Book Reviews -- By: Anonymous
JETS 54:4 (December 2011) p. 823
Christopher A. Rollston, Writing and Literacy in the World of Ancient Israel: Epigraphic Evidence from the Iron Age. Archaeology and Biblical Studies 11. Atlanta, SBL, 2010, xx + 171 pp., $21.95 paper.
While there exist valuable scholarly collections of ancient Hebrew inscriptions (e.g. G. I. Davies, Renz and Röllig, Dobbs-Allsopps et al., Ahituv), to which one should add, at a more popular level, P. Kyle McCarter, Ancient Inscriptions (Washington: Biblical Archaeology Society, 1996), non-technical introductions to West Semitic epigraphy as a field, with its methods, results, and limits, remain scarce. Since J. Naveh, Early History of the Alphabet (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1982), G. Garbini has written Introduzione all’epigrafia semitica (Brescia: Paideia, 2006), but it is essentially an overview of the various regional corpus, and already a lengthy and detailed book. It is all the more appreciable that a leading epigraphist such as Christopher Rollston has been willing to write a concise textbook on this fascinating subject. In addition to teaching at Emmanuel School of Religion, Johnson City, Tennessee, Rollston is editor for the journal MAARAV and has published valuable contributions to epigraphic research.
The book is divided into two parts. In the first, concerning the question “broad tableau?” Rollston rapidly describes the traces we have of the earliest alphabetic system in the second millennium BC, as well as the Ugaritic cuneiform alphabet. Then he devotes more space to the stabilized and standardized Phoenician script, introducing among other items the royal Byblian inscriptions from the tenth century BC, and convincingly reasserting their conventional dating against recent attempts by B. Sass to postdate them. Following Naveh, Rollston argues that the Phoenician script was widely used in the Levant until distinctive national scripts developed from it during the ninth century (for Paleo-Hebrew) and eighth century (for Aramaic). Finally, in a pleasant and well- illustrated chapter, the main types of inscriptions are outlined mainly according to the material on which they were written, such as monumental stones, statues, pottery, papyri, and seals.
The second part of the book explores the work of ancient scribes. In light of Mesopotamian, Egyptian, and biblical texts, Rollston underscores the high status of this profession in antiquity. Though avoiding the term “school” because it is often understood in too narrow a sense, he brilliantly demonstrates that “Israelite scribes were the recipients of formal, standardized education” (p. 113). He concludes that Israelites were certainly capable of producing “literature” in Iron Age IIA. However, when one sees his assertion that “elites in ancient Israel...
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