Old Arad and Widespread literacy in Judah in 600 BCE

Looking at the texts of the Hebrew Scriptures they demand a certain knowledge of reading capacity. We did not have to wait for the new Tel Aviv University study published on April the 12th in PNAS to know that widespread literacy was required for going through the books of Moses and the Prophets.

More on widespread literacy in Judah in 600 BCEWith the new study, empirical evidence of the literacy in the final days of the Kingdom of Judah is provided. A profusion of literate individuals in Judah may have set the stage for the compilation of biblical works that constitute the basis of Judahite history and theology, such as the early version of the books of Deuteronomy to Second Kings, according to the researchers.

According to Prof. Israel Finkelstein of TAU’s Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Civilizations, who led the research together with Prof. Eliezer Piasetzky of TAU’s School of Physics and Astronomy

“There’s a heated discussion regarding the timing of the composition of a critical mass of biblical texts,”

For his researchers to answer this, a broader question had to be asked:

“What were the literacy rates in Judah at the end of the First Temple period? And what were the literacy rates later on, under Persian rule?”

The interdisciplinary study was conducted by Shira Faigenbaum-Golovin, Arie Shaus and Barak Sober, under the supervision of Prof. Eli Turkel and Prof. David Levin, all of TAU’s Department of Applied Mathematics. Other collaborators included Prof. Nadav Na’aman of TAU’s Department of Jewish History and Prof. Benjamin Sass of TAU’s Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Civilizations.

Prof. Piasetzky said

“Literacy existed at all levels of the administrative, military and priestly systems of Judah. Reading and writing were not limited to a tiny elite.”

Tel arad all.JPG

Aerial photograph of Tel Arad (Hebrew: תל ערד‎) or “old” Arad, located west of the Dead Sea

“Old” Arad, in southern Israel, in the northeast Negev, located west of the Dead Sea, the ruins of which are visible at Tel ʿArad, about 5 1/2 miles (9 km) east-northeast, in an area surrounded by mountain ridges which is known as the Arad Plain, is divided into a lower city, first settled during the Chalcolithic period, around 4000 BCE, and an upper hill which holds the only ever discovered “House of Yahweh” in the land of Israel.

Excavations at Tel Arad

Excavations at the site have unearthed an extensive Bronze Age Canaanite settlement which was in place until approximately 2650 BCE. The book of Numbers (21:1–3) tells how the Canaanite king of ʿArad fought the Israelites during the exodus from Egypt, but his cities were “utterly destroyed” by Israel’s armies. The site was then apparently deserted for over 1500 years until resettled during the Israelite period from the 11th century BCE onwards, initially as an unwalled piece of land cut off as an official or sacred domain was established on the upper hill.


The Canaanite City or Lower city

It was at the time of King David and Solomon that the garrison-town, known as “The Citadel”, was constructed. Within the the citadel was a sanctuary, in which artefacts were found which mostly reflect offerings of oil, wine, wheat, etc. brought there by numerous people throughout the reign of the kings of Judah until the kingdom’s fall to the Babylonians. However, during the Persian, Maccabean, Roman, and early Muslim eras, locals continued to transport these items to the sacred precinct of the upper hill. Markers of these ancient Israelite rituals remain to this day, with broken pottery littering the entire site.

The city’s name appears on the Temple of Amon, al-Karnak, Egypt, in the triumphal inscription of Pharaoh Sheshonk I (biblical Shishak), first ruler of the 22nd dynasty (reigned c. 945–924 bc). Under the Judaean kings, the citadel was periodically refortified, remodeled and rebuilt, until ultimately it was destroyed between 597 BCE and 577 BCE whilst Jerusalem was under siege by Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar II. Among the most significant artifacts unearthed from this time are ostraca dating from the mid-7th century BCE, referring to this citadel as the House of Yahweh (בית יהוה).

The Israelite Fortress Mound With its important strategic position on the south-east desert flank of the kingdom of Judah, the fortress was sacked and rebuilt a number of times, until ultimately destroyed by the Edomites in 597 BCE whilst Jerusalem was under siege from the Babylonian Nebuchadnezzar. Among the most fascinating artifacts unearthed from this time are ostraca that mention the House of Yahweh. (Holy Land pictures Company – Arad)

This “House of the gods Yahweh and Asherah” was excavated by Yohanan Aharoni and his team in 1962. In Semitic mythology, the mother goddess Asherah appears in a number of ancient sources. As consort of the supreme god. Her principal epithet was probably “She Who Walks on the Sea.” She was occasionally called ELath (Elat), or El (the general term for “deity”) “the Goddess,” and may have also been called Qudshu, “Holiness.” It can well be that at first the God Who is a Spirit and created heaven and earth was looked at as a Father and Mother of all beings and as such was Father God and Mother God of all other gods. Though some want to exclude Baal, the Bible calling Jehovah the Host of hosts and God of gods, does include him as well.

El, the chief deity of the West Semites, his most common epithet was “the Bull,” but he was also sometimes called “Creator/Possessor of Heaven and Earth.” Although a venerable deity, he was not active in the myths, which primarily concerned his daughters and sons. His figure can still be found in many paintings in the Catholic church, which continued in the tradition of the portrayal of this god as an old man with a long beard and, often, two wings. He was the equivalent of the Hurrian god Kumarbi and the Greek god Cronus. In the Old Testament, El is commonly used as a synonym for the god of the Israelites, whose name was revealed to Moses as four Hebrew consonants YHWH,  Yahweh or Jehovah and less commonly as the general term for “deity.” After the Babylonian Exile (6th century BCE), and especially from the 3rd century BCE on, Jews ceased to use the name Yahweh for two reasons. As Judaism became a universal rather than merely local religion, the more common noun Elohim, meaning “God,” tended to replace Yahweh to demonstrate the universal sovereignty of Israel’s God over all others and the NameJehovah” being regarded as too sacred to be uttered.

Considering the remoteness of Arad, the small garrison stationed there, and the narrow time period of inscriptions for troop movements and the registration of expenses for food, the finding of 16 inscriptions (unearthed at an excavation in the remote fort of Arad), been written by at least six authors, in a tone and nature of the commands precluding the role of professional scribes, indicates a high literacy rate within Judah‘s administrative apparatus — and provides a suitable background for the composition of a critical mass of biblical texts. The content of the inscriptions disclosed that reading and writing abilities existed throughout the military chain of command, from the highest echelon all the way down to the deputy quartermaster of the fort.

The archaeological team designed an algorithm to distinguish between different authors, then composed a statistical mechanism to assess their findings.

“Through probability analysis, we eliminated the likelihood that the texts were written by a single author.”

said Barak Sober.

Prof. Piasetzky said

“Literacy existed at all levels of the administrative, military and priestly systems of Judah. Reading and writing were not limited to a tiny elite.”

The team their job now is to extrapolate from Arad to a broader area. Prof. Finkelstein said

“Adding what we know about Arad to other forts and administrative localities across ancient Judah, we can estimate that many people could read and write during the last phase of the First Temple period. We assume that in a kingdom of some 100,000 people, at least several hundred were literate.

“Following the fall of Judah, there was a large gap in production of Hebrew inscriptions until the second century BCE, the next period with evidence for widespread literacy. This reduces the odds for a compilation of substantial Biblical literature in Jerusalem between ca. 586 and 200 BCE.”

More on widespread literacy in Judah in 600 BCE

Ostraca (ink inscriptions on clay) from the Iron Age fortress of Arad, located in arid southern Judah. These documents are dated to the latest phase of the First Temple Period in Judah, ca. 600 BCE. The texts represent correspondence of local military personnel. The research engaged new document analysis algorithms aimed at identifying different writers. It detected at least six contemporaneous authors within a corpus of 16 inscriptions. This indicates a high literacy level within the Judahite administration and provides a possible stage-setting for compilation of biblical texts. Credit: Michael Cordonsky (photographer), Tel Aviv University and the Israel Antiquities Authority.


Additional reading

  1. Jesus and his God
  2. Marriage of Jesus 9 Reason for a new marriage


Further reading

  1. Arad – Pictures from the Holy Land
  2. Arad (in the Bible)
  3. Egyptian architecture
  4. hypostyle
  5. Meroë
  6. Arad Ostracon No. 7: In Search of the True Solution to the Riddle
  7. Using DNA to Unravel a 2,500-Year Persian Riddle
  8. On the Road Again: Philip Kerr Goes in Search of the American Sublime and…
  9. Sunken Treasures
  10. Jerusalem in Bible and Archaeology: The First Temple Period
  11. Solomon-Era Tablet Found in Jerusalem. (News)
  12. ‘Disgrace’: NY Times Story on Jewish Temples Irks Press
  13. The Literary Significance of the Name Lists in Ezra-Nehemiah


5 thoughts on “Old Arad and Widespread literacy in Judah in 600 BCE

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  3. Pingback: A Book to trust #15 Writings to show The God #2 Importance of Being – Unmasking anti Jehovah sites and people

  4. Pingback: The Holy Scripture – The One Only Source of the Holiness of the Word – Unmasking anti Jehovah sites and people

  5. Pingback: Tel Arad Temple | Bijbelvorser = Bible Researcher

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