Palaeographic dating

Greg Doudna gdoudna at earthlink.net
Thu Apr 19 00:36:34 EDT 2001


Having done some investigation of Qumran palaeography,
let me report some observations:

All Second Temple period palaeography--Qumran, non-
Qumran--that is done today relies upon one source alone,
one trunk of the tree from which every branch stems.
That is Frank Cross, 'The Development of the Jewish Scripts',
in G.E. Wright (ed.), _The Bible and the Ancient Near
East_ (New York: Doubleday): 133-202.

While Cross published a condensation/update in 1998
(in Flint/VanderKam, DSS after 50 Years, vol. I, Brill)
there is no change in any dates from 1961, and a lot less
of the primary data. Therefore, if you really want to know,
read 1961; its all there, and nothing else in print will explain
it all except that. Ada Yardeni's wonderful book
(_The Book of Hebrew Script: History, Palaeography,
Script Styles...', Jerusalem, 1997) is brilliant on history,
description, lore, and her unexcelled artistic/graphic
abilities. But--nothing new or altered or added in
terms of dating: its all assumed from Cross unchanged.

All roads go back to Cross 1961, and it remains unchanged
for every precise script date claim in the 2nd, 1st BCE, and
1st and 2nd CE. (Cross did acknowledge a few years ago
that his 3rd century BCE script datings might need to be
moved a half-century earlier, which affects 3 Qumran
texts, in Cross's judgment).

There is no other, independent, alternative, or updated system.
There has been no recalibration of Cross 1961. Either it
is (a) perfectly right as first published (which is why no
one has changed its dates one dot or tittle; (b) there simply
has been no useful new data since 1961 which gives
cause to change anything; or (c) what we are observing
is not functioning as science but as something else,
perhaps something not totally unlike certain theories
of inerrancy of biblical books.
Note I do not, here, express an opinion as to which of
these three explanatory alternatives I think is going on.
(And any suggestions of fourth or fifth or sixth possible
explanatory alternatives are solicited; these are, however,
the only three that I am able to think of.)

For anyone interested, I have published a brief critique
of Cross 1961 on methods (my critique, I hasten to add,
is totally on high-precision dating claims; not on Cross's
description [which in my opinion is the real and lasting
strength of Cross's work, but that is distinct from the
high-precision dating claims], nor on low-precision
palaeographic dating of the Qumran texts to the Second
Temple era [correct beyond question]).

The important point is that there is no proliferation of
multiple experts doing palaeographic dating (of Jewish
scripts of Second Temple era). There are multiple gifted
scholars doing description and analysis of specific texts'
and inscriptions. But when all of that demanding work is
done, they refer to the script charts of Cross 1961
and 'look up the dates'. You will not find a scholar
today who argues that a 2nd-1st BCE/1st CE date
of Cross is wrong by a specific amount and give
argument from primary data in argument for a different
specific date for a given script type. (There are occasional
disagreements among scholars on descriptions of script
types in this or that text; that is not what I mean. There are
also occasional voices of skepticism to the Cross 1961
dating system in principle but that is also not what
I mean; I am referring to zero specific published
alternatives for high precision dating of script
types themselves.)

If anyone is interested, I have published some brief
comments on Qumran palaeography and the Cross
1961 system in _Redating the Dead Sea
Scrolls Found at Qumran: the case for 63 BCE_,
Qumran Chronicle special issue, Dec. 1999.
My paleographic dating discussion is at pp. 70-79
of that.

Greg Doudna


> I get the feeling there's a bit of circularity going on here, at least in
> regard to Ian's question and what he wants to do with the info on
> the Nash Pap.  He has said that he wants to use the information
> on the Nash Papyrus to bring into question the paleographic dating
> patterns (established by Cross?) used to date the Dead Sea
> Scrolls.  But what I'm seeing in all these references are studies
> that use *the DSS* to date the Nash Papyrus.  This makes me
> wonder if there's a study of the papyrus that will help Ian with his
> project, or if all current dating of it is based on Cross' DSS scheme?
>
> This is the impression I'm getting, at least; Ian, what do you think?
>
> Dave Washburn





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