Ancient sticky notes raise possibility that Bible was written earlier than scholars thought

NEWS | Tess Holgate
Friday 20 May 2016

Ancient to-do lists dating back 2600 years to the seventh century BC cast doubt on the widely-held secular belief that the Hebrew Bible (selected parts of the Old Testament) was compiled after the Israelites were exiled to Babylon in 587BC.

The contents of the lists themselves – written by up to six different individuals and discovered in Ted Arad in the Negev Desert (near the Dead Sea) – are, well, kind of weird.

Michael Cordonsky (Tel Aviv University / Israel Antiquities Authority)

Michael Cordonsky (Tel Aviv University / Israel Antiquities Authority)

“And now, give the Kittiyim 3 baths of wine.”

“And a full homer of wine, bring tomorrow; don’t be late. And if there is vinegar, give it to them.”

“And Hananyahu has commanded you to Beersheba with 2 donkeys’ load and you shall wrap up the dough with them.”

But according to researchers at Tel Aviv University, they show a level of literacy amongst seventh century Judeans which is higher than previously thought. It therefore raises the possibility that the Hebrew Bible was collated earlier than the Babylonian exile.

Alan Millard, an evangelical scholar and emeritus professor of Hebrew and ancient Semitic languages at the University of Liverpool, told Christianity Today, “What this research shows is that there were several people able to read and write in the fortress at Arad about the year 600 [B.C.].”

For many years Millard has maintained that there were “a number of people able to read and write throughout the period of the kings of Israel and Judah, and there is some evidence to support the contention that they could have been writing literary works like some of the biblical books.”

But Millard also warned that the deduction made by the researchers that literacy was higher in late-monarchic Judah rested heavily on “literary critical assumptions,” meaning there are no comparable collections from other centuries which can be examined in the same way.

Speaking to the New York Times, Prof. Edward Greenstein of Bar-Ilan University near Tel Aviv “cautioned against drawing too many conclusions about when the first major part of the Bible was written based on extrapolations regarding ancient literacy rates.

“There is no such thing as consensus in biblical studies these days,” said Prof. Greenstein.

“Overall, archaeology has been good to evangelicalism,” Walter Kaiser Jr., president emeritus and Old Testament professor at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, said to Christianity Today.

“Biblical archaeology, especially in the 20th century, was one of the greatest witnesses to the historical points in the biblical text,” Kaiser said. “Not that we were able to demonstrate everything—far from that. But there were so many confirmations that there was a high probability that perhaps the whole text is demonstrating exactly what the Bible proclaims.”

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