Inter-Millennial Scribes

#Inter-Millennial Scribes

The Independent published an article describing the process of discovering and reading the oldest copy of Leviticus ever found. The 2000-year-old manuscript had been burnt in a fire, and would disintigrate when touched by archeologists. Israeli scientists took an x-ray of the document and sent the images to a lab in Kentucky, whereupon the text was virtually “unwrapped” in a process I will summarize further on. The lab found that the charred text is 100% identical to the text of Leviticus in circulation today.

###On Textual Consistency

Before taking this class, I would have been surprised to learn that the content of Leviticus hasn’t changed in 2000 years. However, after watching the video about the process of making parchment and after experiencing first-hand the meticulous attention required to transcribe text, I am less surprised.

For a scribe to err in any significant capacity (i.e. failing to scratch off mistakes, etc.) in the transcribing of text would tarnish a project that several people went to great lengths to perfect. If, as the video we watched describing the making of parchment explains, even just the process of scraping the parchment to the desired thickness was a process that took several days, then the lack of deviations between current copies of Leviticus and the charred 2000-year-old copy is impressive but not surprising.

On Scribes

This article represents a brilliant parallel experience between “scribes” of sorts thousands of years apart from each other. The scribes who initially put quill to paper 2000 years ago undoubtedly went through a process much longer and more demanding than the one we went through in class when transcribing letters by candlelight. They likely toiled over their parchment for much longer than one class period without the benefits of pencils and easy-to-use erasers.

The scientists working in the Kentucky lab likewise toiled over the manuscript for quite some time, attempting to decipher the “indecipherable.” They were similarly “working in the dark,” because no similar effort had previously been undertaken. The scientists were given x-ray images of a burnt, rolled-up document. They scanned the image for darker spots that identified ink on the parchment, and then went through the painstaking process of “unwrapping” the image. They were certainly able to enjoy the affordances of modern technology, but they might as well have been writing under the flickering light of a candle.