Questions Of Reading And Writing In Ancient Israel -- By: Richard S. Hess

Journal: Bulletin for Biblical Research
Volume: BBR 19:1 (NA 2009)
Article: Questions Of Reading And Writing In Ancient Israel
Author: Richard S. Hess

Questions Of Reading And Writing In Ancient Israel

Richard S. Hess

Denver Seminary

The identification of so many inscriptions from private collections as well as in archaeological excavations raises new questions about the role of reading and writing in ancient Israel. In this respect, the question is not merely one of whether there were scribes who could read and write but also the larger questions of who were the practitioners of this art and where they might be found. Does the evidence provide any clues as to their geographical and social location? Were they limited to the largest urban centers where concerns of administration and royal propaganda might require their presence; or were they also to be found in small towns and rural environments? This study examines the questions of literacy in the light of the inscriptional evidence, the ancient Near Eastern context, and the comparative anthropological discussion.

Key Words: literacy, scribes, epigraphy, Iron Age

Questions of literacy and the debates over who could read and write in Iron Age Israel must take into account a variety of forms of evidence. The purpose of this essay will be to consider several recent discussions of increasing evidence of reading and writing in earliest Israel; increasing evidence for the diversity of texts in monarchic Israel; nonadministrative reasons for literacy; scribal schools and the question of learning how to write; and levels of reading and writing.

Increasing Evidence Of Reading And Writing In Earliest Israel

At the center of the discussions of reading and writing in ancient Israel are the actual epigraphical pieces of writing. In this regard, the additional discoveries and publications of these finds have broadened our knowledge of the types of literature that could be represented in the writing of ancient Israel and of the dates during which this material might have been found. Of considerable significance in terms of the latter is the discovery of the abecedary at Tel Zayit. Dating from the mid-10th century, this text now attests to an interest in a form of reading and writing in the Judean village

of Tel Zayit.1 To this text and the Gezer calendar should be added four other Hebrew inscriptions from the 10th century, not to mention others in the region that might be better identified as Phoenician or Aramaic.2 The Hebrew texts come from Tel Amal, Tel Batash, Beth Shemesh, and Rehob. The latter three were published between 1991 and 2003, indicating how recently this additional inventory, along with the abecedary, has increased the numb...

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