Dr. Sara Milstein’s book, Tracking the Master Scribe: Revision through Introduction in Biblical and Mesopotamian Literature (Oxford University Press) has just been published!
When we encounter a text, whether ancient or modern, we typically start at the beginning and work our way toward the end. In Tracking the Master Scribe, Sara J. Milstein demonstrates that for biblical and Mesopotamian literature, this habit can lead to misinterpretation.
In the ancient Near East, “master scribes”–those who had the authority to produce and revise literature–regularly modified their texts in the course of transmission. One of the most effective techniques for change was to add something new to the front, what Milstein calls “revision through introduction.” This method allowed scribes to preserve their received material while simultaneously recasting it. As a result, many biblical and Mesopotamian texts continue to be interpreted solely through the lens of their final contributions. First impressions carry weight
Tracking the Master Scribe demonstrates what is to be gained when we engage questions of literary history in the context of how scribes actually worked. Drawing upon the two earliest corpora that allow us to track large-scale change, the book provides substantial hard evidence of revision through introduction, as well as a set of detailed case studies that offer fresh insight into well-known biblical and Mesopotamian texts. The result is the first comprehensive profile of this key scribal method: one that was ubiquitous in the ancient Near East and epitomizes the attitudes of the master scribes toward the literature that they left behind.