Scribal Production and Literacy at Qumran: Considerations of Page Layout and Style

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The debate surrounding the levels and functions of literacy at Qumran centres mainly on two questions: who made the Scrolls and who read them (and whether they are the same). Previous studies have argued strongly in favour of unusually high literacy at Qumran on the basis of the mainly literary nature of the manuscripts. Accordingly, the function and status of scribes at Qumran is often raised to the level of intellectual sages, forming a humble literary community of isolated scholars. However, recent studies on literacy in antiquity indicate that most scribes had a low socioeconomic status and engaged primarily in administrative functions, and that the copying of literary manuscripts was a low-status task, not the job of a sage or scholar. To better understand literacy issues at Qumran, this short study proposes that one small but important factor which can contribute to the debate of literacy at Qumran is page layout (mise en page) and formatting in manuscripts, for example: script size and grades, variations of spacing, lack of line-by-line copying across manuscripts, avoidance of sheet imperfections, regularity of script and scribal marks, and overall use of space and balance across sheets. Page layout brings to light several considerations: the competence of scribes, relationship to wider scribal practices in the Mediterranean, manuscript function (readership), and lastly, evidence of socially cooperative activity during manuscript production. The aim is to begin to construct a fresh picture of Qumran literacy centred on manuscript copying practices, and with renewed focus on the social nature of scribal activity.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMaterial Aspects of Reading in Ancient and Medieval Cultures
Subtitle of host publicationMateriality, Presence, and Performance
EditorsJonas Leipziger, Anna Krauß, Friederike Schücking-Jungblut
Place of PublicationBerlin
PublisherWalter de Gruyter GmbH
ISBN (Electronic)978-3-11-063924-7
ISBN (Print)978-3-11-063585-0
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2020
EventMaterial Aspects of Reading: International Conference - Heidelberg Center for Jewish Studies, University of Heidelberg, Heidelberg, Germany
Duration: 11 Feb 201813 Feb 2018

Publication series

NameMateriale Textkulturen
PublisherWalter de Gruyter
ISSN (Print)2198-6932
ISSN (Electronic)2198-6940


ConferenceMaterial Aspects of Reading


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