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orion ORION: Variables (longish)
Bob, you asked:
>What are the variables that can explain these data in the
>context of predictablilty and adherence to scribal traditions?
There are only two variables, and they explain everything:
1. We are looking at texts from two closely related but
different writing system traditions.
2. Which system is on top depends upon the political
environment at any given point in time.
The political environment of a document can not be ignored. There is
a good reason why all the national flags are flown at the same height
at the UN. In countries such as Canada, The US, and Australia, the
national flag is on top; the state flag below. Writing systems were
the national flags of antiquity - in fact, they still are.
There is no point in mentioning side branches. There are really only
two primary streams. (The five main sub-streams to be found in the
West are descendants of either one or the other.)
The following is a *very* condensed summary.
On one side we have the Akkadian-Ugaritic-Phoenician-Greek-Hebrew-
North African tradition of limits, sizes, and formats that became
the writing system for the Christian North African-Semitic affiliated
sects (hereafter, NA-S). On the other side, we have the Egyptian-
influenced Etrusco-Roman-Alexandrian tradition that became the
writing system of the Christian Alexandrian-Roman affiliated sects
Official authoritative documents in the A-R tradition use a single
broad column format. Official authoritative documents on the NA-S
side use a narrow column format. The A-R side used bilinear limits;
the NA-S side used trilinear (quattrolinear limits came in around
the 4th century CE). Texts are written in "breathings" (aka "scripto
continuo") in the A-R tradition; texts are written by comprehension
units in the NA-S. Authoritative, but not official, documents on the
A-R side use narrower columns. Authoritative, but not official docu-
ments on the NA-S side use a single column. In the A-R tradition,
narrow multiple columns are used for unofficial documents that are
"opinion" based (i.e. of questionable authority), such as glossaries.
In the NA-S tradition, multiple narrow columns are used for mathe-
matical tables and documents of that type. "The" Law in the A-R tra-
dition is 12" to 12-1/2" high; "The" Law in the NA-S tradition is 14"
We find the first attempt at a fusion of the two writing system tra-
ditions under Constantine. The Constantine Official Biblical Uncial
script incorporates Latin, Greek, and Semitic symbols into the script
system. The hierarchy of sizes is from the NA-S tradition; the hier-
archy of formats is from the A-R tradition. This is the writing system
employed among the early Byzantine MSS. However, like all such attempts,
it failed in the end.
The A-R affiliated sects used the Constantine Uncial as their official
biblical script (until the 9th century), but reverted to A-R formats
and sizes. (Under Gregory I, there was an attempt to return to the
Imperial Roman Capitals as the official script - this apparently was
in response to political infighting with the Eastern Church and it
The NA-S affiliated sects used the Akkadian-Phoenician-Semitic
formats and sizes and designed their own official script: the
North African Half-Uncial. As E. A. Lowe pointed out, by the
early 5th century, the North African half-uncial was far in
advance of that of the mainland.<3> This is not very surprising -
under the circumstances.
While the Greeks were on top, Homer is larger. After the Romans
took over, Virgil is now the larger document. Similarly, the
size of the Law also depends upon "who's on first," so to speak,
at the time the document was written.
According to Taubenschlag, the Greeks had two distinct law codes:
one territorial and one for "natives." When the Romans came in,
the Greeks moved down the scale. Roman citizens were divided into
different classes as well.<1> The sizes support Taubenschlag's
Legal documents, such as leases, conveyances, formal petitions,
tax receipts, anona receipts, judicial proceedings, etc., and,
of course, official proclamations all had their assigned sizes.
Official documents are the largest. It has been known for some
time that wide margins indicate a status document, but recently
it also has been noted that provincial government documents are
normally, to quote Worp, "impressively large" as well.<2> Worp
places a document from Kellis as issued from the office of the
Governor of the Thebaid because of its size.
The Pentateuchal texts were mentioned as illustrating variety in
size and format. The Pentateuch was "The" Law for the Jews and,
later, the early Christians, but it was not for the Romans or the
Greeks. The rise in status of the Church in the fourth century
is marked by the size of the spiritual law: as of the early fifth
century both official Imperial and official A-R church documents
employ the same hierarchy of size.
The earliest complete Bible codices from the A-R tradition are
between 10 and 12 inches in height depending upon whether they
are before or after the mid-fourth century. Codex Vaticanus
(Vat. Lib. Cod. Gr. 1209), for example, is 10.6 inches square,
including margins, and dated on textual grounds to ca. 350 CE.
On the other hand, Codex Alexandrinus (BL Royal I.D. V-VIII) is
dated to the fifth century on palaeographic grounds; each leaf is
12.6 inches in height by 10.4 inches in width including margins.
The sizes support the dating on other grounds.
The status of the Gospels by themselves, as opposed to the Penta-
teuch, is interesting. Ca. 3rd/4th century, Codex Washingtonianus
(Freer Gallery, Smithsonian Institute) contains only the four
Gospels. The pages average 8-1/2 inches by 5-5/8 inches, including
margins. Likewise, the 6th century BL. Harley 1775 contains only the
Gospels: it is 6.96 by 4.72 inches.
Meanwhile, the Semitic (Akkadian-Phoenician-etc.) sizes and formats
were retained in the NA-S tradition. In this tradition, the Penta-
teuch was 14", secular law was 12", i.e., the size of Roman Law.
The 8th century Lindisfarne Gospels (Columban Church tradition) is
larger than secular law but it is not "The" Law. This MS is 13" in
height by 9-1/4" in width with a writing zone of 9" x 8" - written
in two narrow columns.
There are many indicators we can tabulate to trace where and from
whom a people received their writing systems and which tradition
In the A-R tradition, if a line was too long and ran over onto the
next line, the text was written on the next line down on the left-
Back at Akkad, when a line of text was too long, it was written on the
next line down on the right-hand side. Lines of text that run over at
the end of a Fitt (Chapter) in the 10th century CV.A.xv are written on
the right-hand side.
Turner's _Typology of the Codex_ is an essential work, a starting
point to build upon. But are not advances in knowledge based upon
the work of earlier scholars? Turner is a pioneer in bringing
other elements of a writing system into the equation. We can not,
and must not, fault pioneers for missing part of something. It
implies nothing derogatory when it turns out that we can not
simply list sizes, formats, and content; that we need more data.
Every component of an early document has meaning and has to be taken
into account. We need to know the political situation at the time the
document was written as well.
By examining all the components within their political context, we can
separate the texts into their classes within their respective traditions.
Once we do that, patterns emerge. We find that scribes do adhere to the
writing conventions of their respective traditions and the texts become
I hope this helps clarify things,
Note: A major point of contention in papyrological studies is the
extent to which we can project the Empire-within-Egypt onto the
larger arena of the Imperial world. While Gallo feels that the
reconstruction of history and social structures from these
documents is "valid only for Egypt,"<4> Bagnell notes that Egypt
was not the isolated phenomenon previously envisioned, but an
integral "part of the social cultural context of the ancient
Mediterranean world" - particularly during the Hellenistic and
Roman periods.<5> Citing examples from recent scholarly works,
he notes that cultural patterns emerge, patterns of "characteristic
situation for the world of the empire,"<6> a much broader context.
When we examine these writing traditions we are dealing with patterns
in a much, much broader context.
<1> See Raphael Taubenschlag, _The Law of Graeco-Roman Egypt in
the Light of the Papyri: 332 B.C.- 640 A.D._ (New York, 1944).
<2> K.A. Worp, Greek Papyri from Kellis: I (Oxford, 1995) 79-81.
<3> E. A. Lowe, _Codices Latini Antiquiores: A Palaeographical
Guide to Latin Manuscripts prior to the Ninth Century.
Supplement_. (Oxford: Clarendon, 1971) viii.
<4> Maria Rosaria Falivene, Jennifer R. March trs., Italo Gallo.
_Greek and Latin Papyrology_ (London, 1986) 71.
<5> Roger S. Bagnell, _Reading Papyri, Writing Ancient History_
(London, New York, 1995) 60.
<6> Ibid. 63.
Dr. R. I. S. Altman RISA@CONCENTRIC.NET
Voice/FAX: 602-834-6640 XNK@DELPHI.COM