Job Search – Ups and Downs

The coronavirus has hit society hard, revealing many weaknesses in our social system, but also highlighting some newfound strengths. One newfound strength is, I would say, how we can embrace digital technologies to advance knowledge. This has been underlined by the many conferences that have opted to embrace digital technologies to hold various virtual conferences. I particularly like this format, for it can easily serve a broader audience, ensure academic standards of tracking ideas, and enable a larger conversation to transpire about a given topic.

Whereas there are newfound strengths, the coronavirus has wreaked havoc on an already dim academic job market. As I am eagerly searching to get away from my current position, I was happy to learn that I was short listed for the recent post-doc position at the Lying Pen Project. I withdrew my application because I was not able to submit my doctoral thesis at their specific date—another consequence of coronavirus! I had mixed feelings about withdrawing my application. There are so few positions right now, it was difficult. I greatly admire the the people who are leading the project, and their academic ethics align with my own. Alas! I am still on the hunt. But I thought I would share my project proposal. I was rather happy with it, although I would suggest it requires more attention to detail and focus on outputs.

As I highly doubt I will continue with Dead Sea Scrolls research in the future, I am sharing my application here. I think Qumran studies needs to dissolve into the fields of Ancient Jewish studies, Rabbinics, and Early Christianities. The following application, in fact, reasons towards more broadly defined ideas of analysing text and text reuse, by pushing beyond the confines of traditional Qumran studies to broader frames of meaning and reference.

Manufacturing Consent: Digital Methods and Models for Studying Second Temple Scribal Media and Legal Authority

James M. Tucker

The fragmentary nature of the Dead Sea Scrolls poses a significant challenge for understanding the various sociological, theological, and legal issues in the Commonwealth of Second Temple Judaism. In the past, scholars have resorted to conjectural readings to fill various lacuna, yet often times they do not explain their linguistic decisions apropos the fields of historical linguistics or semantics. Conversely, some scholars have resorted to material reconstructions, analysing various damage patterns, yet they do not consider the implications of textual reconstruction. The various processes of reconstruction—textual and material—are not binary processes of philological analysis when one approaches manuscripts as artefacts. When approaching the Dead Sea Scrolls from a material philological perspective, both the ink used to make characters and the parchment or papyrus used to make a manuscript are mutually related, spatially dependent domains of information that work in tandem. To address the fragmentary nature of the Dead Sea Scrolls, therefore, requires a robust interdisciplinary method that implements recent advancements from the fields of digital palaeographical models, historical linguistic data (computational linguistics), and high-resolution images of the material data modelled within a 2D and 3D environment. My project proposal therefore aims to flush out this interdisciplinary and digital humanist approach and apply it to a select few of the Dead Sea Scrolls, so to make 2D and 3D reconstructions.

To flush out the method, I aim to revise and publish my doctoral thesis, From Ink Traces to Ideology: The Material, Text, and Compositional Development of The Community Rule Manuscripts at Qumran (©2020 University of Toronto). I plan to publish the thesis in a two-volume format. The first volume will contain a collection of essays on best practices in digital humanities and new 2D and 3D editions of The Community Rule. These essays relate to a great deal of preliminary work that was required in order to write the thesis. In the second volume, I will revise the submitted thesis.

When I began research for my thesis, I soon realised that I needed to make new editions of these manuscripts. The reasons for new editions are rooted in the various issues articulated above regarding textual and material reconstructions. Previous editors would make claims regarding textual reconstructions or material reconstructions inasmuch as so many characters could or could not fit in a given lacuna or a cluster of fragments should be spaced so far apart without considering what text could reasonably fill the lacuna. There was no way to analyse their proposals—yet significant theories of textual transmission have been proposed apart from a thorough material and philological study of The Community Rule manuscripts. As a way to move forward, I devised a workflow that begins with what I call fragment editions (see example here: http://bit.ly/3cqxeDc), then progress to reconstruct sheets of a scroll, then seek to reconstruct the sheets into a 2D scroll which can then serve as the basis for a 3D reconstruction—thereby reverse engineering the process of how scrolls were produced in antiquity.

To devise a method to reverse engineer, I developed new methods of material reconstruction and philological study of the Dead Sea Scrolls by adopting best practices in the digital humanities. This entails that I engineered a relational database model that is able to host various domains of information, such as, material damage patterns, ink traces, transcriptions, morphological tagging, semantic frame recognition, and automated methods of textual collation. With this information structured and modelled in a database format, it is possible to query this data to solve various philological issues and analyse scribal practices. What is more, it is possible to use this data in machine learning algorithms so as to shed even more light on issues of material philological analysis. In the framework on this application, I would like to expand this database for machine learning algorithms to compute various material, palaeographical, and textual features to compare with and against the post-2002 fragments.

In an essay entitled, Modern Bibliography and the Literary Artifact, Fredrick Bateson (1959) poses the question: If the Mona Lisa is in the Louvre, where are Hamlet and Lycidas? It seems to me that Bateson’s question intrigues philologists for a particular reason. The question conjoins the materiality of literature and the semantic functions of a text with issues of epistemological appropriation and an object’s importance for a given culture. In response to Bateson’s question, James McLaverty (1984) observes that, “The question of the mode of existence of literary works … seems to be closely tied up with questions of identity and with differences between the arts.” To my mind, the sort of material database I have in mind is applicable for not only a material analysis of provenanced discoveries, but also can serve as a pool of data to compare with and against manufactured or forged fragments, so as to clearly articulate similarities and differences.

Whereas I designed this database to address issues of material reconstruction of The Community Rule documents, it was also designed to expand so as to accompany the entirety of the Judean Desert material—as well as any other cache of manuscripts for that matter. It would be my pleasure to collaborate together on making an updated version of this database within the framework of the Lying Pen project.

Alongside revising my thesis for publication, I would like to develop the database in terms of scriptural citations in various Qumran legal texts in comparison to Rabbinic compendia and Greco-Roman sources. Above, I mentioned that I have accounted for semantic frame recognition in the database. Frame-semantics is a cutting-edge method of lexicographical research. I would like to incorporate the lexicographical insights of frame-semantics into a literary study of several of the Qumran legal texts apropos issues of scriptural quotations and/or illusions. By focusing on a frame-semantic analysis of scriptural citations and subtexts in Miqṣat Maʿaśe ha-Torah, (4QMMT), The Community Rule, Damascus Covenant, and Pesharim, I propose to analyse how notions of authority are schematised by the use of anterior sources (i.e., quotations or allusions) within the context of its quotation or allusion. Furthermore, I will then use the data model within a Natural Language Processing algorithm (word2vec, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Word2vec), so that it would be possible to analyse and compare how other interpretive traditions in Rabbinic and Greco-Roman cultures used the same anterior source differently or similarly. I would like to publish the results of these studies in journal articles—one article to introduce the method in a digital humanities journal, and each text listed above in a biblical studies/Qumran related journal. At the conclusion of the study, I would like to edit the articles into a volume on a comparative and computational analysis of legal interpretation at Qumran in comparison to synchronic Greco-Roman sources and the diachronically later Rabbinic compendia.

To conclude this project proposal, I would like to tie together some of the above ideas with respect to a forger and ancient scribes. An ancient scribe might appropriate the words from anterior sources within a semantic frame of authority, so as to manufacture consent of his views or ideology. The Damascus Covenant in particular seems to push an ideology of law and authority which is very similar to The Community Rule. A forger seems to manufacture authority, by passing off a text as though it were a Mona Lisa. The forger attempts to persuade his audience of authenticity by confusing the differences between a type and a token. We all read the Hebrew Bible or Mishnah from printed editions, electronic editions, study editions, readers editions, or from modern Torah scrolls. These are types. The forger wants us to see a type as a token, as an artefact from a bygone culture. The project I have proposed here seeks to examine how an analysis of Second Temple scribal media and practices can advance the field of Qumran studies by embracing digital methods, to understand and distinguish between the artefact and the artificial.

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