Background and Aims of A Scroll Approach to the Formation of the Hebrew Bible

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David McLain Carr


This essay is an updated proposal for a material historical scroll approach to the formation of the Hebrew Bible, particularly the Pentateuch (cf. Carr in Zeitschrift für die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 2020). Since this approach draws on data concerning scroll practices in nearby ancient cultures, the article provides a brief survey of potentially significant aspects of ancient Egyptian, Levantine, Greek, Demotic and Second Temple Jewish practices surrounding literary scrolls—how compositions (or parts of them) were inscribed on them, scroll length ranges and types, and ways in which existing scrolls were revised. This preliminary survey suggests that a substantial shift occurred around early Hellenistic period toward development of scrolls with unusually high carrying capacity (both in writing density and length), facilitating somewhat of a media revolution in the amount of literary material that could be recorded on a single written object. Though possibly prompted in part by Greek writing practices and technologies, this development toward use of some high-carrying-capacity scrolls seems associated with some temple and priest-adjacent preservationist scribal contexts where scribes used such high-carrying-capacity scrolls to conserve indigenous literary traditions amidst a broader environment dominated by another language. These and other findings have significant implications for exploring the complex relation between written artifacts and memorized/performed textual works in the Ancient Near East and the development of models for the inscription of Hebrew textual traditions across scrolls in the pre-Hellenistic and Greco-Roman periods. In addition, the article proposes several measures and terms that might be adapted to discuss scroll features across multiple culture areas, such as letter spaces (or the quadrat or other equivalent for Egyptian sign systems) per linear centimeter, cumulative line space, and square centimeters of white space per linear centimeter.

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