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orion ORION: Limits & the DSS (Illustrated)

I am sending this material publicly because it is directly relevant to
the study of the DSS. The text is only 3-1/2 screens. On the other hand,
illustrations in ASCII are large. Sorry about the length, it comes with
the medium.

All writing systems, no matter their direction of writing, require a
Limit system. Limit systems, however, are a sub-system that forms a part
of a complete writing system.  There is one very important point which
must be addressed before we can discuss any one of the sub-systems in
a comprehensible and meaningful manner:  When it comes to scribes and
scribal practices, there is an enormous gap between theory and reality.

There is a distinction between system design and system performance.
They are two different domains and require different abilities. Scribes,
ancient or modern, do not design writing systems. They do not design
scripts and fonts. They do not decide which format or size to use.
Scribes learn the techniques of a writing system as taught - and apply
them. The concept of "scribal practices" is meaningless unless the term
refers specifically to the distinct, systematically applied differences
from the norms of a given writing system as designed that apply to an
individual scribe.

The implementation, that is, performance, of a writing system differs
with the available tools. However, whether we refer to a somone doing
the labor with stylus and clay tablet or a data entry operator with
keyboard and computer monitor, a scribe must learn the writing system -
the complete writing system. The materials have changed, but the training
techniques do not and cannot change. There are no differences in the basic
training techniques whether we refer to a Sumerian scribe learning over
700 graphs, plus system limits, sizes, and formats and the modern data
entry operator learning over 1000 key strokes to electronically perform
the same tasks. The end is the same: automatic responses stored in the
motor control area of the brain.  The student aspiring to become a
professional scribe remains a beginner, an apprentice, until the basic
techniques have been mastered.

We are dealing with concrete (sometimes literally) data. There is one
and only one premise when examining this material.

        Scribes never, never, repeat, NEVER include something
        unless it is a required part of the system that they
        have been trained to use.

If a scribe uses a variant form, he must. If a scribe writes some
symbols larger than another, he must. If a scribe places a symbol
on a different level, he must. Period.

With this clarification of the large difference between theory and
practice, we can turn to one of the sub-systems that are a necessary
part of a writing system: Limits.

There are three different limit systems used in Western writing systems:
bilinear, trilinear, and quattrolinear. The three limit systems have one
purpose in common: control of the power of the word.  They differ in how
they control words. Bilinear systems are designed to confine words; tri-
linear systems are designed to reproduce the spoken word. Bilinear limit
systems do not permit symbols to move around; trilinear limits are designed
to allow freedom of movement in order to indicate stress, duration, or
some other characteristic of speech.

Quattrolinear systems are merely trilinear systems moved downwards to
accommodate ascenders. Originally, before the politically motivated
Classicalizers-standardizers got into the act, quattrolinear systems
also record speech.

The majority of spoken waves occur in a central zone. Therefore, even
in trilinear systems, the majority of the symbols will appear in this
central zone. The term "essentially bilinear" is like "slightly pregnant"
or "more unique." Either someone is pregant or she is not; either
something is unique or it is not; limit systems are either bilinear
or they are not bilinear.

The following is a heavily stripped down summary.

Bilinear systems are simple to illustrate; today we call them capital
letters: ABCDEFGH.

Bilinear Limits:

Upper Limit     ---o--------------------
                 O  OO
                O    OO
                O    OOO
                O     OOO
                O      OOO
Lower Limit    _O_______OOOo_____________

We call the modern standardized quattrolinear systems lowercase letters:

Trilinear systems must be seen to be understood. Like modern musical
notation (a reworking of an ancient trilinear limit system), the
graphic symbols move up and down and expand sideways. (They also include
variant forms of a graph which are intended to show the distinctions
between phones just as we mark the differences between whole, half,
and quarter notes. But this posting is about Limits.)

The symbols in trilinear limit systems hang from the Upper and Inner
limits. Trilinear limits originated back in Sumer along with writing.
They are clearly visible on a formal letter written for King Eannadu of
Lagash. They continued in use throughout the Northwest Semitic writing
systems and are used in early Greek systems. They appear on the Yadi
stele written in the Phoenician writing system. The trilinear limit
system is the limit system used in the DSS.

The Yadi text is excised, bas-relief, and cannot be reproduced exactly
in this media. Instead the Limit system is illustrated by line drawings.

Trilinear Limits:
(Examples from the Yadi Stele)

Upper Limit: ------------------------------------OO----oo-----
                                                  OO  OO   OO
Inner Limit  -----------OO---------OO----oo------- OOoO--oOO--
                        OO oO       OO  OO   OO    OOO oOO
                       OOOoo         OOoO  oOO    oO OO
                     oO OO            OOO oOO         OO
                       OOOoo        oO  OO             OO
                        OO oO            OO             OO
                        OO                OO             OO
Lower Limit  -------------------------------OO------------------

Examples from:       Line 9, 14        Line 9        Line 2, 6, 9

What happens when standardization changes the limit system? Why, you
revert to ancient practices and go back to square one. You add exterior
indicators, such as accents and matres lectiones, of course.

Did trilinear systems disappear? Not at all. Cursive writing, even in
Rome, continued to use these limits. Christianity rejected the Roman
bilinear system as "pagan," instead, Christians took over the complete
Phoenician system. (After all, it was the system used in the Hebrew
texts.) The lameds, lambdas, and L's caused a problem for everybody.
They were not "neat" the way they sat above the upper limit. So,
the system underwent regularization. The trilinear system turned
into the now familiar quattrolinear system.

Quattrolinear Limits:

Ascender (Added)         ---------oo-------------oo------------------
                                 ooo            ooo
                                   o              o
Headline (Upper Limit)   ----------o  oo--------- o --------oo  oo---
                                   oo   o         o        oooO    O
                                   o    o         o          o     OO
                                   o   o          O    o     o    oO
Baseline (Inner Limit)   ----------o o--------------OOO----- o  OO---
                                   o                         o
                                   o                         o
Descender (LowerLimit)   ----------o-------------------------o-------

The following examples are from the *10th century CE*. It appears in
the Nowell Codex (or to be exact, British Library, Cotton Vitellius
A.XV, 2nd MS, 4th article.) Note how the entire trilinear limit system
moved downwards. This preserved the essential boundaries of the system
but allowed for ascenders such as 'l' and clearer differentiation
between stress indicators. Note that the symbols still move within the
system limits.

               Script 1, Font 1             Script 1, Font 2

aesc:       Standard form

Headline         ooOooOOOoo                     oOOOO   OO
               OO   OO    OO                  oO  OOOoooOoo
              Oo    OOoooO                   OOO  OOO
              oo    OO                       OOo  OOO
Baseline       oOOO   Ooo                     OOooO  OOo

           High aesc

Ascender                                           oOOOOo
                     oOOOo                        OOO    Oo
                  ooOO    Oo                      OOO   OO
Headline        Oo  OOooooo                     oOOOOoooOoo
               OO   OO                        oOO OOO
              Oo    OO                       OO   OOO
              oo    OO                       OOo  OOO
Baseline       oOOO   Ooo                     OOooO  OOoo

e:     Standard e

Headline          oOOo                      oOO   OO
                 oO   o                     OOOooOoooo
                 OOooOO                     OOO    o
                 Oo                         OOO   o
Baseline          Ooo                        OOooO

       High e

Ascender                                      oOOOOOOo
                  oOOOo                      oOO    OO
                 oO   oO                     OOO   oOO
Headline         OOooooO                     OOOooOoo
                 OO                          OOO
                 OO                          OOO
                 Oo                          OOO   o
Baseline          Ooo                         OOooO


I hope that this helps to clarify some problems with the writing system
used in the DSS. While there are clearly other influences at work in the
DSS, we must place the writing system itself within its context. The DSS
limit system is identical to that used on the Yadi and Meshe stelae. It is
also the same one that was picked up and used as Christianity moved out of
the Eastern Mediterranean basin.

Does this fact tie the Qumran texts into the Christian movement? No. It
only tells us that the writing system used at Qumran was not peripheral.



PS: I must stress that I do not care how people wish to interpret or
theorize about what the texts mean.  My interest in the DSS lies in
their writing as a way-station in the history of Western writing
Dr. R. I. S. Altman                                  RISA@CONCENTRIC.NET      
Voice/FAX: 602-834-6640                                   XNK@DELPHI.COM