Orthography fluidity

Ian Hutchesson mc2499 at mclink.it
Sun Mar 18 00:12:00 EST 2001

>> Ezra seems a bit early for this, Peter. The Qumran texts show
>> great fluidity in orthography. By the first century CE at
>> Masada and early 2nd with the Bar Kochba finds a case
>> could be made that an MT-type text was standardized, but
>> this certainly wasn't the case 1st BCE (unless one wants to
>> argue that some subset of the Qumran variety represented
>> a standardization which not everyone else yet accepted).
>> On fluidity of orthography in copying biblical texts
>> see Kutscher 1974 on 1QIsaA, Horgan 1979 on the
>> pesharim, DJD editions, etc. etc.
>> Qumran has got to be considered the evidence for what was
>> happening 1st BCE, rather than considered non-
>> representative of what was happening.
>Why does it have to be considered normative for what was
>happening all over the region and the known world?  All we know
>about the Qumran texts is that the people who produced them
>practiced this fluidity.

This is true. However, as there are perhaps 800 scribal hands involved in the
copying of the 815-odd scrolls, one has to deal with the implications. The scrolls
simply weren't produced by a small local organization, as one would expect to see
the same hands used over and over again, but they weren't. With so few repetitions
of scribal hands we are talking of a production which represents numerous scribal
schools and a location that had to be able to support so many scribes, ie Jerusalem.
(The alternative -- several sites of origin -- would require a far more complex
model involving many more assumptions.) This, by necessity, puts the scrolls
production at the centre of Hebrew scribal activity ruling out a localized

(Cross tried to tame the diversity -- not so much of orthography, but of script
forms -- by putting the various scripts in a chronological order. However, if that
assumption were correct -- and it has only ever been an assumption --, we would
expect to see many more scribal hands being repeated within the corpus, but as there
aren't we have to see his assumption as improbable.)


>Given the way plene spellings tend to
>abound in various parts of the corpus, it's very possible that some
>of the "fluidity" was localized and used for the purpose of
>pronunciation in public reading.   It's possible to generalize and say
>that this may be what was happening everywhere, but until we find
>similar documents from other places this generalization must
>remain nothing more than an assumption.

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