Historical experts have long assumed there’s wasn’t enough literacy for Bible texts to be produced before Jerusalem fell to the Babylonian king in 586 BC.
But new findings could change our understanding of when – and by who – the Bible was written.
Digital handwriting analysis of ancient Hebrew inscriptions on pottery discovered near the Dead Sea has found the texts were written by six different authors, suggesting the ability to read and write was commonplace in the Kingdom of Judah (around 2,600 years ago).
If literacy were widespread by 600BC, when the Hebrew inscriptions are thought to be written, then parts of the Old Testament could have been written well before 586 BC.
The ancient Hebrew inscriptions [Image: Michael Cordonsky, Tel Aviv University]
“Biblical texts carry ideological and theological messages and as such were probably meant to be known to the population,” said Professor Israel Finkelstein, an archaeologist at Tel Aviv University. “Hence there has been an ongoing discussion on literacy in ancient Israel/Judah.”
“Our work shows that late-monarchic Judah (around 600 BC) had an educational infrastructure which was suitable for compilation of texts and use of the written-word medium to convey ideological messages.”
While the writings themselves are mostly military orders of little historical significance, the computers systems used to analyse them could revolutionise our understanding of literacy and education in Biblical times.
The team behind the sophisticated analysis will soon use the technology to reconstruct other letters and deciphering handwriting, leading us closer to the real who, when and where of the Bible.
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