The great strangeness about Voynich studies is not so much its intransigent addiction to theory-spinning, nor its regular failure to address contrary evidence save by ignoring the evidence or flaming the researcher who draws attention to it, nor even a constant confusion of observations with theory, but the fact that such woolly thinking ceases as soon as the topic is a statistical analysis of the text’s written part. As if a line made into script was any more objective or informative than one made into a picture.
But it is quite remarkable to see how, with the change of focus, the very same torch-carrying wolves in bovver-boots who have just mercilessly attacked a linguist, or an art historian, or a palaeographer, or codicologist, become suddenly quite calm, rational thinkers who would never in a million years confuse an “idea” with a conclusion from research, nor call a data set a “theory” or an ‘idea’.
In processing statistical information the wolf becomes the lamb. A wonderous transformation.
Why does that dichotomy exist among Voynicheros?
Speaking of which – of late, some otherwise intelligent persons have been conned into thinking that my having recognised a single line of micrographic script in one folio (f.9v) should be interpreted, not as possible evidence for Jewish influence, but as proof that I am a “neo-Newboldian”.
If the notion began from some newbie’s ignorance of what a ‘micrographic script’ is, surely someone else might have referred them to the fifteen examples offered by the British Library’s online catalogue, or perhaps this page from the Bodleian, or even the primary evidence – in this case my post?
It seems to me that it’s theory-making that appeals to most Voynicheros, and since the old theories are tired, let’s create another of equal quality, but do so with more originality and élan. Nonsense should be fun, shouldn’t it?
So here’s how it’s done.
- that there is a group, or an individual, who hasn’t yet been cowed, and who holds that Stolfi’s analysis of the text was correct and that the underlying language is probably Jurchen.
2. another group, or individual, insufficiently deterred as yet, who dares say in public that they think the cursive and monumental forms of middle Sabaic might explain many or most glyphs used for the Voynich script.
These two parties might then argue their case round and round for years, each trying to disprove the other’s views and resorting to insinuations of everything from publicity-seeking to pareidolia to gain brownie-points in a ‘theory-war’.
For the historian, however, the question will probably not be which party deserves his vote but – say – why there is so little consensus on the data: the materials, script, or other content which should permit a balanced observer to decide between these two narrative-lines.
What does the object itself say, and what does history say, by which one might judge the one idea justified but not the other, or which might show that both are impossible, or that the two are not inconsistent with each other?
Our (theoretical) historian is able to say:
As it happens, we do know that during the Yemeni diaspora, some of those obliged to leave did settle around Oman and the mouth of the Indus river, and that others went further up that valley, into what is modern day Afghanistan.
There is no doubt that people whose roots lay in the Yemen also participated in trade and travel across the northern roads from that time onwards.
It is not impossible, then, that these might have retained their older script for centuries, just as we see the Copts kept theirs, the Jews or the Nestorians theirs, and the Latins theirs, despite the original languages’ falling from daily use. It happens. And just by the way, there’s more evidence for it’s happening than for Rudolf’s laying out twice a king’s ransom to some anonymous random with a ratty looking manuscript, or that a formally-trained Renaissance architect would forget how to draw a straight line.
But to resume:
During the century just before the rise of the Mongols, a group known to history as the Qara Khitai left China and moved west into central Asia, remaining Chinese in culture and religion, but ruling over a people already converted to Islam.
Both the rulers and the ruled retained their own religion and customs. Jurchen was one of the kingdom’s official languages.
And so – in theory – the local population could have used a non-Chinese script to write Jurchen. In theory, such a script might have been that derived from that older Yemeni one we call middle Sabaic.
If one wished – though I wouldn’t in fact – one might here refer to a detail from the manuscript, allowing readers to infer that it proved support for a theory embracing the other two. See? One ruling class (Qara Khitai) to three non-ruling class.
But wasn’t it fun? And so easy. It’s all just inference.
You need only pay attention to things which serve to support the theory, which saves all the bother of dealing with antithetical evidence.
(Funny if it proved true..)