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Re: orion-list writing systems, details
As someone who spends lots of time and energy looking at old manuscripts
and fragments (mostly in Greek, but also Latin, Coptic, and
Hebrew/Aramaic), I've been fascinated by the various postings by Rochelle
Altman on various lists, most recently here on ORION. Her comments are
often instructive, in addition to being often provocative (as Stephen
Goranson said, with perhaps uncharacteristic gentleness!), but every so
often I wonder if she is not simply trying to pull our collective legs.
Surely she does not really think her approach is "objective" (see below),
insofar as she is quite clear about making a variety of unverifiable
assumptions about how scribes/copyists invariably operated (and still
operate, in some cultures), what they can or cannot do, what they do or
don't intend, etc. By definition, her scribes operate on a strictly
controlled and predictable level, but there is no way to know what the
situation might have been in the real world with any given individual who
might indeed consciously or unconsciously vary from the ideal pattern.
What is true "by definition" is not necessarily true "de facto."
But the details provide the playground for such generalizations, and I
just wanted to clarify what Rochelle meant to tell us with some of the
details that Stephen pried out of her. Thus further below:
Rochelle Altman replied to Stephen Goranson (in part):
> .... 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.
> 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
I guess she means column one. I don't find any "title page" (somehow
different from other "pages") in the Trever photos of 1QS. No incipit (as
I would understand that term) either.
> 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.
Well, I've looked. Yes, there are over two dozen sin/shins in column one,
almost evenly divided if the transcription of Lohse can be trusted. I see
a "mishpat" in line 5 (not 15), but haven't located the "shloshim shnat"
(not line 13 in Trever's photos); I've found two occurrences of "Israel"
(lines 22 and 23), and looked at some other such occurrences in the next
few columns. I would be very surprised if Rochelle or anyone else could
tell us, simply from the individual sin/shin images (out of context),
which was which; as far as I can see, frequently one could superimpose a
sin on a shin and see no difference. Occasionally there is a slight curve
on the lower part of the middle stroke -- usually for sin -- sometimes the
middle stroke does not touch the U or V outer outline (both for shin in
line 10 and for sin in line 5); the V style occurs for both, as does the
more normal U style; the mid stroke is not noticably higher than either
side stroke in the majority of occurrences, but can be slightly higher for
both sin and shin. Where is there any characteristic difference in this
text? Was it a test? Did I pass? In any event, the discussion is
invigorating. But let's have some clearer examples, please!
Robert A. Kraft, Religious Studies, University of Pennsylvania
227 Logan Hall (Philadelphia PA 19104-6304); tel. 215 898-5827
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