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orion-list Orion-List: Serech (5-1/2 screens)
This series of mini-articles started with a discussion of the importance
of isolating scribal hands when examining a document. It then moved on to
variant forms and stress notation. Both stress (and durational) notation
and variant forms have been demonstrated in the previous articles; now we
are going to look at the document (a more comprehensive term which includes
epigraphic and paleographic sources) that started the discussion. Again,
the mini-article has been copyrighted for citation purposes.
Limit Systems and the Hebrew Square Aramic Writing System:
"Haserech" from Cave 1 at Qumran
(c) R.I.S. Altman, August 1999
Both the Yadi stele and the Exodus fragments are written in formal,
official scripts. We also saw the Phoenician-Hebraic trilinear limit
system and variant phone system in use. We are now going to look at
something quite different: a third class copy of a document written
in an informal cursive font - a mutation of the Square Aramaic. For
convenience, the document shall be referred to as 'haserech."
Content, as we have noted, determines the script, size, and format of
a document. In the Hebraic hierarchy of formats, official and authori-
tative documents are written in narrow columns, such as those we saw
on the Exodus fragments. (We can tell the width from Frag. 4 - where we
have almost complete lines of text.) Unofficial, non-authoritative, or
informal documents, such as commentaries, are written in broad columns.
(The Alexandrian-Roman Christian parties reversed this order: broad for
authoritative, narrow for unofficial.)
Ancient writing systems also have a hierarchy of sizes: the largest
documents are always 'The Law'. The Paleo-Leviticus, for example,
after placement of fragments as to where they should be, shows it to
have been around 22" (or more) in height, including margins. 'Writings',
on the other hand, run around 10-1/4" to 11" in height. Q11Ps, the large
Psalm scroll, is around 10-1/4" (26.2 cm) high, as is the large Isaiah
scroll. (Christian hierarchies varied depending upon affiliation; the
largest size among all early groups is always 'The Law' (The Pentateuch);
later, the Gospels and then complete Bibles appear as the same size with
secular law codes second in height and writings relegated to third place,
and so on down the line to the 'tablet' size which means "entertainment.")
Finally, these systems had an ordered hierarchy of scripts both formal
and informal. There are formal "biblical" fonts for 'The Law' (e.g. Paleo-
Hebraic and the very square Square Aramaic of the Exodus Fragments); several
formal 'liturgical' fonts for 'writings' differentiating between class of
'writings' (e.g. the "simple" Square Aramaic of Isaiah A vs. the highly
stylized font used in Q11Ps); formal official 'secular' fonts (the so-called
'Herodian' is such a font), and official 'chancery' type fonts - such as
that seen on the Papyrus letter from the adminstration of Bet Mashko and
found at Murraba'at. The majority of the non-Biblical documents are written
in informal cursive fonts that vary, depending upon the level of book class
(and time frame), from the 1st class copy of the "Children of Light and
Children of Darkness" work, to the careless third class copy of 'Haserech'.
The first item of importance that we can see when we look at the photo-
graph of 'Haserech' is that this document is written in the broad column
format as opposed to the narrow column format we saw in the Exodus frag-
ments. This already tells us that this is not an official or authorita-
tive text. The next things we notice is that the document displays all the
signs of a hurry-up job.
The word 'incipit' means "it begins" and refers to the opening words (or
music) of a composition.<1> In antiquity, books were catalogued by the first
meaningful words, a practice started by Enheduanna back at Akkad.<2> (The
Pentateuch is organized by 'incipit'.) The incipit on 'Haserech' is written
in the same font and only slightly larger than the body text: a sure sign
of a third class copy. The incipit, nevertheless, tells us that the book was
known during the period by the title 'haserech lekol 'edat israel'.
The script itself is a mutation (scripts do NOT develop, they mutate) of
a more formal cursive. The scribes all have distictive ideographs; there
are four hands on this column. We will look at two ideographs for each
scribe (there are many more).
Scribe 1 writes his sin (l.1 Israel) with a straight central stroke and his
shin (l.2 mishpat) with a curved central stroke. Both the right- and left-
hand legs of his shin/sin are straight (not bowed). His 'taf' (l.1 zot) has
a very heavy upward tilted headstroke caused by overwriting his first stroke:
he runs back over the attack (starter) stroke and then comes down to make
the right-hand leg; he then makes another starter stroke at the left hand
edge swings back and then comes straight down. This leaves a sideways tilted
stroke on the upper left-hand side of the graph.
Scribe 2 writes both his sin and his shin with a straight central stroke;
however, he writes the right-hand leg of his shin straight and his sin bowed.
His 'taf' is again written in two strokes, but there is quite a diffeence
beteen the 'tafs' of Scribes 1 and 2. Scribe 2 starts his right-hand side
with a very rounded headstroke, similar to the right half of a sans-serif
'h'; his completion stroke starts above the headstroke, comes down straight,
and then makes a distinct left-hand curve out at the bottom (l.2 just before
the tear - BRTIM).
As Scribe 1, Scribe 3 writes his shin with a curved central stroke - only
he also curves the right-hand leg (l. 3, his third word 'sm-'). He writes
his sin with an elongated and angled left-hand stroke (l. 3 on the tear).
He also writes his taf in two strokes. He starts at an angle and then goes
from the left-hand side of the graph, across and then straight down. He then
writes his left-hand leg starting at the point where the little "flip" of
his starter stroke levels out, comes down and ends in a left-hand curve.
Scribe 4's taf is very similar to that of Scribe 2; however, he his left-
hand leg comes straight down before ending in a slight left hand finishing
stroke (l. 5 second word). Only one sin/shin appears in his first stint.
Scribe 1 wrote the incipit, all of line 1 and the first four words on line
2. Scribe 2 wrote from the fifth word on line 2 through the third word on
line 3; Scribe 3 wrote from the fourth word on line 3 to the third word on
line 4; and Scribe 4 wrote from the fourth word on line 4 to the first two
words on line 5. If we look at the photograph, we can see that this order
creates a staggered overlap of scribal hands, each of approximately the
same length. Scribe 1 then wrote from the third word on line 5 through the
seventh word on line 7. Now Scribe 3 took over. The entire column is written
in stints that last as long as the ink holds out: approximately two to two
and one-half lines per scribe. The order of the scribes varies in order to
avoid creating a repetitive pattern that would defeat the purpose of the
change of scribe technique.
If we wish to see interspersed shins and sins, we need only look for the
'taf' of Scribe 1, then check his shin/sin use. Scribe 1 is back again in
line 10, 'shnat', right after the tear. He wrote all of line 11 and the
first two words on line 12. He comes on again on line 13, 8th word (again
'shnat') and stayed on through 'Israel' on line 14. He shows up again on
line 21, 8th word through line 22, seventh word.
This change-scribe-at-ink-end technique gives us quite a bit of information
about the scriptorium. First, it was at least of medium size and probably
had 8-10 scribes on hand. Second, this is a technique used centuries later
at the more sophisticated scriptoria; we are not dealing with novices.
Third, while the scribes write the same font, we can tell that there is
an age range involved. Scribe 1 appears to be older and to have learned a
somewhat different font: the forms used by Scribe 2 have mutated from an
older design. Scribe 3 also tells us that more than one font was used at
this scriptorium: his deeply angled stroke on the sin is very similar to
the formal cursive used in Q11Ps. It does not belong in this font design.
This sophisticated end of ink technique is intended to hide differences
among scribal hands. As we have seen, it is still quite effective.
<1> Music catalogues are still organized by Incipit.
<2> For information on Enheduanna and her organization of religious books
and music, see Wilson _The Making of the Hebrew Psalter_ (on the bib),
especially Chapter 1.
Dr. Rochelle I. Altman, co-coordinator IOUDAIOS-L email@example.com
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