Product Review: Logos' Qumran Biblical Dead Sea Scrolls Database

The Qumran Biblical Dead Sea Scrolls Database (henceforth referred to as BDSS) finally arrived on Friday (March 11).  After much delay and a few setbacks, I am now in possession of this important resource.  As many of my readers will know, the Dead Sea Scrolls represent some of the oldest known textual witnesses to the Hebrew Bible – over 1000 years older than both the Leningrad and Aleppo codices.

In discussing these manuscripts, Frank Moore Cross Jr. once wrote, “Even when the majority of these documents from the wilderness of the Dead Sea are published the main labors of research will not be done.  Scholars will be occupied for decades in the tedious studies required to assimilate adequately the knowledge available in these new sources, and to relate this new learning to biblical and ancillary disciplines.”[1] We are still in “the main labors of research” stage as this material has now been published in its totality.[2] Software packages, like the one being discussed, will only aid in creating the necessary “tedious studies,” so that our understanding of the biblical text and its transmission will be better understood.

BDSS includes the following: [3]

  • Morphological tagging and English glosses for each word.
  • Fresh transcriptions of every biblical Dead Sea Scroll, including Greek fragments. The Logos transcriptions are substantially the same as those found in the DJD volumes, but are the result of a fresh, expert analysis that takes into account scholarly work done on the scrolls since the DJD volumes were published.
  • Parallel visualization schemes with other manuscripts.

I have only had a few days to play around with this package, but from what I can tell it works fairly well with other products in my Logos database.   My favorite feature so far is sympathetic highlighting.  This means that when a user highlights a text in their BHS, a corresponding or sympathetic highlighting simultaneously occurs in the DSS text (See Fig 1 for an example of sympathetic highlighting).  When a word/clause in the MT does not correspond to the DSS text, then that word/clause remains unmarked.[4] This makes doing text critical work a bit easier.

Fig.1. DSS & BHS Sympathetic Highlighting in Action

The text comparison tool is also helpful when there are several known fragments of a single passage.  This tool allows the user to place each fragment side by side.  See fig.2.

DSS Text Comparison Fig2.

Also it is fairly easy to search all of your lexicons for a single lemma when you right click a word.  This is a handy tool, especially if you have access to HALOT, TDOT, BDB and the Concise Glossary for the Qumran Sectarian Manuscripts.  Sadly, not every word has been tagged, but more on this issue below.

Room for improvement:

As mentioned previously, I have only had this software for a weekend so I have only had the opportunity to examine one block of text, a section of Isaiah 5.  In exploring Isaiah 5, I noticed some incomplete gloss and morphological data in a couple of passages, which is slightly disconcerting given that I only examined one passage.  I hope this isn’t a more wide spread issue, but I will update this post if I notice more problems.

  • One such example is in Isaiah 5:4.  1QIsaiaha has the word וישה, while the MT instead uses the word וַיַּעַשׂ .  The BDSS does not provide any gloss or morphological information for this variant.
  • Another example is found in Isaiah 5:8.  1QIsaiaha has the word מגיצי, while the MT uses the word מַגִּיעֵי.  The BDSS does not provide any gloss or morphological information for this variant either.

This missing data isn’t the end of the world by any stretch of the imagination, especially if you know Hebrew or know how to look up Hebrew roots in a lexicon.  However, the point of this software is to make locating words in lexicons quicker.  Without this information, you have to manually enter possible roots into the lemma search field.  This missing information, I expect, will be remedied once more users report them in the future.

Also, I am disappointed that neither the BDSS, nor the Qumran Sectarian Manuscripts are currently available on my  iPad and iPhone.  I am hoping that this will soon be rectified, especially given that Logos is the publisher of both of these resources.

Future Wishes:

While I feel this is a good piece of software, Logos’ can really crank up its value by providing high resolution (searchable) images of the scrolls themselves.  I remember reading last October that (searchable) high resolution pictures of the scrolls will be made available through Google.  Perhaps, Logos will be able to get the rights to integrate these images into their packages in the future.  Combining photos of the text along with the transcribed text will push the field of DSS studies further, because it will democratizes the information.  I am excited about the possibilities, even if I have to use Google to view these images.

Final Thoughts:

All in all, I am mostly happy with this purchase, especially because I saved a $100 by getting it on pre-publication.  The value of having access to this ancient textual witness is important for my research.  Also, now I don’t have to head over to the closest research library to hunt down a volume of DJD.[5] In my opinion, every student of the Hebrew Bible should have this material at their disposal.  Most of the shortcomings outlined in this review will likely be addressed sometime in the future by Logos.  I will update this post when I hear more about their progress.  In using Logos products for over 15 years, I can say that they are a good company and they typically work hard to ensure customer satisfaction.


[1] Frank Moore Cross Jr., The Ancient Library of Qumran and Modern Biblical Studies (Revised Edition.; The Haskell Lectures 1956-1957; Garden City, NY.: Doubleday, 1961), 5.

[2] The scholarly community owes a great deal of thanks to Emanuel Tov’s efforts in this project.  This project has taken a quantum leap in terms of production since he has taken over as general editor.

[3] The three bullet points are taken from the logos website: http://www.logos.com/product/5961/qumran-biblical-dead-sea-scrolls-database

[4] Logos allows for orthographic (spelling) variations when using sympathetic highlighting.  This is very important, because the tradition of spelling widely used in the DSS often varies from the spellings found in the MT.

[5] DJD is an acronym for the official publication of the Dead Sea Scrolls which is released in several volumes through Oxford University Press.  The acronym stands for Discovery in the Judean Desert (of Jordan).

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