Who would have thought that a shopping list on some pottery fragments would reveal when the Old Testament was possibly written.
Here is the issue: Some skeptics state that low literacy rates in ancient Israel would prohibit the Old Testament from being written prior to the Babylonian captivity and that it was invented during the Jewish exile to solidify their Jewish identity, indicating that the events never really occurred but were fabricated or legendarily developed.
Significance: This discovery and new research is challenging the scholars wanting to push the early Old Testament composition to after the Babylonian captivity. Skeptics have attributed the writing of several biblical texts such as Joshua, 1 and 2 Kings, and the early Old Testament to after the siege of Jerusalem. This theory “holds that the biblical texts were written as a result of the exile to Babylon, when the composers began to think about their past and put their history to parchment.” This discovery begins to poke holes into the idea that major portions of the Hebrew scripture were written during or after the exile to Babylon, but actually written during the late 7th century BC.
Here is a link to another video on this subject.
If you want to explore the issue in more depth here are some articles:
“Discovery: Ancient Inscriptions Suggest Hebrew Bible Older Than Many Believed” | The Stream – This excerpt is the best single article to get the facts as well as the significance of this discovery as it relates to biblical reliability:
Israeli mathematicians and archaeologists say they have found evidence to suggest that key biblical texts may have been composed earlier than what some scholars think.
Using handwriting analysis technology similar to that employed by intelligence agencies and banks to analyze signatures, a Tel Aviv University team determined that a famous hoard of ancient Hebrew inscriptions, dated to around 600 BC, were written by at least six different authors. Although the inscriptions are not from the Bible, their discovery suggests there was widespread literacy in ancient Judah at the time that would support the composition of biblical works.
“Handwriting Dating to the Seventh Century B.C. Analyzed” | Archaeology – a quick summary from Archaeology:
The analysis suggests that at least six different people, ranging in rank from the commander of the fort down to the deputy quartermaster, had written these texts. All of the writers used proper spelling and syntax. Similar ostracons have been found at other border forts, suggesting that writing was widespread, at least within the Judahite army. Israel Finkelstein [of Tel Aviv University] thinks the ancient kingdom of Judah may have had an educational system, since literacy was not limited to the elite. “This is really quite amazing, that in a remote place like this, there was more than one person, several people, who could write,” he told Live Science. Finkelstein also claims that if literacy were widespread at the time, it would support the idea that portions of the Bible could have been compiled before the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians.
“New Evidence on When Bible Was Written: Ancient Shopping Lists” | The New York Times – Essentially scholars analyzed a shopping list, but has impact on possible biblical composition dates:
The requests for wine, flour and oil read like mundane, if ancient, shopping lists. But a new analysis of the handwriting suggests that literacy may have been far more widespread than previously known in the Holy Land around 600 B.C., toward the end of the First Temple period. The findings, according to the researchers from Tel Aviv University, could have some bearing on a century-old debate about when the main body of biblical texts was composed.
Algorithmic Handwriting Analysis of Judah’s Military Correspondence Sheds Light on Composition of Biblical Texts – Proceedings of the National Academy of Science – A portion of the abstract:
By using novel image processing and machine learning algorithms we deduce the presence of at least six authors in this corpus. This indicates a high degree of literacy in the Judahite administrative apparatus and provides a possible stage setting for compilation of biblical texts. After the kingdom’s demise, a similar literacy level reemerges only ca. 200 BCE.
“The Bible Is Really Old, Handwriting Analysis Reveals” | Live Science -A quick selection of this article:
The shards, found at a frontier fort dating to around 600 B.C., were written by at least six different people, suggesting that literacy was widespread in the ancient kingdom of Judah, said study co-author Israel Finkelstein, an archaeologist and biblical scholar at Tel Aviv University in Israel.
“We’re dealing with really low-level soldiers in a remote place who can write,” Finkelstein told Live Science. “So there must have been some sort of educational system in Judah at that time.”
The writing shows that the kingdom had the intellectual resources to write and compile large chunks of the Old Testament during this period, he added.
Israeli mathematicians and archaeologists say they have found evidence to suggest that key biblical texts may have been composed earlier than some scholars think.
Using handwriting analysis technology similar to that employed by intelligence agencies and banks to analyze signatures, a Tel Aviv University team determined that a famous hoard of ancient Hebrew inscriptions, dated to around 600 BCE, were written by at least six different authors. Although the inscriptions are not from the Hebrew Bible, their discovery suggests there was widespread literacy in ancient Judah at the time that would support the composition of biblical works.
So, never look down on your shopping list again. It just might turn up centuries later to tell us something about you.
Resources: Some books on the reliability of the Old Testament.
On The Reliability of the Old Testaement by K. A Kitchen – Kitchen is professor of Egyptology and Honorary Research Fellow at the School of Archaeology at the University of Liverpool. He concludes this monumental study with “What can be said of historical reliability? Here our answer – on the evidence available – is more positive. The periods most in the glare of contemporary documents – the divided monarchy and the exile and return – show a very high level of direct correlation (where adequate data exist) and of reliability. . . . In terms of general reliability – and much more could have been instanced than there was room for here – the Old Testament comes out remarkably well, so long as its writings and writers are treated fairly and evenhandedly, in line with independent data, open to all.” (499-500)
The Old Testament Documents: Are They Reliable and Relevant by Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. – The amazon.com description: “In this thought-provoking book Walter C. Kaiser Jr. makes the case that the Old Testament documents are both historically reliable and personally and socially relevant. He begins by looking at the origins of the Old Testament books and how well their texts were preserved. Next he explores Old Testament history, giving close attention to the book of Genesis, the patriarchal narratives, and the chronicles of the kings of Judah and Israel. He then surveys the larger questions of the trustworthiness and authority of the various Old Testament genres: historical narrative, wisdom and prophecy. Lastly, Kaiser probes the relevance of the Old Testament for Christian faith today.”