Is There a Mechanism for Ancient Redaction?

Form critics and redaction critics often talk about “material” in the Old Testament. They mention the reordering of material, the change of material, the insertion of material and the deletion of material. Often a “later hand” is mentioned as having redacted, edited, rearranged and removed sections of the so-called “original” text of whatever author or prophet that is under discussion. While I think there are problems with this type of biblical criticism on presuppositional/philosophical grounds and on literary grounds in general, I have a very simple question for these critics: What mechanism would ancient scribes use to perform such re-arrangements?

If our scribes in question lived in the Ancient Near East and wrote on papyrus scrolls and often lived under threat of war, poverty and political unrest…then how could they make the removals, reorderings and other such things necessitated by redaction criticism? Papyrus was expensive, very expensive. I can’t imagine a scribe taking an old scroll and going through trying to copy down the material in a different order than was written on the old scroll. I can imagine pieces of papyri getting out order, but I can’t imagine an intentional rearrangement of a text for theological or hermeneutical purposes. Perhaps I need someone to explain how this process could work in the ancient world.

If I were a scribe, I can imagine making mistakes or even leaving things out that I didn’t like, but excising passages and inserting them elsewhere and then remembering that I had done that so I don’t repeat the passage later seems almost impossible. I would have to literally cut up the old scroll and arrange it like a jigsaw puzzle which would be unthinkable! Or I would have to keep a detailed list of passages that I was “rearranging” without the convenience of verse and chapter numbers. I just don’t get it. It seems a near impossible activity for an ancient scribe.

I can imagine doing such an activity on Microsoft Word. I could just highlight, cut and paste. But that’s a far cry from a beat up scroll, a limited amount of very expensive paper, a feather pen, an ink jar and a candle.

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