the Dead Sea Scrolls used to describe themselves. Cross and Eshel believe the gift was made by a man who gave up his goods in fulfillment of his oath to join the Qumran group: We know from the scrolls that the group did not allow private ownership of property. But Israeli paleographer Ada Yardeni finds many misreadings in their translation; most significantly, she finds “and every other tree” where Cross and Eshel found an oath and “Community.” If Yardeni is correct, the ostracon records a typical transfer of property and the link between the caves and the settlement remains missing.

Pictured here is the photograph Cross and Eshel relied on in making their translation, a drawing of their reconstruction, the reconstruction in modern Hebrew and the English translation. This photograph was taken by James Wilson Henderson of Oregon, who has experimented with techniques to make clear photographs of rock paintings.

The critical line, line 8, is shown in greater detail in “Reading Line 8.”