another credit to Nick Pelling

[one correction – 5/01/2017.  Text and pictures still as published on April 27, 2016 .]

Folio 93v left to right (detail) No.4

(detail) f.93v

With regard to those details from folio 93v which I recently brought to notice here for the script they carry, Nick Pelling again deserves credit for having mentioned, and linked to, an opinion he did not share, namely that of a person who  said to him in 2009 that (to quote Pelling),  the Voynich Manuscript is a transliterated Arabic document written down “using a kind of [old-fashioned] Jewish script” ‘. [1]

detail from f.93v

detail from f.93v

I should be inclined to posit a Yemeni script, once available equally to Jews, Radhanites and Muslims… but I won’t.  That’s for palaeographers, epigraphers and linguists to say.

More to the point, that same researcher, who was anonymous by choice in 2009, had something else in common with an unknown number of Voynich researchers: he had apparently crossed the line between his professional work in one of the pragmatic sciences, to the more difficult and demanding style of the critical sciences, the better to study this manuscript.

His qualifications were as a computer systems analyst and I know of two(?) others from that profession who have later begun delving into the study of history, iconography, codicology or palaeography.  One, of course, is Rene Zandbergen as everyone will know, but an interesting third(?) is Joachim Dathe, who arrived in 2012.  One wonders how many more computer systems analysts may be Voynicheros, and just what makes manuscript studies a subject of such interest to them.  In any case, in 2012  Joachim said he believed that the Voynich plain text was ‘a funny sort of Arabic’ and wrote a little exe. program for its translation.

As was his custom in those days Pelling brought this new researcher to others’  notice too, writing a post entitled  ‘2012 Voynich Arabic Theory‘  ( March 2012).

Not that Pelling was enthusiastic, but his comments weren’t that “dry ice” sort which eventually drove Dathe from Santacoloma’s mailing list, as it had so many other innovative ideas and interesting new approaches – especially when the research brought up results conflicting with the two or three most admired theories: Santacoloma’s “fake” theory; Zandbergen’s “German” theory, and (scarcely mentioned on that list) Pelling’s ‘Averlino” theory..

I don’t think, either, that the plaintext is Arabic. When an expert in Arabic such as ‘SirHubert’ says that whatever it is, classical Arabic it is not,  I accept the expert opinion.  What was so missing from the reception given Dathe’s proposal was that wider-ranging consideration of related ideas which is intrinsic to most discussion in the critical sciences – sort of “if not exactly Arabic, could it be some related language or dialect?” sort of exploration.

Since the demise of the first mailing list, there has only recently been seen responses other than a fairly machine-like “Yes/No, tick/cross the box” type.  Speaking of which, SirHubert himself seems to have warned against this “dead” sort of reaction to new approaches when he wrote, some years ago, that:

.. breaking ciphers is all about testing hypotheses and finding *the* consistent solution, of which there will be only one. Historical research doesn’t admit of one neat solution and works very differently.

“SirHubert” (ciphermysteries, December 10, 2013)

I had hoped Dathe’s proposal might elicit musings or research about non-classical forms of Arabic, about languages and dialects used in Arabia before the Islamic period, or of how an ‘ancient Hebrew script’ might relate to a ‘not-quite-classical-Arabic’.  What of Sabaic and Mehri [Mahri] I was thinking.  Have we any record of  Jewish-Yemeni dialects or of an Arabic sub-group written in Hebrew, or of Hebrew written in Arabic script?

From about 2002 until very recently, what we saw was ‘theory-teams’ writing nice notes to each other while flaming,  ignoring or proselytizing the newcomers. Unsurprisingly, the field as such didn’t advance for the next fourteen years, except for a late recognition of Pelling’s work on the codicology and palaeography, although ‘recognition’ may not be quite the word I’m after.

The silence has sometimes been quite appalling, given the qualifications and experience of the contributor.  Look at comments to Anna  Emma May Smith’s blog ‘Agnostic Voynich’ , for example.  What comments? you will ask  – which exactly my point.

However,  the new  “third-wave” of Voynich researchers,  emerging at of late, seems to promise a return to the first list’s co-operative and exploratory style – more engaged and more wide-ranging, able to consider ideas a given researcher hasn’t considered before, and which might even contradict  a blooming theory!

Let’s hope the trend continues, because the previous fourteen years hasn’t advanced the study of this manuscript a single step, and advances by individuals have been disregarded unless the person subscribed to a ‘theory team’.  Speaking of which – where is Don Hoffmann these days? We owe him for identifying the orthography of the month-names, for looking at France despite discouragement, and for having a brave new take on the structure of the text – about which last I have no opinion, of course.  His website  is here.

Like Dathe, Hoffmann, and any number of others (including Artur Sixto), those not conforming to a dominant theory tend to be flamed-and-frozen out, denied recognition, denied the opportunity to explore and refine their work by conversation with others sufficiently qualified and experienced enough to refine, without trying to re-define, a proposal related to linguistics, history, art or any other relevant subject.

I certainly wish every good thing, and hope it will not succumb to “theory-team disease”.

Could it be that the text is, in fact, a ‘funny sort of Arabic’ in an ‘ancient Hebrew script’? I don’t know – nobody bothered to explore the possibility, so far as I know, after 2009, and there has been absolutely no response from Voynicheros to my having brought those inscriptions in folio 93v to their attention ….  Why not?


1.  ‘Jewish Arabic Voynich theory‘.  I might take the opportunity to correct the text of my comment to that post, typed from a keyboard in its death-throes in 2010. Corrections in blue.

Because it is rare, here’s a description of Sethites from text 43 in The Nabatean Agriculture:

“They let their beard grow long, but they shave their moustache; they wrap themselves in loincloths, the bfringes of which they have made long, but they forbid the wearing of  t’aylasan, and laugh at those who wear it, calling them the followers of female magicians (sahirat). They themselves wear shows shawls and loincloths four cubits long so that the fringes drag behind them when they walk. They make dots in each corner of the cloth, four dots of saffron in each corner. They also plait their hair in baths and dye it with henna, wear blue or green turbans which they wrap around their forehead. They fight and compete in argument with each other. When they walk or speak with someone, they try to make you think that they [never?] look at the sky, being afraid of the gods…they dedicate themselves above others to the star of Saturn. (p.296)

December 18, 2010 at 2:35 pm

[Note here ‘Saturn’ might refer to  the constellation of Perseus, the ‘destroyer’ and proverbially the death-bringer in near eastern astronomical lore – rather than the planet/messenger so-named].

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s