Friday, April 20, 2012

Paleography and Second Hand Corrections

At the end of chapter 34 in the Great Isaiah Scroll, I came across a significant correction. The first hand omits the end of 34:17 - 35:2. A second corrector has gone back and corrected this omission by adding in the missing text.

A similar situation occurs in 37:5-7.

Interestingly, in both places, the original scribe left an unusual blank line. Perhaps he was aware of his omissions? Perhaps his exemplar was damaged at these points, given the physical proximity of the corrections?

These corrections offer good examples for paleographic study of the different hands in the manuscript. When I first began reading Hebrew manuscripts, I was often bewildered by paleographers' claims to be able to distinguish multiple hands within manuscripts and their corrections. The differences often seemed so small and the letter forms so inconsistent, that I found identifying different hands very difficult. I must admit, I am still far from expert in paleography, but I can pick up on much more now than when I first began. Reading through the Great Isaiah Scroll in particular, I have become intimately familiar with the original hand of the manuscript by sheer repetition. With this familiarity in the background, many of the differences in the corrections practically jump off the page now. And I'm not just talking about the size and color of the scripts. I think this would be a good point to show some of the distinguishing characteristics of the hands to show how such work is done.

* - Original Hand
1 - First Correction (34:17 - 35:2)
2 - Second Correction (37:5-7)


Both corrections show significant differences in the general form of the aleph. The left downstroke meets the diagonal almost at the far upper left corner, instead of the more normal location closer to the middle. The original hand also has more curve to it.


The second correction is quite close to the original hand, but the first correction is clearly distinct. It is more boxy, the horizontal stroke meets close to the top of the rightmost vertical stroke, and the leftmost vertical stroke barely touches the horizontal.


Once again, the second correction is much closer to the original hand than the first correction. The first has sharper angles and bends to the right (instead of the left) at the bottom.

As before, the second correction is much closer to the original hand than the first correction. The first correction does not have the distinct carrot shape of the other two, but is more of a closed wedge shape.

Final Peh

Another example of how the first correction is clearly different from the main hand is his use of a special final form for the letter peh in the word אף. The main hand uses the same form as in the middle of words.
We could line up many such examples to show the precise differences between the different handwritings. These are merely a few letters as examples, but we can draw a few conclusions from them. The first correction is clearly done by a later scribe. The letter forms are quite drastically different from the original hand and exhibit later influences. These differences are so many and so striking that it is impossible to miss them, after you have been reading the Isaiah scroll for a while.

On the other hand, the second correction is written in a hand much more similar to the original hand. From these initial investigations, I suspect that it is a different scribe, due to slightly different letter forms. Nevertheless, because the two hands are so similar in many ways, we would have to look much more carefully to confirm this.
While this is very basic, I hope it helps clarify how scholars really can tell the difference between the handwritings of different scribes. Sometimes it is easy to tell, and other times it is more difficult. But it is always essential to understanding the history of the manuscript and its text.

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