an exercise in textual criticism

attention all text critics! the following is a little exercise in text criticism that applies our technique to some modern literature pertaining to the dead sea scrolls.

here is your assignment: below are three letters. examine them carefully. answer the following questions.

  • what can you tell me about authorship of the letters?
  • how many different scribal hands were involved in the making of these three letters?
  • what similarities do the three letters possess?
  • are the letters the product of a single scribal school?
  • what is the purpose of these letters?

leave your answers in the comments area below. enjoy!

(keep in mind: if you like this exercise, there are many more letters. these are just the ones i’ve made public ; -)  -bc)

13 Responses

  1. are you the guy who likes bread?

  2. yes, but not as much as someone else.

  3. What fun. Well here goes, bob:
    1. All exhibit the same level of hostility and similar cadence.
    2. I would say “same scribal school”
    gee this is fun.
    3. same author!
    4. purpose: defending Golb

  4. Sorry if you get this twice:
    1. same “scribal school”
    2. same author with same level of hostility and similar cadence.
    3. purpose to defend Golb
    Lots of fun, bob

  5. The ancient Israelites who lived in the. There is a deep valley in the northern boundary of Jerusalem, who lives according to Eliade’s definition of sacred axis mundis. Sometimes the axis mundis believe that Jerusalem was sacred for thousands of decades, like the time when (according to a quote by Bar Tov, part of which comes from the Herod’s Bible), saying, “Go up to Zion and worship the tetragrammaton.”

    It is clear that the grandest hierophany of them all is when bread went on pilgrimatge to the Horns of Hattin.

  6. I enjoy stuff like this.

    It should be noted that I’m going to largely ignore the specifics of the content itself as I am almost wholly unfamiliar with the field, and will focus more on the structure.

    Upon a cursory initial perusal, it seems highly likely that the second and third letter were written by the same person, based largely on the commonalities in sentence construction. I’m thinking specifically of how the writer uses clauses as well as the % mix of active-to-passive sentence construction. This is surprising since those two letters are ascribed to different authors.

    Upon a second quick look, I’d hazard a guess that the first letter was also the same author, but that he took more time writing it, as it has less clause use and the sentences are better constructed. It could be that he or she was simply paying more attention to cloaking his style in the first letter.

  7. I like bread too.

  8. wow. so many people like bread. amazing.

  9. What kind of bread are we talking about? I wish I got the joke.

  10. All three letters show a certain academic style of writing, with complex sentence structures and the use of the passive voice. But that basic style is too common in the modern academic world to identify these as products of the same author. Otherwise, one could argue that the 3 letters were written by Jeffrey Gibson.

    There is one significant point of difference: In letter #3, Norman Golb, while obviously promoting his own point of view, uses diplomatically polite language to show respect and soften his approach – ‘I would be most grateful’ and ‘cordial good wishes’ etc. The most negative word is ‘dismayed,’ which I think of as a common euphemism for “mad as hell,” but is still restrained.

    The Dworkin letter also uses the word “dismayed” but otherwise lacks any of the collegiality or diplomatic phrasing of the Norman Golb letter. Much of the letter is a recital of facts or claims in academic language, but these are larded with emotionally laden words that convey a lack of respect for any other view. The author is ‘stunned’ and refers to ‘the *anger* that I and other informed people are now feeling towards your Museum’ – an ‘institution *ostensibly* devoted to “educating” the public.’

    The “Carlos Gadda” email is a similar combination of academic prose and emotional zingers – “distinctly misleading” and “radical defender of the disputed Qumran-Essene theory” who *inappropriately* *misled* the public. There is no room in Gadda/Dworkin’s prose for honest disagreements over interpretation of the evidence, only rhetorical overkill and the assumption that anyone who disagrees with him must be corrupt, dishonest, and probably part of some vast evil conspiracy.

    When “Charles Gadda” posted similar material on the Internet Infidels Board, I tried to make him see that this language was more likely to start a fist fight than a useful discussion where he might have a chance of persuading anyone to his point of view. He actually toned a few things down, and I figured I was dealing with an undergraduate who had yet to learn the basics of effective communication. I was stunned myself to learn that he has a PhD in comparative literature and a law degree.

    So, in summary, this is possibly a “scribal school” with some common texts and some borrowing of key phrases, but I see two different writers, or at least two different personas.

  11. barbara,

    the bread joke is an inside joke from a colleague of ucla. it was adopted as a socio-linguistic code for, among other things, those who are compelled to keep a vigilant eye on things while making careful notes. as you know if you read enoch, there are many watchers, and while some are named, most are not ; -)


  12. toto,

    good to see you again. excellent summary.

    any comments on the manner in which the letters end?


  13. The Book of Enoch. I am inspired to read it now, bob. I’m sure you read it in Aramaic. Thank you, I will just take it in English. ; )

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