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Re: orion-list writing systems (5 screens)

Hi, Dr. Stephen Goranson,

   >I have read your comments on writing systems (made on ioudaios,
   >orion and otpseudepigrapha) with great interest. Some of these
   >observations I follow and see. Some of it I guess I do not yet know
   >how to evaluate. Occasionally (may I say so?) I have some doubts.
   >You surely do make some bold claims.

Not really. I can't possibly include all the background in the limited
space of a lecture or an e-mail posting. Besides, I don't work with
theories; I just report the facts. One of the nicest things about
working with something as concrete and visible as writing systems is
that anybody, anybody at all, can go and verify the "claims" for him
or herself.
   >Other than being wrong, for example, on "Essene" etymology,
   >Cross seems to me right fairly often.

Did I say that Cross was always wrong? Statistically, he would have
to be right at least half the time, no? Why do people think that all
previous work has been wasted? The collected data is still there, it's
the perspective that has to change. It happens all the time in the
hard sciences; it happens in lit, too. Shakespeare's plays are still
his plays, but in that field they are busily trying to undo 400 years
of damage done through erroneous perspective. (By golly, those are plays
and of course the text will change from performance to performance.)
Ptolemy had the same facts as Copernicus. Was Ptolomey's work wasted? No.
What happened was a change of perspective. Was this type of thing new then?
No, it happens all the time.

   >I do wonder whether some of your claims here involve
   >dichotomies that are neater in theory than practice. For example: do
   >you really assert that scribes do not ever make editorial changes?

They never act as editors; it's not their job and it's not what they
are trained to do. A scribe is a rote learner; his or her main job is to
get to the point where he or she can take dictation. Is this a modern
point of view? Hardly. Just think of all the wall paintings showing
scribes standing holding their pads/tablets with writing tool ready.
Then there is always that wonderful little statue of Dudu the Akkadian
Master scribe sitting holding his tablet ready to write down the spoken
words. Scribes make errors, of course, and the normal practice was (and
is - there are still hundreds of professional scribes out there in other
parts of the world) to have someone read the text out loud while another
person checks the copy. So, yes, we will find corrections, but actual
editing, not a chance. If we see editing we are dealing with an author
or a scholar reviewing copy. Some of those documents are actually
working copies...

Interestingly enough, the type of scribal error depends a great deal on
whether we are dealing with a dictated or a copied text. Parsing errors,
for example, on a dictated text are exceptional and a reason to demote a
scribe to mere copyist. (Scribes as mere copyists is another very modern
concept.) Parsing errors show up in copied texts, particularly if a scribe
is copying something in a language he does not know.

Rather than write this from scratch (yet again, sigh) the following is
straight out of Chapter 11...

   We may recall that only senior journeymen and master scribes have
   ideographs; a very important point that cannot be over-emphasized
   and deserves reiteration. Modern research into nerve-motor response
   patterns brought about by the space exploration program only verifies
   what the ancients already knew from empirical observation. In order to
   perform a physical action effortlessly, without thought, the nervous
   system must learn to respond automatically to that particular set of
   actions. Playing badmitton will not help someone's tennis game; the
   stored, patterned nerve responses are different. Riding a bicycle will
   not help someone drive a truck, nor will running a drill press help
   someone learn to use a hand drill. Each activity has its own stored
   patterns and must be acquired as a separate set of nerve-pattern
   responses. Similarly, a scribe learns a font by practice, until his
   stored patterned nervous response is totally automatic. Once a font
   has become part of the patterned processes in the motor area of the
   brain, a scribe acquires ideographs. Scribal ideographs do not change;
   the scribe literally cannot help but write these forms this way. His
   responses are so automatic that he associates a font with the feel of
   a pen. These virtually robotic responses allow us to isolate scribal
   hands - even across a change of font.

Until the response is *totally and completely automatic*, scribes do not,
cannot, have ideographs. Only senior scribes have ideographs. So far,
three scribes have been isolated by their ideographs from among the
nearly 1,000 hands found in the DSS. It's more than a little disconcerting
to find people isolating scribal ideographs by something as small as the
twist on the leg of an aleph and then turning around and claiming that
a 'shin' is a 'shin' even when a close examination shows that, yes, there
is a difference between the forms of 'shin' and 'sin'. Are the differences
that small? Not really, but it depends upon which version of the font
family we are looking at - in some its more obvious. Further, what one
is accustomed to is what is easy. If one is accustomed to these
distinctions between forms, why they are obvious and reading them is
easy. On the other hand, viewed from our modern ideals of standardization...
the distinctions get dismissed.

   >Would you care to pick a Qumran text for which there are
   >clear and readily-available photos and tell us what you see that
   >indicates shins and sins, or bet and vet?

Sure. While from it size, format, script, and incipit, its just a second
or even third class copy, try the title page of the so-called "Manual of
Discipline." There are tons of shins/sins on that column. This is not
the finest example of scribal work around, but... compare the central
stroke in the 'sin' in "Israel" with, oh, say, the very clear 'shins' in
"shloshim shnat" on line 13 or in "mishpahat" on line 15. Do you see how
the central stroke of the 'shin' is curved and that of the 'sin' straight?
Also, in the 'shin', the stroke starts slightly above the upper limit.

Another one: the fragments of Exodus from Murabba'at... of course, this
is a related font, but not the same as the one used in the "Manual." In
fact, this is quite a formal font. In this font, shin/sin has a pointed
base. The central stroke of the 'sin' meets the left-hand leg above the
bottom. The central stroke of the 'shin' touches the base exactly at the
point where the left- and right-hand legs meet.

A neat, concise, and simple method of indicating variant phones.

   >Do you really mean that
   >all scribes represented in Qumran mss make such distinctions?

As I have not examined every document, I cannot answer that question,
but from those I have seen, yes. Because modern Torah scribes (who
really are copyists) copy the scrolls exactly, we can still see
variant forms as well as stress and durational notation in any modern

I have not had time to map all the graph-to-phone relationships for the
DSS scripts and fonts and I don't know when I can get to it. It seems
more important to finish off a reference book and guide - tools for
scholars to work with.

All the best,


Dr. Rochelle I. Altman, co-coordinator IOUDAIOS-L  risa@hol.gr

For private reply, e-mail to "Rochelle I. Altman" <risa@mail.hol.gr>
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