Last Monday, the European Research Council (ERC) awarded a grant of €1.5 million to Prof.
Mladen Popović of the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies for his project The Hands that Wrote the Bible. Digital Paleography and Scribal Culture of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Popović can use the funding to continue developing his pioneering research on the Dead Sea Scrolls. He now intends to discover who wrote these ancient documents.
‘The Dead Sea Scrolls contain texts and versions of stories from what we now refer to as the “Bible”. They were probably left behind by the community that wrote them when they fled from the Romans’, says Popović. ‘The scrolls have been studied by numerous researchers since they were discovered in 1947, but we still do not know who actually wrote the texts or which texts were written first. This means that our understanding of what we call the writers community is incomplete.’
Using new techniques such as artificial intelligence and carbon dating in combination with palaeography (the study of ancient and historical handwriting), Popović will spend the next five years working in Groningen with Lambert Schomaker from the Department of Artificial Intelligence and Hans van der Plicht from the Centre for Isotope Research to develop a new method for studying the Dead Sea Scrolls, known as ‘Digital palaeography’. ‘This should allow us to see through the texts, as it were, and identify individual authors, thereby creating a new field of research.’
Popović and his team spent a lot of time writing their proposal last year. ‘This isn’t something you do on your own; it’s a team effort. Right from the start, I was given extra support for various parts of the project in many different areas, including from colleagues, the Talent Development team and of course our own Funding Officer. This allowed us to focus on all the details and work hard to achieve this fantastic result.’ After a successful crowd-funding campaign with the Ubbo Emmius Fund, he was able to set up a research pilot to serve as a basis for the proposal. ‘Everyone in the country who made a donation helped us towards this terrific achievement!’
The € 1.5 million will be used to appoint a number of PhD candidates and a postdoc researcher, and buy the necessary equipment. In addition, a MOOC (Massive Online Open Course) on the Dead Sea Scrolls will be developed for a broader public. The project follows on from the successful exhibition on the Dead Sea Scrolls in Assen in 2013/2014, and the online course that was devised as part of this exhibition.
The ERC Starting Grant is aimed at outstanding researchers with 2-7 years of experience after their PhD. It enables them to set up their own research line. The ERC is highly competitive, with a success rate of just 10%.
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