Using the Latest Imaging Technologies, Dr. Steven Fine and a Team of Researchers are Revolutionizing the Way Artifacts are Viewed
Dr. Steven Fine and team member Ken Zuckerman photograph a Dead Sea Scroll fragment in Teaneck, NJ. (Courtesy of WSRP)
When the first Dead Sea Scrolls were sold to famed archaeologist Yigael Yadin in 1949 by Athanasius Samuel—the Syrian patriarch of Jerusalem, who was by then living in America—he kept a few fragments for his own collection. This past spring, a team of scholars, including Dr. Steven Fine, professor of Jewish history at Yeshiva University, set up a lab at the Patriarchate, now in Teaneck, NJ, and digitized these priceless documents.
For over three years, YU has been actively participating in a partnership with the West Semitic Research Project (WSRP), a research group founded and directed by Dr. Bruce Zuckerman, professor of religion at the University of Southern California. Over the last 30 years, Zuckerman and his colleagues have developed a wide range of imaging technologies to record and distribute high-resolution images of ancient Near Eastern texts—the latest of which, a light-imaging technology called Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI), is poised to revolutionize the way scholars visualize texts and artifacts from the ancient world. With RTI, one can even see the thicknesses of the ink strokes and where and how they cross one another on a Dead Sea Scroll.
Institutions working closely with the WSRP include Johns Hopkins University, University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign) and the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.
Through its digital image library, InscriptiFact, scholars in 40 countries can now access more than 50,000 images of ancient inscriptions and writings, including Dead Sea Scrolls fragments now located at St. Mark’s Syrian Orthodox Cathedral in Teaneck. The fragments have long been of great interest to Zuckerman, a leading scholar of Dead Sea Scrolls, and to his friend of nearly 30 years, Fine.
“We had worked on numerous Dead Sea Scroll projects over the years. When Steve Fine came to Yeshiva, it seemed natural that we reconnect, and in a larger and pioneering capacity,” said Zuckerman. “It has been a win-win situation for everyone involved in this fruitful partnership.”
Fine, who is also the director of YU’s Center for Israel Studies(YUCIS), seized the opportunity to get his students involved in some groundbreaking research. Three years ago, with funding from YUCIS and YU’s Rabbi Arthur Schneier Center for International Affairs, a team of students from the Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies, supervised by Fine, decoded amulets dating from the sixth century CE.
Pinchas Roth and Eytan Zadoff traveled to USC to learn from Zuckerman and make use of his revolutionary technologies to decipher a magical text in Jewish Palestinian Aramaic from the Talmudic period, written on a silver scroll. Since then, Roth and Zadoff have presented their research at academic conferences and will be publishing their work in a forthcoming Festschrift in honor of Zuckerman.
Fine, who teaches students on both the Wilf and Beren campuses, has made a point to introduce students at all levels to the imaging technology offered by Zuckerman and his colleagues. By providing his undergraduate and graduate students with these technologies, his students are afforded the opportunity and independence to conduct higher caliber research. “Our students compare with any, especially in the fields of ancient Hebrew and Aramaic,” said Fine. “It is only sensible that we bring them in to share and add to the scholarly enterprise.”
Zuckerman agrees with Fine’s assessment of Yeshiva’s students. “Steve is a very imaginative and entrepreneurial scholar. He saw that he had wonderful students at Yeshiva and that I had wonderful technology at USC,” said Zuckerman. “Together, we professors and students, have broken new ground in the field of ancient philology. I am thrilled for Yeshiva and deeply impressed with the caliber and intellectual maturity of its students.”
See article in the New Jersey Jewish Standard.