Ancient Pottery Inscriptions Cause Secular Scholars to Rethink When the Bible Was Written

Image: Michael Cordonsky (Tel Aviv University / Israel Antiquities Authority)
Image: Michael Cordonsky (Tel Aviv University / Israel Antiquities Authority)
Literacy in Old Testament times was more widespread than previously thought.

To-do lists written on pottery shards 2,600 years ago are causing some secular scholars to think the Bible was written years earlier than previously thought.

These ostraca, as inscriptions on pottery are called, were excavated half a century ago at the ancient fortress of Tel Arad in the Negev Desert near the Dead Sea. Sixteen of the ostraca were subjected to a high-tech analysis by Tel Aviv University researchers, who determined the ancient sticky notes were written at roughly the same time by six different individuals. Their findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Based on that sample, the researchers concluded that literacy in the seventh century kingdom of Judah was more widespread than secular scholars have thought. And they are re-examining the widely held belief that the Hebrew Bible was compiled after the Israelites were exiled to Babylon in 586 BC.

“What this research shows is that there were several people able to read and write in the fortress at Arad about the year 600 [BC],” said Alan Millard, an evangelical scholar and emeritus professor of Hebrew and ancient Semitic languages at the University of Liverpool. “That means they had learned from others, and their number suggests there were equal or greater numbers with those skills in larger towns like Jerusalem, Lachish, or Hebron.

“I have argued for years that there were a number of people able to read and write throughout the period of the kings of Israel and Judah,” he said, “and there is some evidence to support the contention that they could have been writing literary works like some of the biblical books.”

However, Millard was also cautious.

“The deduction that this research shows a ‘spread of literacy in late-monarchic Judah’ which ‘provides a possible stage setting for the compilation of literary works’ and therefore gives the background for the composition of Deuteronomy and Joshua-Kings depends, of course, on literary critical assumptions,” he said. “There are no comparable collections of ostraca from the ninth or eighth centuries BC which could be examined in the same way.”

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SOURCE: Christianity Today
Gordon Govier

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