The Other Side of Scribal Culture

If you haven seen it, you might want to drop by Seth Sanders’ place and read his discussion of what he calls “Scribal Culture’s Shadow Tradition.” I may be giving too much away but here are his concluding remarks.

When we think about the uses of writing in the first-millennium BCE Levant, we tend to begin with the big, famous corpora of Mesopotamian and Egyptian scholastic life. But we need to be aware that there was a widely distributed, and in some ways more important “stream of tradition” that was nothing at all like the schools of the city-states and empires. How do you do the paleography of this shadow tradition? What was its relationship to the cultures and polities of the period? And as passionately as some of us are drawn to big, strong empires, does the evidence suggest that texts like the Gezer, Zayit and Qeiyafa inscriptions are closer to this type of shadow tradition than they are to, say, the vast and carefully organized Mesopotamian compendia of omens and signs being written during the same period? I suspect these questions will only become more important and interesting in coming years.

I can’t help but wonder what we would think of the scribal culture at Ugarit if all we had were texts like KTU 5.22. I know that one can not argue from what we don’t have or from what might be if we didn’t know so much as we do but I still can’t help wondering. My wonder is increased when I consider the possibility that the most common media in the first millennium BCE (southern) Levant was not so lasting as clay, or stone, or pot sherds. Texts like KTU 5.22 and KTU 4.31 on the one hand or KTU 1.79 and KTU 1.80 on the other sure look like they too represent “scribal culture’s shadow tradition.”