How to Read the Scrolls

            The Dead Sea Scrolls world is a fascinating one but it may be confusing to some. These tools are geared to aid the beginner in the study of the scrolls.

  • Identification System
    • 4Q

            Every scroll and fragment of a scroll has an ID number. This number includes all the basic information about the scrolls. All ID numbers begin with the location in which the text was found. In most cases this is a cave number plus the letter Q, indicating one of the eleven caves of Qumran. Scrolls from other Judean Desert sites, such as Masada or Wadi Murabba‛at have their own identifying abbreviations (see below).

    • 4Q121

            After the location symbol is the number of the scroll. Every text was given an individual number. These numbers represent the order in which the fragments were identified. Often, connected fragments were found together and thus numbered together, but this is not always the case.

    • Name

            In addition to a numerical ID, every scroll and fragment has a name. e.g., 1Q27Mysteries. The name relates to the content of the scroll. In many cases the original name was based on preliminary research, and thus may be misleading, but for the purposes of consistency the older names are usually retained.

    • Copy

            Sometimes more than one copy of a text may have been found. In this case the texts will receive a superscript letter to distinguish it from other copies. Thus, 4Q268 is also named 4QDamascus Documentc (or 4QDc). This indicates that this text was the two hundred and sixty-eighth manuscript from Cave 4 to be catalogued, and that it was the third copy of the Damascus Document to be found in that cave. 4QSama is the first copy of the biblical Samuel scroll from Qumran Cave 4.

    • Columns, lines, fragment numbers

The scrolls were written in columns, on rolls made of animal skins. The location of a passage within a given scroll is designated by its column number and line number. Thus:
                 1QS 1:6–7=The Serekh ha-Yahad (English: Rule of the Community) from Qumran Cave 1, column 1, lines 6–7
If a text consists of more than one fragment, the fragment number comes first. So:
                 4Q411 1 ii 7=Manuscript 411 from Qumran Cave 4 (Sapiential Hymn), fragment 1, column 2, line 7.

            The first seven scrolls found in Cave 1, along with the copy of the Damascus Document found in the Cairo Genizah, are usually referred to by name, not number:
1Qap Genar  Genesis Apocryphon
1QHa           Hodayota or Thanksgiving Hymnsa
1QpHab        Pesher Habakkuk
1QM             Milhamah or War Scroll
1QS              Serek Hayahad or Rule of the Community
1QIsaa          Isaiaha
1QIsab          Isaiahb
CD                Cairo Genizah copy of the Damascus Document

  • Abbreviations for texts found at other Judean Desert sites:

Hev                Nahal Hever
Hev/Se            Used for documents earlier attributed to Seiyal
Mas                Masada
Mird                Khirbet Mird
Mur                 Wadi Murabba‛at