A Genius for Mentorship: A Forum in Honor of Ben Wright on his 65th Birthday
~ presented by his students ~
The Role of Wisdom for the Scribe and Scholar
James M. Tucker
חכמת סופר תרבה חכמה וחס֗ר֯ ע֗סק ה֗וא ית֗ח֗כ֯ם֯
The wisdom of the scribe multiplies wisdom, and he who lacks business can make himself wise
In the summer of 2013, Ben Wright offered Scribal Processes in Greek and Hebrew: The Case of Ben Sira as a week-long intensive course in the Göttingen International Summer School. Both the title of the course and the scholar lecturing on the topic gripped my attention. The course topic interested me because I was working on questions of scribal processes in the transmission of the Qumran Isaiah manuscripts. Despite the difference in corpus, I sensed a methodological need to address questions of scribalism at the level of cognition and hermeneutics. The scholar interested me because I had not met Ben Wright in person, although I had read a great deal of his research on Ben Sira. I surmised that Ben Wright would be just the sort of scholar with whom to discuss issues related to Second Temple Jewish scribalism. That week of study proved to be rich in content, and it marked the beginning of an ongoing friendship for which I am grateful. In this brief essay, I would like to discuss how questions of scribalism continue to shape my research, in connection to both my editorial work of a digital edition of Damascus Covenant and Serekh ha-Yaḥad (The Rule of the Community) in the Scripta Qumranica Electronica project and my doctoral thesis at the University of Toronto. Ben Wright’s influence on my thinking will be apparent.
In recent years, a shift has occurred whereby it is important to address the role of the scribe in Second Temple Judaism. Consequently, important questions about scribalism have resulted in a better understanding of Second Temple Judaism. Questions such as: in the post-exilic era, did the role of the scribe morph from one of a secretary to one of a sage to one of a seer? How did ancient Jewish scribes envision their own tasks? Were their tasks conceived from within semantic frames of legal discourse, didactic contexts, socio-economic contexts, and/or were their tasks envisioned as liturgical performances? What relationship existed between the archived scrolls of Qumran and the voices which once gave sound to the text of these scrolls? How did ancient scribes learn techniques of translation, copying, and writing? These are only a few questions which have occupied Qumran scholarship in recent years, and Ben has addressed many within the context of Ben Sira and Septuagint studies. Today, I would like to add one more question as it pertains to my current research on the manuscripts of Serekh ha Yaḥad and the Damascus Covenant.
In my doctoral research on Serekh ha Yaḥad, I raise the question: how does the modern literary notion of work or composition relate to the Second Temple manuscripts and fragments of Serekh ha Yaḥad? To pose the question in such a way relates backwards to the operative philological methods which have been influential in our fields of Qumran, Hebrew Bible, and Septuagint studies. That is, the notion of work or composition as a literary entity becomes a defining force which guides our text-critical practices, resulting in textual editions upon which we then perform our critical analysis. Within this framework, the diversity of textual data becomes homogenized, and presented in various stemmatic relationships. At the origin of the stemma, we find the so-called singular, authorial text. The various stemmatic branches, furthermore, showcase a historical reconstruction of authorial intention. The operative criterion of filial relationships is the textual errors which accumulated during the transmission history. Within this philological framework, the notion of work or composition is often conceived as a Platonised text, to which all other material manuscripts are mere witnesses to the anterior form of the author’s intended text.
In the previous paragraph, I describe the well-known philological method of Lachmannian Philology, a method of textual study birthed in the Enlightenment. To be sure, there are powerful analytical tools within the methods of Lachmannian Philology. The process of collation is an essential tool for learning of textual differences and similarities, yet it already was an analytical tool used in ancient Hellenistic textual studies. The contribution of Lachmann, however, was to combine genealogical epistemology with the process of collation, as an attempt to arrive at a singular, authorial text. This philological method, however, has since been heavily criticised by scholars of the New Philological movement, a poor name for what is an otherwise important philological framework.
It is often claimed that there is not much new in New Philology. Such a claim, however, overlooks the central point in Stephen Nichols’ important 1990 essay entitled Philology in a Manuscript Culture. Nichols’ use of term new was framed within his desire to renew philological inquiry in light of the arguments of literary scholars such as René Wellek and Austin Warren, who argued that the term philology should be abandoned. Nichols argued that “technological and intellectual movements” influenced philologists, such as Leo Spitzer and Erich Auerbach, to adopt a singular text (a Lachmannian Text) upon which to conduct their literary studies. The technological and intellectual movements were, according to Nichols, an amalgamation of the humanistic advances of the printing press and Protestant Reformation. In Nichols’ view, the convergence of technology and humanism was borne from a need “to collect and edit manuscripts from the ancient world to better articulate principles of moral philosophy and theology, while the printing press permitted the fixing and dissemination of source and the new principles predicated upon them.” My interest is not whether Nichols’ argument regarding the merger of the Reformation and printing press is historically accurate, but that the printing press founded a philological method which sought to disseminate a printed, singular authorial text—a process which ironically divested manuscript cultures of the very humanistic expressions of its scribal productions. Nevertheless, how does this relate to the notions of work or composition?
Nichols’ arguments and proposal of renewing philological studies, apart from the cognitive framing of the printing press, were made possible by Paul Zumthor and Bernard Cerquiglini. Zumthor and Cerquiglini were both influenced by post-structuralist thinkers such as Jacques Derrida, Roland Barthes, and Michel Foucault. It should be recalled that it was Foucault who once argued, “A theory of the work does not exist, and the empirical task of those naively undertake the editing of works often suffers in the absence of such a theory.” Foucault’s statement about the literary work directly relates to his view regarding the inherited qualities of a work in relationship to an author. Barthes had argued for the “death of the author,” and Foucault made the next step to call for the death of the work. Time curtails an extensive discussion, but the point is that the post-structuralist influence of Derrida and Barthes—the propensity of deferring meaning in the ongoing relationships of signs to other signs—influenced Cerquiglini and Zumthor in different ways.
Curiously, each took a different approach in how they would address the ideas of work and author—but each would ultimately rely on social conceptions of meaning. On the one hand, Cerquiglini prioritized the individual documents, saying, “… the fact that one [scribal] hand was the first was probably less important than this continual rewriting of a work that belonged to whoever prepared it and gave it form once again.” The multiplicity of documents becomes the bedrock for Cerquiglini’s infamous quote, “Now, medieval writing does not produce variants; it is variance.” On the other hand, Zumthor push backed variance into the oral realm, and coined the term mouvance. Zumthor reasoned,
The ‘work’ floats, offering not a fixed shape of firm boundaries but a constantly shifting nimbus. … The term work cannot, therefore, be understood in its modern sense. It refers, however, to something that undoubtedly had real existence, as a complex but easily recognizable entity, made up from the sum of material witnesses to current versions. These were the synthesis of signs used by successive ‘authors’ … and of the text’s own existence in the letter. The form-meaning nexus thus generated is thereby called in question. The work is fundamentally unstable. Properly speaking it has no end; it merely accepts to come to an end, at a given point, for whatever reasons. The work exists outside and hierarchically above its textual manifestations…
Thus, Zumthor categorized work in symbolic terms to langue and the text in equivalent terms to parole, in a similar fashion to Ferdinand de Saussure’s structuralist assumptions of language. That is, the work takes on a Platonised, atemporal form to which then a text is a temporalized manifestation.
In all of this discussion of “work,” we must now raise the question: did ancient Jewish scribes have an idea of work or composition? Was their scribal practice somehow indicative to their notions of document, text, work, or composition? How did they perceive textual ontology? Was it, like Cerquiglini suggests, more about the important process of rewriting, or did their perceptions of the text fall more in line with Zumthor’s Platonised textual ontology? More importantly, how can we know either way? On the one hand, how do texts like Serekh ha Yaḥad and Damascus Document help us understand Second Temple Jewish scribalism? On the other hand, how do our philological frameworks and hermeneutical tendencies already predispose us to certain conclusions about texts like Serekh ha Yaḥad and Damascus Document?
These are the philological questions I raise in my doctoral thesis. In order to provide an answer to these questions, I move beyond traditional philological methods to adopt what I call Artefactual Philology, a blending of material artefacts with cognitive artefacts. I say “move beyond” because there is some merit to the Lachmannian Philological method, yet it must nevertheless be critically analyzed in light of the quickly evolving philological discussions and advances in the field of cognitive studies. This development must also include the many insights we are learning from born-digital scholarly editions. Lachmannian Philology predisposes us to ask questions about transmission from the perspective of posterior texts to anterior texts. What is required is a philological method to analyze what cognitive issues led scribes to develop the semantic contours of text A in relationship to text B, etc. A digital environment provides new schemas and models to envision textual ontologies, and Cognitive Linguistics provides important epistemological developments about language and semantics.
To conclude, I mentioned above the importance that Ben Wright’s research has had on my thinking. His research and insights on Ben Sira have influenced me in various ways, especially as I attempt to move beyond the Enlightenment ideals of text and work, to approach the material fragments and scrolls from within different cognitive frames. The task is difficult, but Ben serves as an exemplar of the importance of developing textual ontologies in close connection with the primary sources. In many ways, Ben Wright has taken on the indexical “I” of Ben Sira to share his scholarly wisdom. I hope the above attests to a student who has listened.
Barthes, Roland. “The Death of the Author.” Pages 142–148 in Image-Music-Text. New York: Hill and Wang, 1977.
Cerquiglini, Bernard. In Praise of the Variant: A Critical History of Philology. Translated by Betsy Wing. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999.
Foucault, Michel. The Foucault Reader. Edited by Paul Rabinow. New York: Pantheon Books, 1984.
———. “What Is an Author?” Pages 141–160 in Textual Strategies: Perspectives in the Post-Structuralist Criticism. Edited by Josué V. Harari, Translated by Josué V. Harari. New York: Cornell University Press, 1979.
Eggert, Paul. Securing the Past: Conservation in Art Architecture and Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009.
Greetham, D. C. Theories of the Text. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.
Nichols, Stephen. “Philology in a Manuscript Culture.” Speculum: A Journal of Medieval Studies 65.1 (1990): 1–10.
Wellek, René, and Austin Warren. Theory of Literature. 3rd ed. New York: Penguin Press, 1956.
Zumthor, Paul. Essai de poétique médiévale. Éditions du Seuil, 1972.
———. Toward a Medieval Poetics. Translated by Philip Bennett. Minneapolis: University of Minneapolis Press, 1992.
James M. Tucker currently resides in Göttingen, Germany. He is a research fellow on the project Scripta Qumranica Electronica, where he is working on a new digital edition of Serekh ha-Yaḥad (“Rule of the Community”) and Damascus Covenant. He is also completing his Ph.D. at the University of Toronto, under the supervision of Sarianna Metso. James' dissertation navigates from ink traces to ideology in a new critical study of the development of Serekh ha-Yaḥad.
 Stephen Nichols, “Philology in a Manuscript Culture,” Speculum: A Journal of Medieval Studies 65.1 (1990): 1–10.
 René Wellek and Austin Warren, Theory of Literature, 3rd ed. (New York: Penguin Press, 1956), 38.
 Nichols, “Philology in a Manuscript Culture,” 2.
 Michel Foucault, The Foucault Reader, ed. Paul Rabinow (New York: Pantheon Books, 1984), 104; published also in id., “What Is an Author?,” in Textual Strategies: Perspectives in the Post-Structuralist Criticism, ed. Josué V. Harari, trans. Josué V. Harari (New York: Cornell University Press, 1979), 141–160.
 Roland Barthes, “The Death of the Author,” in Image-Music-Text (New York: Hill and Wang, 1977), 142–148.
 Bernard Cerquiglini, In Praise of the Variant: A Critical History of Philology, trans. Betsy Wing (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999), 33.
 Ibid., 77–78.
 Paul Zumthor, Toward a Medieval Poetics, trans. Philip Bennett (Minneapolis: University of Minneapolis Press, 1992), 47–48; published originally as Paul Zumthor, Essai de poétique médiévale (Éditions du Seuil, 1972).
 On this important point, see further discussion by D. C. Greetham, Theories of the Text (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 26–63.