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orion RE: ORION: RE: Limits & the DSS

On Monday, October 6, 1997, Philip Davies asked a number of
questions about the statement:

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

>Is this claim falsifiable?

Of course. To test it, all we need to do is find a group of
scribes who systematically include something not in their
training... the problem is finding them. It is not, however,
false. The concept of orthographic variation as a truth test
is fallacious.

We run into some serious problems caused by modern expectations.
When we look at ancient orthographic systems, particularly in
isolation. We cannot opt for the simplistic approach and say
that the appearance of a syllabogram or logogram in a document
shows a wide range of orthographic options, or that the variety
in spelling in the DSS indicates a haphazard, anything-goes ortho-
graphic freedom situation. Such statements result from a lack of
understanding of an important distinction between modern and ancient
(and medieval and renaissance) writing systems.

Our modern systems are semantic-based. In semantic-based systems
words are separated into semantic units. When we look at writing
systems from before the wide spread use of the printing press,
we are looking at phonetic-based systems. In phonetic-based systems
the basis of the orthographic structure is the sound unit. All
that orthographic variations can tell us is that the scribes heard
different sounds when an expression was voiced. James Barr's,
"Variable Spellings of the Hebrew Bible," is indeed a very fine
article, but it demonstrates my point.

What about script systems? A script system is designed as an in-
tegrated whole; every part must work with the other parts. Script
systems have much in common with punctuated evolution, that is,
they do not evolve or develop piece by piece, they mutate as a
complete system. When we see elements from one script appearing
in the middle of another script, there are a number of possible
reasons for these xenographic symbols. We must examine the script,
size, format, and political context as well as the content to de-
termine whether it is: 1) a scribal error, 2) a form of shorthand,
or 3) a xenographic exchange.

Xenographic exchange is the deliberate employment of a script used for
one language or class of documents into a document written in the script
used for another language or class of document. Prior to the 8th century
CE, xenographic exchange had one primary function, to "italicize" foreign
and special words. (The Paleo-Hebraic tetragrammaton in some of the DSS
documents is an example of xenographic exchange.)

>What is meant by 'scribe'?

A master or journeyman of a trade. Someone trained in the physical
aspect of writing as opposed to the mental act of composition.
A master scribe is one who has mastered all the facets of his or
her profession.

>Does it apply to any one writing?

No, it applies to all writing systems, Eastern and Western.

>And if so, how does this
>functionalist analysis account for changes in practice?

A writing system is the graphic arm of political power and control.
Its primary purpose was - and is - to make the voice of authority
visibly "audible" at a distance. (It's not very surprising that
writing originated in trade: governments want their portion.) A
writing system depended upon political and religious affiliations.
It still does.

Every time there is a change in the power structure we will see a
corresponding change in a writing system. How much changes depends
upon the winner of the power struggle. We divide the early cuneiform
script systems, for example, into Pre-Sargonic, Sargonic, and Baby-
lonian. Sargon I was a consolidator. If we look at the script we
can see that Sargon's official script is a mutation of the Lagashian;
it is not a new script design. On the other hand, the Babylonians were
conquerors; their official script is a completely new design. During the
Sargonic period we see the change from cases to lines across the tablet.
The limit system did not change and the Akkadian system remained tri-
linear. The Babylonians changed their official limit system to bilinear.

We know that there were different religious and political affiliations
during the period of the DSS. We can expect to see system choices based
upon affiliation, and we do. The script systems all by themselves tell
us that we have to look at these documents as separate groups.

At the moment we lack sufficient knowledge to determine why some texts
are written in longer or shorter versions. For starters, we would have
to know 1) where the text came from and 2) the political (or sect)
affiliation of the originator. (In later MSS, the choice of which text
or whether it is curtailed or "midrashed" is a statement of independence
within the constraints of affiliated sects.)

So, unless someone find a group of scribes who systematically use
extra marks and symbols outside of their training, we can state
that "Scribes never include something unless it is required" is
supported by the preponderance of the evidence.


BTW, Fred, I am afraid I don't understand the relevance of the comment
about redundancy to the point at hand. All language systems, and that
includes artificial ones such as computer language systems and computer
application systems, have built in redundancy. A system lacking
redundancy is both harder to learn and more error prone. What were you
trying to say?

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