Tel Aviv University study confirms widespread literacy in biblical-period kingdom of Judah

Image: Examples of Hebrew ostraca from Arad.
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Credit history: Michael Cordonsky, TAU and the Israel Antiquities Authority

Researchers at Tel Aviv University (TAU) have analyzed 18 historic texts courting back to all around 600 BCE from the Tel Arad military post using condition-of-the-artwork graphic processing, machine finding out systems, and the skills of a senior handwriting examiner. They have concluded that the texts were prepared by no fewer than 12 authors, suggesting that many of the inhabitants of the kingdom of Judah throughout that period were in a position to read through and generate, with literacy not reserved as an special domain in the fingers of a couple of royal scribes.

The special interdisciplinary examine was performed by TAU’s Dr. Arie Shaus, Ms. Shira Faigenbaum-Golovin, and Dr. Barak Sober of the Department of Used Mathematics Prof. Eli Piasetzky of the Raymond and Beverly Sackler College of Physics and Astronomy and Prof. Israel Finkelstein of the Jacob M. Alkow Department of Archeology and Historical Close to Japanese Civilizations. The forensic handwriting expert, Ms. Yana Gerber, is a senior specialist who served for 27 decades in the Questioned Documents Laboratory of the Israel Police Division of Identification and Forensic Science and its International Criminal offense Investigations Device.

The final results were published in PLOS A single on September 9, 2020.

“There is a energetic debate amongst gurus as to irrespective of whether the textbooks of Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings were compiled in the very last days of the kingdom of Judah or after the destruction of the First Temple by the Babylonians,” Dr. Shaus explains. “A single way to test to get to the bottom of this issue is to check with when there was the opportunity for the composing of such intricate historical performs.

“For the period adhering to the destruction of the First Temple in 586 BC, there is really scant archaeological proof of Hebrew composing in Jerusalem and its surroundings, but an abundance of prepared files has been found for the period preceding the destruction of the Temple. But who wrote these files? Was this a society with popular literacy, or was there just a handful of literate individuals?”

To answer this issue, the researchers examined the ostraca (fragments of pottery vessels that contains ink inscriptions) writings uncovered at the Tel Arad site in the sixties. Tel Arad was a modest military post on the southern border of the kingdom of Judah its crafted-up location was about twenty,000 square toes and it housed involving twenty and thirty troopers.

“We examined the issue of literacy empirically, from unique instructions of graphic processing and machine finding out,” claims Ms. Faigenbaum-Golovin. “Amongst other things, these places help us right now with the identification, recognition, and examination of handwriting, signatures, and so on. The significant obstacle was to adapt present day systems to 2,600-year-aged ostraca. With a whole lot of effort, we were in a position to generate two algorithms that could examine letters and answer the issue of irrespective of whether two supplied ostraca were prepared by two unique individuals.”

In 2016, the researchers theorized that 18 of the Tel Arad inscriptions were prepared by at the very least 4 unique authors. Blended with supplemental textual proof, the researchers concluded that there were in reality at the very least 6 unique writers. The examine aroused great interest all around the planet.

The TAU researchers then decided to examine the algorithmic approaches, which have since been refined, to the forensic strategy. To this finish, Ms. Gerber joined the crew. Following an in-depth evaluation of the historic inscriptions, she found that the 18 texts were prepared by at the very least 12 unique writers with varying degrees of certainty. She examined the initial Tel Arad ostraca at the Israel Museum, the Eretz Israel Museum, the Sonia and Marco Nedler Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv University, and the Israel Antiquities Authority’s warehouses at Beit Shemesh.

Ms. Gerber discussed:

“This examine was really interesting, perhaps the most interesting in my expert job. These are historic Hebrew inscriptions prepared in ink on shards of pottery, making use of an alphabet that was beforehand unfamiliar to me. I analyzed the attributes of the composing in buy to examine and examine the inscriptions, although benefiting from the abilities and know-how I obtained throughout my bachelor’s degree studies in classical archaeology and historic Greek at Tel Aviv University. I delved into the microscopic particulars of these inscriptions prepared by individuals from the First Temple period, from program concerns such as orders about the motion of troopers and the supply of wine, oil, and flour, via correspondence with neighboring fortresses, to orders that achieved the Tel Arad fortress from the higher ranks of the Judahite military method. I experienced the sensation that time experienced stood nonetheless and there was no hole of 2,600 decades involving the writers of the ostraca and ourselves.

“Handwriting is built up of unconscious pattern designs. The handwriting identification is centered on the principle that these composing designs are exceptional to just about every man or woman and no two individuals generate particularly alike. It is also assumed that repetitions of the exact same textual content or figures by the exact same author are not particularly identical and one particular can determine a range of purely natural handwriting versions particular to just about every one particular. Hence, forensic handwriting examination aims at tracking attributes corresponding to particular individuals, and concluding irrespective of whether a one or relatively unique authors wrote the supplied files.

“The evaluation system is divided into three ways: examination, comparison, and analysis. The examination contains a comprehensive evaluation of each one inscription, according to various attributes, such as the spacing involving letters, their proportions, slant, and so forth. The comparison is centered upon the aforementioned attributes throughout various handwritings. In addition, reliable designs,such the exact same mixtures of letters, text, and punctuation, are discovered. Lastly, an analysis of identicalness or distinctiveness of the writers is built. It should be mentioned that, according to an Israel Supreme Courtroom ruling, a man or woman can be convicted of a crime centered on the impression of a forensic handwriting specialist.”

Dr. Shaus even further elaborated:

“We were in for a significant shock: Yana discovered far more authors than our algorithms did. It should be understood that our recent algorithms are of a “careful” mother nature — they know how to determine cases in which the texts were prepared by individuals with drastically unique composing in other cases they chorus from definite conclusions. In contrast, an specialist in handwriting examination is aware not only how to spot the variances involving writers far more precisely, but in some cases could also get there at the conclusion that numerous texts were in fact prepared by a one man or woman. Naturally, in phrases of repercussions, it is really attention-grabbing to see who the authors are. Thanks to the results, we were in a position to assemble an total flowchart of the correspondence about the military fortress — who wrote to whom and pertaining to what issue. This demonstrates the chain of command in the Judahite military.

“For illustration, in the location of Arad, near to the border involving the kingdoms of Judah and Edom, there was a military pressure whose troopers are referred to as “Kittiyim” in the inscriptions, most possible Greek mercenaries. A person, most likely their Judahite commander or liaison officer, asked for provisions for the Kittiyim device. He writes to the quartermaster of the fortress in Arad “give the Kittiyim flour, bread, wine” and so on. Now, many thanks to the identification of the handwriting, we can say with higher probability that there was not only one particular Judahite commander composing, but at the very least 4 unique commanders. It is conceivable that just about every time an additional officer was despatched to join the patrol, they took turns.”

In accordance to the researchers, the results lose new gentle on Judahite society on the eve of the destruction of the First Temple — and on the environment of the compilation of biblical texts. Dr. Sober explains:

“It should be remembered that this was a modest outpost, one particular of a series of outposts on the southern border of the kingdom of Judah. Considering that we found at the very least 12 unique authors out of 18 texts in full, we can conclude that there was a higher amount of literacy in the course of the total kingdom. The commanding ranks and liaison officers at the outpost, and even the quartermaster Eliashib and his deputy, Nahum, were literate. A person experienced to teach them how to read through and generate, so we should think the existence of an appropriate instructional method in Judah at the finish of the First Temple period. This, of study course, does not necessarily mean that there was nearly universal literacy as there is right now, but it appears that significant portions of the citizens of the kingdom of Judah were literate. This is essential to the discussion on the composition of biblical texts. If there were only two or three individuals in the full kingdom who could read through and generate, then it is not likely that intricate texts would have been composed.”

Prof. Finkelstein concludes:

“Whoever wrote the biblical performs did not do so for us, so that we could read through them after 2,600 decades. They did so in buy to endorse the ideological messages of the time. There are unique opinions pertaining to the day of the composition of biblical texts. Some students counsel that many of the historical texts in the Bible, from Joshua to II Kings, were prepared at the finish of the 7th century BC, really near to the period of the Arad ostraca. It is essential to check with who these texts were prepared for. In accordance to one particular view, there were functions in which the couple of individuals who could read through and generate stood right before the illiterate general public and read through texts out to them. A higher literacy amount in Judah puts things into a unique gentle.

“Until eventually now, the discussion of literacy in the kingdom of Judah has been centered on circular arguments, on what is prepared in the Bible by itself, for illustration on scribes in the kingdom. We have shifted the discussion to an empirical viewpoint. If in a distant spot like Tel Arad there was, in excess of a shorter period of time, a least of 12 authors of 18 inscriptions, out of the population of Judah which is approximated to have been no far more than a hundred and twenty,000 individuals, it indicates that literacy was not the special domain of a handful of royal scribes in Jerusalem. The quartermaster from the Tel Arad outpost also experienced the capacity to read through and recognize them.”