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orion Leather, parchment, hides and skins
Leather, by general definition, is produced from animal hides that have
gone through several steps of preparation:
1) After the "clean" animal is ritually slaughtered (!) it is then
skinned (the skin is usually cut between the underside of the neck and
the tail and along the underside of the legs before the skin is pulled
away, with the aid of a knife or flint blade, from the flesh)
2) The hide once removed is stretched. The veins and fatty tissue on the
flesh side of the hide are scraped with a knife blade.
3) The hide is then dehaired with the help of lime or lye followed by
4) The hide is left to soak in a vat with a tannic acid solution.
(Tannins are derived from tree barks. Other organic acids, such as those
derived from animal urine and feces, may be used but are considered less
effective-and more repugnant. [Neither of these rendered anyone ritually
unclean - consider the hundreds of animals, "doing what animals do" in
the holy temple precincts on a daily basis.] Salt may be introduced
during the process, particularly if preservation before the tanning
process is a concern.) The hide is then thoroughly soaked and flushed
with clear water.
5) The hide is then stretched, smoothed and left to dry.
The tanning process in step #4 achieves two important goals for the
preparation of leather:
- The acids purge the gelatinous material of the cell walls: primarily
mucins and mucoids (we derive "mucilage" from these). The presence of
these heightens the hide's susceptibility to rotting.
- The collagen proteins, which give the cell walls their firm structure,
are twisted together and thus strengthened. (These would otherwise
become brittle and break apart.)
The result is a long lasting, soft, pliable and yet strong sheet of skin
The process for the preparation of skins for scrolls is similar but
lacks step #4. Salt and lye are often rubbed into the surface for
preservation and lighten the skin color. A skin thus produced is stiff
and the surface is hard. After stretching and drying, the hide is cut
square (and is usually split into two pieces, split down the back).
The rougher side of the skin (i.e. dehaired upper surface) is normally
the writing surface since it holds the ink better. Additional roughness
can be produced by rubbing with a stone.
The scrolls from Qumran may be considered "parchment" in a rather
primitive sense but not by the term's classical definition. For
classical "parchment", the hide is normally split, removing the
epidermis and the smooth flesh side, before being whitened and roughened
with a pumice stone. Both sides of a parchment sheet are then virtually
indistinguishable. (This produces a sheet which is able to be written on
The scrolls from Qumran are made of whole skins (ovine and bovine). In
the scrollery these can usually be distinguished from leather pieces by
holding them up to the light. Leather tends to be opaque. Whole skin
tends to be translucent (i.e., light shines through - particularly near
the edges). Leather, in section, is also more fibrous.
4QDan d apparently is one of the few "leather scrolls".