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orion ORION: Autograph vs. copy (4-1/2 screens plus notes)

The DSS most certainly are documents in the North-West Semitic
tradition. They did not, however, exist in a vacuum.  Nor does
the writing system used in these texts stand outside their time
frame or as totally divorced from other descendants of the North
West-Semitic writing systems.

Writing systems are substantially more than script systems. While
it is an exceedingly common statement, it is a very serious error
to refer to a *script* system as a writing system.<1>

Systems are designed as an integrated whole. All the parts in a
system must operate together within the overall system design
or the complete system will not work. This rule applies whether
we are referring to a plumbing system, an ark, or a writing system.
A script system is an important part, but only a part, of a writing
system. Scripts are one of the sub-systems within the overall system
design.<2> Each sub-system in a writing system is balanced and
designed to work with the others. The sub-systems of a writing
system are:
     a graphic symbol set (script)
     a limits system
     a mensural system
     a punctuation system
     a layout (format) system
     a size system
     an orthographic system
     a content system
Content determines which size, layout, and script is used. In turn,
content is constrained by political and religious affiliations.<3>
This has been true since the days of the Kingdom of Sumer & Akkad.
We must not conflate script systems with writing systems. It leads
to misinterpretations and some very odd theories.<4>

There is one major difference between Semitic and Graeco-Roman writing
systems: Their limit systems. Don't be fooled into thinking the major
difference is the alphabet.  The law of parsimony works in writing
systems as much as it does in physics.  Writing systems incorporate
whatever symbols are needed: no more, no less. Greek needed the vowels
because they were part of the roots. This does not make their writing
system better or more "evolved."

In fact, the late Graeco-Roman systems are not "highly  evolved."<5>
This is alterity speaking.  Writing systems, as languages, move in
the direction of simplification. These late writing systems are,
in fact, quite degenerate. They are not nearly as sophisticated
as their North-West Semitic predecessors. The Phoenician writing
system is extremely sophisticated as is the writing system used 
in the DSS.  Further, the limit system used in the late Graeco-Roman
systems reflects its origins in mysticism and magic. (Every time one 
writes in all caps, one is freezing the words.) The adherence to a strict
bilinear limit system is politically motivated.  The main purpose of a
totally bilinear limit-system is control:  the maintenance of exclusively
elite literacy. The NW Semitic systems use trilinear limits.  These limits
are designed to facilitate public literacy.  When we observe
"standardization" on the Semitic side,  we are seeing a me-too 
political statement.

This basic difference in purpose makes no difference in scribal
training. When we think of scribes, we should think of stenographers,
not modern calligraphers. Scribes always have to learn the basics of
their craft through an apprenticeship. They have to become so
proficient in their skills that writing itself becomes totally
automatic, even robotic. Copying is one of the ways by which
apprentice scribes learn. Professional scribes had more important
things to do, such as take dictation. We depend upon ideographs to
distinguish scribal hands. Only professionals, masters, acquire
ideographs; apprentices are still trying to learn the basics. Nor
should we make the mistake of thinking of scribes as menials. Scribes
in antiquity wielded a great deal of power. They were the administrative
assistants, secretaries, tax-assessors, and the notary-publics of their

BTW, when the Greeks took over the Phoenician writing system, they
also took over the Semitic size system. When they moved in on Egypt,
the material, papyrus, in the appropriate sizes was prohibitively
expensive and relatively rare. This was a problem, because a document
must be the correct size to be authoritative. The Hellenes turned
the Semitic sizes 90 degrees. Later, the Romans in Egypt adopted
the Greek (Semitic) papyrus size system. This means that a class of
document that is 3" wide x 11" high in the Semitic system is 11" wide
x 3 inches high in the Graeco-Roman. Throughout writing systems
descended from the North-West Semitic, the largest documents are
always *The* Law. (You could take another look at the Paleo-Hebriac
Leviticus sometime. :-))

To look at specific related areas is not to import irrelevant
"distinctions and expectations" to the texts. It is to address the
*common denominators* found in all writing systems descended from
the North-West Semitic systems - including scribal training... and
the parameters for how to tell copied from dictated texts.

Very cheerfully yours,



1.      This error is made again and again.  Daniels & Bright's
        _Writing Systems of  the World_ (Oxford: OUP, 1996) is
        all about *script* systems and the phonetic values of
        the symbol sets.

2.      System design is normally taught as applied to each field.
        Textbooks on the design of computer systems parallel the
        approach to the design of writing systems and are a both
        more readily available and a good source for learning about
        system design.

3.      While badly marred and distorted by a lack of reference to
        Semitic influences, Stanley Morison, _Politics and Script:
        Aspects of Authority and freedom in the development of
        Graeco-Latin script from the sixth century B.C. to the
        twentieth century A.D._ (Oxford: Clarendon, 1972) is still
        the best introduction to the political aspect of scripts.

4.      See John DeFrancis,  _Visible Speech: The Diverse Oneness of
        Writing Systems_. (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1989).
        Please note that DeFrancis is one of the few authors who
        discusses *writing* systems as opposed to script systems.

5.      To refer to "Roman" or Greek" systems as a higher or better or
        "evolved" system is a modern aesthetic judgement. Modern
        aesthetics should be applied to modern works. They are of no
        relevance whatsoever to a discussion of ancient documents.
        Daniels, in fact, discusses the distortions introduced by
        this conditioned point of view in his introduction to his
        _Writing Systems of the World_. 

Dr. R. I. S. Altman                                  RISA@CONCENTRIC.NET      
Voice/FAX: 602-834-6640                                   XNK@DELPHI.COM