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Inkwells revisited (long)
For the third of us still tuned in while the better
(or more affluent, whichever the case may be)
two-thirds is in New Orleans at SBL, a comment
made by Ian in his critique of the
Vanderkam book I think is worth much further
That is the observation about a failure to address
the large number of scribal hands and the rare
overlaps of such hands. Vanderkam is by no means
to be singled out on this. It is
systemic. Cross did not address the
point in the 1950's--is it possible it had not
come to anyone's attention as an issue? There is
evidence that they certainly _noticed_, but did no
one consider the implications or the anomalies
the point entailed? I recall Golb
in his lonely non-Qumran venues of publication
in the 1980's (i.e. _American Scholar_, etc.) making
this point article after article, almost like a broken
record--and it simply never was answered. It was as
if the point had been spoken into the wind.
The point can perhaps be brought home by a modern,
if imperfect, parallel. Most members of this list
have personal libraries. A few list members may even
have 850 scholarly volumes in a particular area of
interest. Question: how many overlaps in authors
or publishers are there--and is it fair to conclude
you, the owner, were actively involved in the
production of a substantial number of those volumes,
while importing some from outside? While in a few
instances this could be the case, generally speaking,
that assumption would be unwarranted. At Qumran
the same _kind_ of scatter of publishers (scribes)
is seen as in most of our personal libraries. _We_
bought or were given our books from many sources
and there are far more non-overlaps than overlaps
among publishers and authors, with in most cases only a
small percentage of authorship and zero percentage
of book production coming from us personally.
The Qumran assemblage of texts is exactly of this nature.
Unlike much in the Qumran field that is
speculative, this business of the numbers of scribes
is almost as close to hard fact as can be had
concerning the Qumran texts, and hence ought to be
a starting point. The point: whoever owned the
Qumran library collected it--and did not produce it
personally. (At least it would so appear.)
The silence to Golb's point is the phenomenon to consider.
In fact, until a recent post by Robert Kraft on this
list, I am not aware of _any_ response to this fundamental
point of Golb's, _any_ attempt to explain (given the
standard Qumran sect model) why almost every Qumran scribe
quit after producing only one (or in some cases, only part
of one) professionally-done scroll. Kraft proposed a
ritual or rite-of-initiation custom in which new members
contributed a single text (can one call this the ancient PhD
dissertation analogy hypothesis?). Few list members seem
to have rushed to embrace Kraft's proposal, but if one is
going to hold to the Qumran sect model, let's get serious:
the phenomenon of the many scribes and so few overlaps
MUST be explained, it REQUIRES explanation, and if
Robert Kraft's explanation isn't it, then something
better MUST be set forth. Of course, there is always
the unthinkable--that maybe the original premise never
was true to begin with.
The response from others on the list has been
agreement that many texts were imported while
holding to a belief in a core group of texts that
were produced at Qumran--such that the Qumran texts
are a mixed bag. But this is too facile, too
easy. Since all now concede that many texts
were not produced by the owners of the library, the
issue should be faced: what is the evidence that ANY texts
were produced by the owners of the library? What is
the evidence that ANY texts were produced at Qumran?
Can someone start naming scribes of texts and giving
reasons why Scribe R14 of 4Qxxx wrote (one text) "at Qumran"
whereas Scribe Y9 of 1Qxxx is an import? Tov's data
on clusters of scribal and orthographic practices
simply identifies common scribal production contexts but
in no way anchors any of those contexts to Qumran (as I
believe Tov would now fully agree).
It has been noted there was no sign of Scrolls texts on
the site of Qumran. All sorts of ostraca turned up, but such
turns up at every site. What would be significant would
be if a potsherd had a practice draft of a text which
turned up in finished form in the caves. Short of citing
something of this nature, to cite "ostraca" at Qumran
proves nothing. One can also always argue what might have been.
One could argue that since there were, say, a half dozen
biblical manuscripts found in a cave of Bar Kochva fighters
and the fighters numbered more than this number, each of
them could have written one of those manuscripts, right
where they were. If one objected that this seemed far-
fetched considering the lack of overlap of scribes and
lack of other evidence, the answer might come back that
several could be imports but a core number were written by
the last dwellers in the caves--and how could one disprove
such an assertion? (Question: should one have to? Or
should the assertion itself first carry the burden of proof?)
With this background I want to return to what has been
offered as evidence indicative or suggestive of scroll-
production on-site at Qumran: the inkwells. Stephen Goranson
has written a number of informative articles on archaeological and
other topics concerning Qumran for _Biblical Archaeologist_
and wrote on the Qumran inkwells in the June 1991 BA,
pp. 110-111. In this article are color photos of the five
inkwells identified with Qumran (four securely, three with
provenance information). In a passing mention Stephen
noted his unsuccessful efforts to find provenance information
on the Steckoll inkwell--to which one can only praise Stephen's
efforts (and hope that somehow, some way, some Steckoll
inkwell provenance information may yet be brought to light).
A related article by Goranson appeared in the Nov-Dec 1993
_BAR_, p. 67. Stephen stated
in the _BA_ article: "the main evidence for scribal
activity at Qumran is its unusually numerous collection
of inkwells", and then noted the absence of such inkwells
from almost all other sites. While appreciative of
Stephen Goranson's articles surveying the inkwell evidence,
I wish to offer further reflections on what I believe to be
erroneous conclusions drawn from this evidence.
1. There is first of all not enough attention to the
distinction between evidence for _writing_ at Qumran
(this is incontestable: ostraca, inkwells) and evidence for
professional scroll-production activity of
the type found in large numbers deposited or hidden in
the caves--which is a specific kind of writing. To say that
there was writing at Qumran is almost trivial--I assume
it is safe to say there was writing in almost every
habitable location in Judea or Palestine at that time.
2. The lack of inkwells at almost all other sites than
Qumran proves too much.
Since there assuredly was writing--and professional
scribes, it can certainly be assumed--in a large city
such as Sepphoris, the lack of inkwells does not correlate
to lack of writing, or lack of scribes. Furthermore,
no inkwells seem to be attested before the late Herodian,
c. 60's CE period. The only conclusion I can draw
is that scribes and everyone else literate found
other means to put ink on their pens than inkwells
in the hundreds of thousands of cases in which writing
happened without attestation of inkwells.
3. Inkwells of the type found at Qumran seem to have
turned up in only three other places (thanks to Goranson
for the references, in the _BA_ article), and in none of these
other cases is there any reason to associate these inkwells
(a) one at Ayn Feshka c. 68 CE, not far from Qumran.
(b) one in a Herod-era tomb at Meiron (Upper Galilee),
found with a copper pot and nothing else to
identify why the inkwell was there with this person.
(c) the most informative seems to be a ceramic inkwell, like
the above two, of exactly the same kind as found at
Qumran, found in the "Burnt House" in Jerusalem
excavated by Avigad (_IEJ_ 20 :1-8). This
inkwell was found with many other luxury household
items in a destruction layer dated from coins to
c. 70 CE. The inkwell was among pottery, cooking
pots, glassware, furniture, finely-made stone vases,
measuring cups, ovens, stone tables--and a set of stone
weights one of which had the owner's name, Bar-Kathros,
identified by Avigad as the name of a high-priestly
family. Quite simply, this was no scribe's inkwell.
This was a private well-to-do household which happened
to have an inkwell.
(d) since none of these _other_ inkwells show any sign
at all of being associated with scroll-production
or professional scribal activity, it is
a leap to say that the presence of identical
inkwells at Qumran is such a sign. The argument
then would appear to turn on the greater _number_.
But is it a valid argument to concede that one inkwell is,
OK, some wealthy person who happened to buy one,
but three or four inkwells means a team of
professional scribes producing scrolls in a
room? I do not think this is legitimate reasoning.
4. No inkwells are identified at Qumran in De Vaux's
period 1b, or at any other known site in Palestine for
the 2nd or 1st BCE, which may have been the most active
centuries for scribal activity represented in the Scrolls.
Of the Qumran inkwells which are provenanced, i.e. De Vaux's
three, two are from Loc 30 interrupted in use in the
c. 68 CE destruction, and in association with someone
named Joseph who spelled his name in Greek. (De Vaux's
third inkwell, from Loc 31, he implies is in Period III,
his "Roman occupation period"; I believe from
study of De Vaux's notes that his stratigraphy is
incorrect on this point and the Loc 31 inkwell
is also in the same c. 68 destruction layer as Loc 30,
but no matter.) Sure there was writing. Everyone was
writing by this time (so to speak). That is not informative.
What kind of writing? Bills of lading? Letters?
Or Scrolls? That is precisely what is unknown and
undemonstrated whether there is one or ten inkwells.
At the end of this, the question remains: is there
any evidence indicating writing of any Scrolls
occurred at Qumran? If one wishes to propose such
happened in the absence of evidence, how does one
address the nature of the distribution of the
scribal hands among the texts which makes such a
supposition prima facie questionable?