Orthography fluidity

Dave Washburn dwashbur at nyx.net
Mon Mar 19 20:17:22 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
> "fluidity".

I agree about the variety of scribal hands; this was one of the main 
factors that led Golb to suggest the Qumran cache is actually the 
remains of the library from the temple in Jerusalem.  I find this idea 
very attractive, and tend toward it.  However, I'm not sure that the 
variety of hands can support BOTH "the centre of Hebrew scribal 
activity" AND "numerous scribal schools".  If the scrolls all or in the 
main originate with the temple area in Jerusalem, then it seems to 
me more likely that we are looking at a single scribal school that 
produced, using a large number of scribes easily available, the 
scroll corpus over the 200+ years that they represent.  The 
alternative, as you note, is that they originated from various places 
around Palestine and were collected at the temple.  The problem 
is, there's no way to demonstrate either theory with the slim 
historical evidence we have at our disposal.  If the bulk of the 
scrolls were produced in Jerusalem, then it seems to me that we 
are in fact looking at a "localized" fluidity that may or may not 
reflect what was going on, say, in the synagogues of Galilee and 
other places.  Hence, for me at least, the idea that the scrolls 
represent a normative situation throughout Palestine must remain 
in the realm of speculation.

> (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.)

I quite agree.  Golb also tore Cross' dating scheme to shreds.  I 
have no doubt that the scrolls date from a fairly wide time period, 
but to try and narrow things down to 25-year segments the way 
Cross did is purest speculation and should not be used in any 
definitive way, as the editors of DJD and others have done.

Do you think they were mainly produced in Jerusalem, or do you 
see them being collected from various places?

Dave Washburn
"No study of probabilities inside a given frame can ever
tell us how probable it is that the frame itself can be
violated."  C. S. Lewis

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