Thanks to some researchers published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, we know a little more about when the Bible may have been written down… and a lot more about ancient Jewish society!
New light has been shed on ostracons found near the Dead Sea. (No, ostracons aren’t a type of advanced robot here to save the world.) Ostracons are pieces of pottery with inscriptions engraved on them. Advanced imaging technology has allowed researchers to not only decipher the text, but make educated guesses (by way of mathematics, physics, and linguistics) about who wrote them and why.
While these ostracons aren’t fragments of books of the Bible, they give us weighty evidence that the Bible could have been recorded earlier than experts and scholars speculate… Keep reading to find out why!
So what were on these shards of clay anyways? Well, they’re kind of like shopping lists actually! Most of these ostracons were notes requesting that supplies be sent to the military or they were records of troop movements. It appears that soldiers of all ranks were able to read and write.
Essentially, if the majority of a population is able to read and write, there is historical basis for written documentation, like the early books of the Bible. This is important because previously, one of the biggest arguments for dating the Scriptures no earlier than the 6th century BC was the idea that most ancient Israelites had no ability to read them. This new evidence could prove otherwise.
“We found indirect evidence of the existence of an educational infrastructure, which could have enabled the composition of biblical texts,” said physicist Eliezer Piasetzky. “Literacy existed at all levels of the administrative, military and priestly systems of Judah. Reading and writing were not limited to a tiny elite.”
In many cultures, only the wealthy and powerful learned to read and write, but recent findings in the fields of archaeology and mathematics have determined that literacy was unusually widespread among the people of Israel as early as 6th century BC! The new discovery has shown “a high degree of literacy in the Judahite administrative apparatuses and provides a possible stage setting for compilation of biblical texts… Proliferation of literacy is considered a precondition for the creation of such texts.”
What’s also interesting is that evidence of widespread literacy disappeared after the destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon in 586 BC. It wasn’t until about around 200 BC that we start seeing evidence of reading and writing from all classes of Israelites.
Archaeologist Israel Finkelstein adds “Following the fall of Judah, there was a large gap in production of Hebrew inscriptions until the second century BCE, the next period with evidence for widespread literacy. This reduces the odds for a compilation of substantial Biblical literature in Jerusalem between ca. 586 and 200 BCE.”
What’s so groundbreaking about this find is that it provides evidence for dramatic literacy rates before the fall of Judah, supporting early version of books of the Bible from Deuteronomy through II Kings.
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This “How We Got the Bible” eChart tells the history of the Bible from early translations (AD 500) to the first Bible ever printed in English (William Tyndale, AD 1525). Increase your confidence in the Bible by learning about the pain-staking methods used to copy the Bible and the numerous early manuscripts that still exist. Features people who gave their lives to translate, print, and distribute the Bible, including William Tyndale, John Wycliffe, Erasmus, and Johannes Gutenberg.