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orion red ink
Here's an attempt to respond to the interest expressed in bibliography and
red ink by Mary Byrkit, who, possibly, joined the list after this long
Some doubts have been expressed on orion about (1) whether red ink
appears on some Qumran manuscript fragments and (2) whether red ink is
ancient. But, in my view, no good reasons for these doubts have been
M. Baillet, in Discoveries in the Judaean Desert III (1962) pp.
69-70 described the red ink on 2Q (Psalms 103); the red ink appears in
white on the black and white infra-red photo (pl. XIII). N. Jastram in DJD
XII (1994) 210-11 described the red ink in 4QNum and provided a color
photo. The red ink in 4QNum was noted already, e.g., by F. Cross in
Biblical Archaeologist 19 (1956) 83. Joseph Baumgarten in DJD XVIII (1996)
p. 147 noted the red ink in 4Q270 (Damascus Document). In a report in
Archaeometry 38 (1996) 97-102, Y. Nir-El and M. Broshi present an analysis
of samples of the Qumran red ink, which they identify as made from mercury
sulfide. Some writers call mercury sulfide cinnabar (but others define
cinnabar differently; the Latin, used by Pliny in Natural History IX,
36-41, is mimium). Mercury sulfide was rare and expensive and preferred by
some for use in ink (and in other pigment uses, such as paint) over red
produced from ocher (British spelling: ochre), containing iron. Baillet,
Jastram, and the latter article all provide further bibliography on red
ink. The DJD editors also offer ideas on why the red was used where it was.
There was also more than one type of black ink; some was made from carbon
(soot) and some was iron-based. On Qumran black ink, see Nir-El and Broshi
in Dead Sea Discoveries 3 (1996) 157-167. Some inks fade and change
somewhat over time (e.g., iron-based black can turn brown). But one thing
should be rather clear: red Hebrew letters from ink pigmented with mercury
sulfide do not appear in context of black lettering as a result of random
contamination in caves.
Mishnah Megilla 2.2 discusses ink, red and black, etc. A. Lucas and
J.R. Harris, Ancient Egyptian Materials and Industries (4th ed.; London,
1962) 362-3 has more information on colored pigments. Ancient Egyptian
palettes with several colors have been found. Ancient scribal tools for
using red and black ink have been found (see, for instance, T.S. Pattie and
E.G. Turner, The Written Word on Papyrus, British Museum, 1974, p.20,
scribe's two-chambered palette; and books with reproductions of the Pompeii
wall paintings for dual inkwells). The Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology
in the Ancient Near East and other resources could also be noted. Many
ancient manuscripts (and ostraca and walls with lettering) have red ink.
This long thread on orion began on December 16, 1997, because of
claims made by Neil Altman, as reported in Newsday. Here is a quote from
"...To Altman, this is pivotal, because the earliest known use of red ink
on manuscripts dates to the third or fourth century after Jesus. 'Most of
the photos are in black and white, and you can't see what color ink,'
Altman said. 'For 50 years, they kept quiet that red ink was used.'"
The information cited above shows that Mr. Altman was mistaken
about the earliest uses of red ink.
Red ink appears on less than one percent of the Qumran manuscript
Stephen Goranson firstname.lastname@example.org Durham NC