Here is a square cut quill pen fitted for modern writing, notice the end is rather chisel-like rather than coming to a sharp point as does the reed pen above.
The practical result of using a pointed pen is that the ancient scripts were written directly, with no variation of line, much like modern writing with a ball point pen. Such instruments are only capable of producing a line of uniform thickness. In ancient times there appears to be no evidence that Hebrew was ever written with a broad edged pen. Even the famous 2nd Temple inscription shows the same basic style seen in the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Notice how closely the script of the Aleppo Codex is to that of manuscripts from the second Temple period, particularly the lamed, heh, dalet, tav and yud. As in the DSS (Dead Sea Scrolls) the foot of the heh extends all the way to the roof of the letter, making it look like a chet. Such remarkable similarity suggests that there must have been a manuscript connection between the 1st and 10th centuries that is now lost.
In the above image there are some remarkable differences however with the ancient script, particularly with the alef, the ayin and the shin. These letters instead of comprising simple line strokes are now developing small heads at the top of each stroke. And of course the giant purple elephant in the room is the fully developed system of vowel points called nekudot, not to mention the elaborate system of conjunctive and disjunctive accents, also known as trope indicating the melody to be used in reading the text.
Of particular interest to our study, is that the Aleppo Codex is written with a broad edged pen, unlike the Dead Sea Scrolls, or the Temple Inscription or in fact any of the Ktav Ivri texts. Thus, at some point between the 6th and 10th centuries CE, Jewish scribes at least in Eretz Yisrael began cutting their pens in a totally different way. My personal speculation as to the cause of this dramatic shift is that it was occasioned by the Islamic conquests of this period and exposure to Arabic calligraphy which to this day uses square cut reeds to achieve subtle fluctuations between thin and thick strokes.
A few final thoughts on the script of the 1st-10th centuries.
- In this period the ktav Ivri, which had coexisted together with the Aramaic script at least in royal inscriptions is completely abandoned.
- There is no evidence of two Hebrew scripts, one secular and the other for sacred use, during this period. Rather, the Hebrew script seems to have been thought evident enough to all, to obviate the need of detailed descriptions of its formation. The earliest scribal manual, Tractate Sofrim, dating from probably the 8th century CE makes absolutely no mention as to the form of the Hebrew letters. It does speak a great deal about spacing and layout, large and small letters, but has nothing to say about how the letters themselves are to be made.
- Tractate Sofrim does make the first reference to taggim (I believe) in history when it rules that the enlarged Bet at the beginning of the Torah should be crowned with four taggim.
- It is interesting to note that the Mishnah dating from around 200 CE, for whatever reason makes no mention of the laws of Sofrut.
- Within the Dead Sea Scrolls, one does observe many of the scribal principles outlined in Tractate Sofrim at work, with some variation. Therefore it seems logical to posit that within the sofrim as a group there was an intact tradition as to how sacred texts were to be written stretching from at least Temple times to the 8th century when tractate Sofrim was composed.
- Toward the end of this period Jewish scribes began to use square cut pens and develop a more elaborate, calligraphic form of writing, probably as a direct result of the Arab conquest of most of the Middle East.