Monday, June 27, 2016

Review of "Comparative Oriental Manuscript Studies: An Introduction"

Alessandro Bausi (General editor), Pier Giorgio Borbone, Françoise Briquel-Chatonnet, Paola Buzi, Jost Gippert, Caroline Macé, Marilena Maniaci, Zisis Melissakis, Laura E. Parodi, Witold Witakowski, eds. Comparative Oriental Manuscript Studies: An Introduction. Hamburg: Tredition, 2015.

ISBN: 978-3-7323-1768-4 (Hardcover; €56.29)
ISBN: 978-3-7323-1770-7 (Paperback; €29.01)
ISBN: 978-3-7323-1769-1 (Ebook; €2.99)
Free download (see link above)

In 2015, the Comparative Oriental Manuscript Studies research network published the results of international and interdisciplinary dialogues funded by the European Science Foundation between 2009-2014. The basic premise of the network is that the study of Oriental manuscript traditions is relatively poorly developed in relation to the Occidental traditions (mainly Greek and Latin). The network brought together scholars working on Arabic, Armenian, Avestan, Caucasian Albanian, Christo-Palestinian Aramaic, Coptic, Ethiopic, Georgian, Greek, Hebrew, Slavonic, and Syriac manuscript traditions to discuss questions of methodology, terminology, and cultural contact. These scholars were divided into five subject teams (1: codicology and palaeography, 2: philology/text criticism, 3: digital approach to manuscript studies, 4: cataloguing, 5: manuscript preservation), and the chapters are divided accordingly, with only a subsidiary role for the digital humanities in the general introduction.

Comparative Oriental Manuscript Studies: An Introduction is not intended simply as a proceedings volume, subject lexicon, or encyclopedia, but rather as a book to be read cover-to-cover. Coming in at around 700 pages of content-rich and dense material, that is asking a lot of any one scholar. It took me nearly a year of close, occasional reading and a lot of persistance to reach the end, but it was also extremely rewarding. Though the word "Introduction" occurs in the title, readers beware, this is not an introduction for beginners, but rather an advanced introduction for experts to broaden their cultural and theoretical horizons. While not exhaustive in its coverage of every aspect of every tradition, it devotes sections to the topics with most comparative relevance for each tradition, which is a highly effective strategy for an interdisciplinary introduction. The multiple Oriental traditions examined are particularly important for biblical scholars, since the Bible and related literature were translated into most of these languages in antiquity, and these traditions often provide important (or in some cases even the only) textual evidence for the works we study on a daily basis.

The long general introduction provides adequate background information about the project, research approaches, manuscript traditions, and legal and ethical complications, which orients the reader for the rest of the volume. The short surveys of manuscript traditions could even serve as concise substitutes for the detailed analyses in chapter 1, for those without the motivation to read the more substantial contributions.

I do, however, highly recommend reading chapter 1 on codicology in its entirety. Following a general introduction to oriental codicology, specialists in each cultural area describe the materials and tools used in their respective manuscript cultures, attested book forms, the making of the codex, the layout of the page, text structure and readability, scribes, painters, and illuminators, as well as bookbinding methods. In this discussion, Hebrew manuscript culture fares extraordinarily well, with the thorough documentation provided as part of the SfarData project. I am particularly happy with the decision to include Greek codicology among the "Oriental" traditions to be compared, because of the key role Greek manuscript culture played in many Oriental manuscript cultures. In fact, I could not help but wish that the Latin tradition had also been discussed, perhaps mainly out of sheer curiosity, but also because of interactions between Latin traditions and geographically dispersed traditions like Greek and Hebrew. The chapter was long--and sometimes tedious--to read through sequentially, but very rewarding. Indeed, as the editors state, it is probably more valuable from this perspective than as a reference work, because it is often lacking in detail and documentation. For instance, in working on a Greek codex recently, I looked back at the information on page numbering and quire signatures, which was helpful for a general overview, but did not have much in the way of detail, statistics, or examples to compare. The already imposing book would have become excessively unwieldy if the editors had chosen to incorporate so much detail, but it does limit its value as a reference work. One disappointing aspect of the book was the focus almost exclusively on codices. In the Greek and Hebrew sections, for instance, there is hardly more than a paragraph each on (sc)rolls, which are too general to be of much help.

After 200 pages of codicological minutiae, chapter 2 on paleography was a breath of fresh air. The general script types and developments for each manuscript tradition are broadly outlined and illustrated. These sections are enough to give scholars in other fields a good idea about the types of scripts extant in a manuscript culture, but will be of less value for specialists. You will not, for instance, find tables of letter forms or detailed descriptions and typologies.

Chapter 3 on textual criticism and text editing was interesting, but perhaps of less relevance to most biblical scholars. After a brief theoretical and practical introduction to textual criticism and scholarly editing, the book devotes 100 pages to selected examples of editorial projects and phenomena in the various Oriental traditions. Because of the often narrow focus of these examples, I regularly struggled to tease out their comparative relevance. Many of them dealt with problems peculiar to a particular manuscript culture, literary tradition, or genre, which I doubt will be of much interest to many other than those theoretically engaged in the discussion of what it means to edit a text. There was unfortunately little help offered for those working in biblical textual criticism, with its massive and complex documented traditions.

Chapter 4 on cataloguing seemed a bit tedious to me, but everyone working with manuscripts needs to be aware of the various approaches to cataloguing and describing manuscripts. There is also some helpful, practical guidance for those who find themselves in the unfamiliar position of cataloguing manuscripts and for those wondering what to include in a description of a manuscript. To sum up a recent trend in cataloguing, include as much information as you can in the amount of time you have, and preferably provide pictures!

Chapter 5 on conservation and preservation was a somewhat unexpected, but pleasant surprise. Working with manuscripts as often as I do, I am frequently in contact with curators and conservators, and this chapter gave me greater insight into their cold, dark world of climate-controlled vaults and storage boxes. The chapter discusses the core principles of preservation and conservation, as well as some basic points about preferred methods, dangers, and environmental conditions. The final section on digitization lays out the possibilities, practicalities, and problems of digitization, which I found both informative and balanced. Overall, this chapter gave me a much greater appreciation for the work of the conservator and the importance of preserving textual artefacts for future generations, and I would recommend it to anyone working regularly with manuscripts.

The references at the back of the book are daunting, but thankfully each section has its own references list referring to the full reference at the end of the book, which is very helpful. And the book concludes with a series of indices, which will be helpful for readers of the printed book, but largely redundant for those using the searchable PDF. Furthermore, the editors are to be commended for making the book freely available online, as well as in book form at reasonable prices. In this, and every other way, COMSt represents an up-to-date and accessible reflection of the current state of each subfield, and I highly recommend this book.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Confusion in the Codicological Ranks: "Folios and Bifolios" vs. "Folia and Bifolia"

Having been working with Greek codices recently, I have been faced with the complicated issue of what terminology to use in describing the codices. One particularly problematic term that I keep coming back to is what to call the leaves of a book, each of which has two pages, one on each side. My impression is that the most common way is simply to use the English word "leaf" or the technical term "folio" (plural "folios"), which means "leaf", which is apparently a late Latin form(?). But others prefer the older Latin form "folium" (pl. "folia"). For instance, in the monumental Comparative Oriental Manuscript Studies: An Introduction, the authors consistently use "folium"/"folia", and reserve "folio" only for references to large format manuscripts "in folio".

A further complicating factor is what to call the sheet of material that is folded to create two leaves, one on either side of the central opening of the quire. Again, my impression is that most call it "bifolium"/"bifolia", but I have also seen "bifolio"/"bifolios". Contrary to what you might expect, however, scholars do not seem to use the forms consistently. Everyone who uses "folium"/"folia" seems to use "bifolium"/"bifolia", and pretty much everyone who uses "bifolio"/"bifolios" uses "folio"/"folios". But most people in fact mix the forms, using "folio"/"folios" and "bifolium"/"bifolia"!

A little investigation on Google seems to confirm this. Google Ngrams yields the following results for "folio"/"folios" and "folium"/"folia":

Searching in Google Books for each of these terms in addition to "codicology" yields the following number of hits:

"folio"/"folios" = 5790/5790 hits
"folium"/"folia" = 161/664 hits

Thus, it seems clear that "folio"/"folios" is much more common in the field.

As mentioned above, however, Google suggests the opposite for "bifolio"/"bifolios" and "bifolium"/"bifolia":

"bifolio"/"bifolios" = 609/679 hits
"bifolium"/"bifolia" = 1300/1300 hits

Thus, "bifolium"/"bifolia" is the most common form.

This leads to the very confusing situation where the majority of scholars are using the form "folio"/"folios" for single leaves and the opposing form "bifolium"/"bifolia" for double leaves! No wonder there is so much confusion! Many scholars seem perfectly happy with this compromise solution. Others, like the COMSt authors cited above choose to use the older Latin forms consistently. An opposing trend I found interesting to note, however, is that since the 1970s we see a steady rise in the use of the (new?) form "bifolio"/"bifolios" as a counterpart for the ever-popular "folio"/"folios", such that it appears in about one-third of the publications around 2000.

I, for one, am frustrated to be caught in the midst of this turmoil, but perhaps that is unavoidable. Do I play it safe and go with the majority? Archaize? Or ride the trendy new "bifolio" wave into the future? Ask me again in 20 years, and I'll tell you... :) As for you, what is your preferred terminology?

Poll Results:

"leaf"/"leaves" and "double leaf"/"double leaves" = 3 (21%)
"folio"/"folios" and "bifolio"/"bifolios"                 = 4 (28%)
"folio"/"folios" and "bifolium"/"bifolia"               = 3 (21%)
"folium"/"folia" and "bifolium"/"bifolia"              = 5 (35%)

British Library Glossary of Codicological Terms

I just learned from Suzanne Wijsman that the British Library has an online glossary of codicological terms that may be of help for those seeking to understand obscure technical jargon. It is also illustrated, which helps.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

A Curious Mind

Mark Goodacre recently pointed out an article identifying the owner of the so-called "Gospel of Jesus' Wife." The article in the Atlantic by Ariel Sabar entitled "The Unbelievable Tale of Jesus' Wife" is a fascinating expose on the life and mind of the owner of the controversial papyrus. It is a long read, but for those interested in the question of manuscript forgeries, this incredible story will be both entertaining and enlightening, as well as an appropriate warning to pay due attention to questions of provenance. Highly recommended.

Monday, June 13, 2016

EAJS Workshop: Research Approaches in Hebrew Bible Manuscript Studies

From 6-8 June, I had the opportunity to attend the EAJS Lab Research Approaches in Hebrew Bible Manuscript Studies in Aix-en-Provence. The workshop--organized by Élodie Attia-Kay, Samuel Blapp, and Antony Perrot--was a great success. We were graciously hosted by the Maison Méditerranéenne des Sciences de l'Homme and Aix-Marseille University, with generous funding from the European Association of Jewish Studies.

The workshop brought together researchers on Hebrew Bible manuscripts from the Dead Sea Scrolls, Cairo Genizah, and those studying European fragments (the so-called "European Genizah") with the intent of sharing methodological approaches utilized in the study of these different corpora.

For the Dead Sea Scrolls section, Daniel Stökl Ben Ezra started us off with a stimulating lecture about general trends in the study of the biblical manuscripts from the DSS, paying special attention to questions of textual typology, editorial development, and the contents of small and large manuscripts. Gilles Dorival surveyed the field of Septuagint studies, reflecting a general disposition to prefer explanation of textual differences between the Greek and Hebrew texts as interpretive moves by the translators, an idea which some might have difficulties with. Matthew Monger stressed the need to consider the DSS from the perspective of New/Material Philology, using the interesting example of 4Q216, which apparently only contained the creation account according to Jubilees. I presented a paper on the methods for reconstructing large literary (sc)rolls, summarizing methods used in the study of the DSS and the Herculaneum papyri, and providing mathematical and practical tools for materially reconstructing fragmentary scrolls. I concluded with an example from 4Q14 (4QExod-c), which I suggest should be reconstructed as a complete Torah scroll. Anna Busa analyzed the phylacteries from the Judean Desert, suggesting that they do not fit neatly into two distinct categories such as Tov's "Qumran Scribal Practice" and those in agreement with rabbinic prescriptions. And finally, Antony Perrot and Matthieu Richelle presented a fresh paleographical analysis of the paleo-Hebrew scripts from the Second Temple period, largely confirming the relative chronology of McLean, but suggesting that far more caution is necessary in proposing absolute datings, because of the extremely minimal amount of evidence.

Geoffrey Khan started out the Cairo Genizah section with an interesting survey of recent advances in the study of the Tiberian reading tradition, that stressed its relevance for those studying the Second Temple period. In particular, he suggested a development of the Tiberian and Babylonian vocalizations from a common proto-Masoretic reading tradition, whereas the Palestinian (and Samaritan) vocalizations branched from a different tradition influenced by the Aramaic vernacular. He also showed some of the variety in the Tiberian tradition and the "orthoepic" means that the Masoretes used to disambiguate and further develop their own traditions. Samuel Blapp showed elements in Tiberian Masoretic manuscripts that he considers to be "non-standard." Kim Phillips made a pretty convincing case that two Bible fragments from the Cairo Genizah should be attributed to Samuel ben Jacob (the scribe of Codex Leningradensis), based primarily on paratextual features. Viktor Golinets gave a helpful survey of the Hebrew biblical manuscripts in the National Library of Russia in St. Petersburg. Elvira Martin-Contreras suggested that the Masoretic commentary T.S.D. 1, 61, was not as original as its editor thought, based on similar parallels. And Philippe Cassuto reviewed some of his past work on comparing the four great Oriental manuscripts.

For the European Genizah section, unfortunately Judith Olszowy-Schlanger was not able to make it, but she had a short paper read in absentia surveying the results of the Books within Books project. Javier del Barco gave a brief history of cataloguing Hebrew manuscripts, emphasizing the trend to include more codicological information parallel to the New Philology and the distinction between cataloguing complete manuscripts and fragments. Judith Kogel examined a Pentateuch with fragments in Colmar and Strasbourg to find other manuscripts that are most closely related to it. Mauro Perani gave a summary of his findings on the 12th century Bologna Torah scroll, noting the use of final nun in vacats to indicate awareness of different traditions of segementation and patterns of usage of taggin (decorations on letters in Torah scrolls). Roberta Tonnarelli and Élodie Attia-Kay then discussed their work on differentiating between Italian and Ashkenazi manuscripts in the early periods when they are not necessarily clearly distinguished.

The workshop also included introductions to ongoing projects. Daniel Stökl Ben Ezra presented an exciting overview of the Scripta Qumranica Electronica Project, which promises to be a revolution in DSS studies. Ben Outhwaite presented an interesting research project focusing on the Bibles of the Cairo Genizah. Javier del Barco expressed his intention to work from the perspective of New Philology to study Hebrew Bible manuscripts in the 14th-15th centuries. Hannah Liss showcased her project on documenting the Masoretic material in Western European manuscripts. And Élodie Attia-Kay presented her new project Manuscripta Bibliae Hebraicae studying European biblical manuscripts.

The workshop concluded with a chance to discuss methodological questions across corpora in small groups, which was a helpful conclusion. I understand that the organizers plan to publish the proceedings, which should make for a good book for those interested on the topic. I personally had a great time meeting and talking with the many medievalists there, and I learned a lot. The only critique I might offer is that many of the medievalists seemed to be doing their normal research, rather than specifically tailoring their papers for a mixed audience. But the organizers are making a conscious effort to tie the papers together so scholars in different research areas are able to learn more from each other, which will hopefully make the finished product even better. All in all, I would say it was a very successful workshop, and I would once again like to thank the organizers and the hosts for their labors and hospitality.

Bibliographies on Semitic Languages, Bible and Related Subjects by Viktor Golinets

I recently had the opportunity to meet Viktor Golinets, and I wanted to take the opportunity to highlight a helpful set of classified bibliographies he has produced that are very helpful and pertinent for the study of the text of the Hebrew Bible. See his Bibliographies on Semitic Languages, Bible and Related Subjects by Viktor Golinets, which I have also added to the OTTC links section at the bottom of the blog.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Virtual Unrolling and Deciphering of Herculaneum Papyri by X-ray Phase-Contrast Tomography

Continuing on the theme of the day of X-ray technology, an article entitled "Virtual Unrolling and Deciphering of Herculaneum Papyri by X-ray Phase-Contrast Tomography" has recently been published online (thanks to Elvira Martin-Contreras for point it out). It is a very interesting case of the application of this technology to the deciphering of the carbonized Herculaneum papyri, which has been a quickly developing field of study. Michael Segal recently showed me in Helsinki some very impressive results of the digitally scanned and unrolled carbonized Leviticus scroll from the Ein Gedi synagogue. The potential for studying such scrolls with non-destructive methods is opening up a whole new world for modern textual scholarship, and those who are working in this field deserve our gratitude.

"European Genizah" and X-Ray Technology

This week I spent a good amount of time with several medievalists in Aix-en-Provence discussing Hebrew Bible manuscripts, which I will write about in more detail in the near future. Many were studying the so-called "European Genizah," which is actually an ironic name for collections of fragments found in the bindings of books from the printing era. Old manuscripts were frequently divided up and their material reused to strengthen and support the covers and bindings of printed books, and there are a number of projects going on nowadays to recover these fragments from their bindings and gain insight into European Bible manuscripts in the late medieval and Renaissance periods. So far, there have been about 900 Hebrew biblical fragments from the 12th-15th centuries recorded in the project Books Within Books, which is a vast treasure trove of material evidence. I always like to point out such numbers to New Testament colleagues who generally seem to be under the illusion that the massive amount of data in NTTC is somehow unique... :)

On a related note, I would also like to point out an article cited by Peter Gurry on ETC that reports the use of macro x-ray fluorescence spectrometry (MA-XRF) to read metallic inks without having to disassemble the book bindings in which the fragments have been placed. It's always nice to have your cake and eat it too, so if we can study the fragments and preserve the bindings, that is quite an important development.