Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Dead Sea Scrolls and Medieval Manuscripts

I'm composing my follow up post to the Within poem I talked about almost two months ago now, in usual piecemeal fashion. But whilst I do that, the news came across my desktop today that a study was done on one of the Dead Sea Scrolls' ink, the so-called Thanksgiving Scroll. For those not up on some of the issues, the traditional view of DSS and the community that produced them has been that on the shores of the Dead Sea there was an ascetic community with a scriptorium who produced the majority if not all of the DSS and hid them at the approach of the Romans c. 68 CE. There are those who have questioned either the whole or parts of this reconstruction: little evidence of a scriptorium for example and there's the whole alternative theory by a guy at U Chicago whose name is escaping me at the moment but whose book I read some years ago that argues that the DSS are someone's (or someones') library from Jerusalem taken to the wilderness to hide as the Romans closed in, but never retrieved, and so nothing to do with an Essene community at all.

Anyway, that's a gross oversimplification, and so somewhat wrong, but it will do as a set up for the news. The study determined that at least on that scroll, the ink was prepared with waters from the Dead Sea, and so it is likely then that the scroll was written or copied in the vicinity.

Interesting evidence, and while it doesn't prove that the DSS were composed, or even that scroll, were written at Qumran, it is rather suggestive that it was. In addition to that news, though, I wonder in the face of the DNA studies on sheep and calf skin that have been in the news of late, and Michael Drout's similar project, if there might not be a need and interest in doing similar ink studies on medieval manuscripts. There are a large number of unprovenanced manuscripts in our modern repositories that could at least be given a possible point of origin by testing ink composition with the waters of rivers, lakes, etc in and around monastic sites.

There are some of course that would resolve some longstanding issues: the Vinland Map for example. That map's ink has been tested, specifically to look for modern elements in the ink, such as commercial grade anatase. But since the map and the manuscript it appears in are part of another manuscript as I recall, it might worth testing the inks of the various pieces and their composition. If one has ink with water from England in the map and ink with water from Poland in the rest, for example, it demonstrates the map wasn't produced by the same scribe in spite of the similar palaeographical features....and I'm going off my memory so may be misreporting a fact or two.

But who wouldn't want to know precisely where Junius 11 was produced? Or the Augustine Gospels? Certainly there are others, Boernianus would be a good one to consider. Anyway, worth thinking about....find the water, find the origin site.

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