Duane Smith at Abnormal Interests has some good comments concerning Tappy, McCarter, Lundberg, and Zuckerman’s publication of the Tel Zayit abcedary that appeared in the November 2006 edition of BASOR. Another good article in this volume is Christopher Rollston’s essay, Scribal Education in Ancient Israel: The Old Hebrew Epigraphic Evidence.
Through a syn- and diachronic analysis of the orthography and dialectal formations of northern and southern Hebrew inscriptions, Rollston argues that there were probably formal scribal schools in ancient Israel beginning with the establishment of the monarchy. He states that consistency seen in the spelling of diphthongs and the graphic formation of letters–particularly the fact that the Old Hebrew samek was consistently written above the “ceiling line”–demonstrates the existence of ancient scribal schools:
Old Hebrew scribes were meticulous about the morphology and stance of the letters they penned, but in addition, they were also meticulous about maintaining precise conventional spatial relationships of letters. I would argue that this sort of precision must be the result of specialized curricular training in script production (59).
It must be stated that Rollston does not assert that formal schools mean dedicated buildings for the exclusive purpose of training scribes. He merely states that scribes had a formalized education which may have taken place in the residence of practicing scribes–an apprenticeship of sorts.
Rollston stems from the Cross school of epigraphy (N.B. I come from the Kaufman school, Stephen A. Kaufman, not I. T. Kaufman who did his work under Cross and whom Rollston also mentions) but, Rollston tips his hat to Kaufman in note 9 on pages 50-51 in which he states “Suffice it to say that I believe the critiques of palaeography by S. Kaufman (1986) and B. Zuckerman (2003) are important, and I will be responding especially to these in another venue.” However, he then proceeds in Crossian fashion. In spite of this, I find Rollston’s proposition appealing. I don’t think it is a closed case on the presence of formal scribal curriculum in ancient Israel and Judah, but I do think Rollston lends a degree of support to this possibility.
I await Rollston’s response to Kaufman, possibly in his forthcoming Writing and Literacy in the World of Ancient Israel by Brill (I just hope the volume isn’t $500)?
What do you think about Rollston’s proposition?