Because these connections are only thematic, it is difficult to determine if the themes were transferred through scribal contact or through oral tradition. Likewise, a direct connection between Egyptian pessimistic literature and Qohelet Ecclesiastes , Egyptian and Israelite wisdom literatures, and Egyptian love poetry and the Song of Songs has yet to be established as having occurred through scribal contact as opposed to oral tradition.
The most likely point of scribal contact between the two scribal traditions would have been in the exilic and post-exilic periods when some Judahites took refuge in Egypt. Elephantine legal documents found in Egypt and written by Jews contain structural features similar to contemporary Demotic texts, thus showing a direct connection between the two scribal cultures.
Amherst 63, an Aramaic text written in Demotic script and dating to the fourth century BCE, has affinities with Ps 20, furthering the claim of scribal contact between Egyptian scribal circles and biblical writers in the Persian period. Further, contact could have occurred in the Greco-Roman period under the Ptolemys , which is precisely when Egyptian-like biblical writings were produced, such as Qohelet and the Song of Songs.
Any contact among New Testament writers likely would have occurred in Greek rather than Egyptian.
Ultimately, there remains a serious question as to what degree scribes of the Egyptian language were in contact with biblical writers. If one were to factor in the number of literate individuals of non-Egyptian languages, the number would be higher. The city of Ugarit contains the largest native Northwest Semitic archive. Although it is pre-biblical, it shows a unique adaptation of writing styles and has many affinities to biblical literature. The origins of the Ugaritic alphabetic script are opaque, but apart from a few Proto-Sinaitic inscriptions from Canaan, Ugaritic literature marks the earliest traceable rise in native Northwest Semitic literature 14th—12th centuries BCE.
Literacy and the Languages of the Ancient Near East
It appears that at this early stage, only the few Ugaritic scribes trained in Akkadian were literate, while the rest of the culture was likely not. There are serious questions as to whether or not Ugaritic texts have a direct relationship to biblical texts. The evidence is clear, however, that similar genres of literature, which have similar motifs and similar cultural idioms, appear in both Ugaritic and Hebrew scribal circles. Phoenician is a Northwest Semitic language that is closely related to Hebrew. Phoenician appears in the historical record shortly after the demise of Ugarit.
It is written in an alphabetic script, which became the predecessor to the Hebrew and Greek alphabets. The entire Phoenician corpus survives only in inscriptions, for the most part on stone. The inscriptions presuppose a well-established scribal culture that recorded the bulk of its texts on biodegradable materials. Because the majority of the Phoenician written record is lost, no estimate can be made about the levels of Phoenician literacy. In the mid-twentieth century CE, modern scholars, particularly William Foxwell Albright, claimed that the simplicity of the Phoenician and derivative scripts resulted in high levels of literacy, but his argument has been vehemently contested.
Connections between Phoenician inscriptions and biblical literature are rare, but Phoenician inscriptions are the earliest examples of royal monumental inscriptions in a Northwest Semitic Language apart from one questionable tablet at Ugarit. This genre plays a significant role in the scribal cultures of the Levant in the biblical period.
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Aramaic and Other Northwest Semitic Languages. Aramaic is a language that had many dialects in antiquity. Many examples appear in the textual record, written in scripts similar to Phoenician. The emergence of so many different Aramaic texts from the 10th century BCE onward leads scholars to debate whether or not this sudden dispersing of alphabetic writing is a sign of jumps in literacy or the result of political destabilization in the area. It is precisely in this period in the Levant that sections of biblical texts were first composed.
Of the languages emerging in the Levant in this period, Aramaic became the only to achieve international importance. Scholars refer to high levels of literacy in the Persian period when Aramaic was used from Persia to Egypt, and beyond, particularly for state purposes such as the royal documents in the book of Ezra. It is difficult to determine, however, if literacy levels rose in this period or if the levels appear higher due to the luck of archaeological findings. Archives from Persepolis in southwest Iran to Elephantine in southern Egypt, demonstrate that Aramaic played a pivotal role in military and urban settings throughout the ANE——a role previously occupied by Akkadian.
In the Hellenistic period , Aramaic continued to be written in multilingual environments despite losing its political prominence to Greek. After the fall of the Roman Empire, Aramaic, in the dialect of Syriac , once again became the dominant language of the ANE until the rise of Arabic, and versions of Aramaic are still spoken in a few villages today. The inception of the writing of native languages in a regional dialect cannot be correlated to any particular literacy level; however, archives of more quotidian documentation can support an idea of graded levels of literacy among more people.
Two Hebrew archives dating mainly to the time of the Judahite kingdom have been discovered to-date, at the fortified sites of Arad and Lachish. Both archives consist of many texts, primarily administrative and military in nature. No literature has been found at these sites. These archives demonstrate that in the context of a military setting, literacy played an active role for some, even in small outposts like Arad. Stories in the Hebrew Bible envisage writing as a normative practice in early periods in religious and government institutions e.
Writing could play a theatric role in prophetic performance Isa —4 , suggesting that an audience of more than a few could read Hebrew. Some argue that documents such as the Aramaic Levi Document 4Q , which dates to the late second century BCE and prizes the Levites as scribes, reflects the role of Levites in an earlier period as the porters of literacy in ancient Judah and Israel. While basic levels of literacy existed outside of the instruction of these temple personnel, the most advanced training in reading and writing might have been conducted in the Temple. On the other hand, other scholars argue that the state would have been responsible for schooling.
Since the majority of extant Hebrew texts dating to the Israelite and Judahite periods are administrative or military in nature it seems probable that the state played a role in promoting literacy along with the Temple. This, however, remains speculative since, despite many scholarly works on the matter, very little is known about ancient Israelite or Judahite schooling. In the Hellenistic period, the inhabitants of the Levant added Greek to their multilingual societies. Harris Ancient Literacy , The large trove of documents found at Oxyrhynchus in Egypt helps support the idea that literacy was high in the ANE in this period because the findings attest to various textual genres among a variety of socio-economic standings.
Furthermore, if the book of 1 Maccabees is historically reliable, "Books of the Law" were found distributed among the Jewish communities of Judea 1 Mac — The Dead Sea Scrolls comprise one of the largest collections of documents found in the Levant. Various documents written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek survive from multiple locations near the Dead Sea and date to the Greco-Roman period. Perhaps the most important of these documents for a discussion of literacy are those that were found at sites other than Qumran , the site near which most of the scrolls were found.
They demonstrate a range of individuals engaging in writing in various languages. In the New Testament Paul, who was an educated man but not a "scribe," writes to congregants who presumably were not "scribes. Moreover, Jesus, who was thought to be a manual laborer, was able to read and apparently understand a biblical scroll Luke Controversy arose not around his ability to read, but his credentials to interpret scripture John Many times, locations, and languages contribute to the current debate on literacy.
Even letters, as is clear even in the time of Paul, may not indicate their writers. Colophons and signatory formulas on cuneiform tablets that mention the tablet's writer have markers determinatives that show whether the writer was male or female. The vast majority of cuneiform writers are male, though some exceptions are known; a few references to women who studied reading and writing can also be found.
In Northwest Semitic texts, it is more difficult to deduce information about the writers because colophons were not as readily used and the grammatical gender of a name does not always indicate the sex of its bearer. Scribes Heb. The most famous scribe was Ezra Ezra who was both a priest and dignitary. From the point of view of both the writer of Ezra-Nehemiah Neh 8 and some apocryphal writers he was the archetypal scribe. It is dangerous, however, to equate the notion of "scribe" with a literate person. As such, discussions of literacy in the biblical period focus on "the scribe" as the most extreme end of the social spectrum of literate persons.
But discussions recognize that many others, who did not have the social prestige of the "scribe," were literate. As this survey has shown, ethnic and socio-economic distinctions in ancient literacy are difficult to ascertain. A common argument is that the alphabetic scripts democratized language in the Levant. The Bible, which in some texts gives voice to both a "people" and non-elitist figures, has a more plebian presentation than many other ancient literary texts, which focus heavily on maintaining an aristocratic status quo.
But it also contains very sophisticated and elitist, normally priestly, works. Comparative evidence shows that a variety of individuals were literate to some degree in the ANE, from slaves who maintained their masters' account books to the most powerful political figures.
It is now becoming clear that the official role of the "scribe"—a position idealized by elites such as Jeremiah 's Baruch, the legendary Assyrian scribe and sage Ahiqar , or the legendary Egyptian scribe and prophet Neferti, if these were historical figures —was a powerful position. The position of the "scribe" yielded the most advanced levels of literacy and social leverage as even the New Testament "scribes" exemplify e. Matt Writing has been discovered on various objects in the ancient Levant. This short survey will guide the reader through the most used mediums.
The vast majority of extant cuneiform texts are preserved in clay. Using a stylus, wedges were impressed on mildly wet clay tablets, which were then dried and sometimes fired dried. The styli were made usually of reed. There is a debate as to whether the tips of the styli were triangularly shaped or square. The clay documents were impervious to biodegradation; some also held up to tumultuous destruction by fire. Alphabetic scripts other than Ugaritic, which is an alphabetic cuneiform script were often written with ink on pottery fragments, known as ostraca ; less frequently letters were incised on ostraca.
Styli used for incising alphabetic scripts on ostraca would have been wood, bone, or metal, and pointed at the end.
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Because they survive in the archaeological record, stone and plaster are known to have been used for monumental texts. Stone monuments were often incised, though some Phoenician texts were embossed carvings. It is often thought that the carver would not have been the scribe who wrote the text and that a text was drafted in ink on stone before it was carved. Parchment, a writing material made from animal hide, was an expensive material. It was written on with ink and could be reused a limited number of times. A parchment could be reused after a scribe scraped or sanded the original writing off of the parchment.
Reused parchment or papyrus with traces of the former text still visible on it is known as a palimpsest. Because parchment biodegrades it rarely survives in the archaeological record. Fortunately, most of the Dead Sea Scroll texts were written on parchment , so they have advanced our understanding of parchment and its production in the Levant. Preparing parchment was a labor intensive and lengthy task, and the hide of an animal would yield only a small amount of parchment.
From the findings at Qumran, it appears that great care was used when preparing and writing on parchment to avoid wasting it. Parchment can be written on both sides, but if a document were intended to be a long scroll, it would only have been written on one side.
Papyrus is made from a reed plant that grows in marshlands. Egypt was the major supplier of papyrus to the Levant in antiquity, though Lake Huleh in northern Israel and Wadi -Zerqa in Transjordan may have produced small amounts of papyrus. All papyrus would have been imported into the Judahite kingdom, making it valuable, particularly during times of war when trade routes might be compromised. Papyrus was manufactured in rolls with sheets glued together. A scribe would cut off the length of papyrus needed for a given document.
Like parchment, shorter documents may have been written on both sides. Also, like parchment, it could be scraped clean and turned into a palimpsest. Wooden writing mediums have not been discovered in the Levant, but all neighboring cultures used them. Furthermore, a Bronze Age merchant ship Uluburun has been found containing waxed writing boards, which were discovered in a pithos, a large clay jar, containing other Levantine artifacts.
Scribal Culture in the Ancient Near East
In Egypt, writers often wrote Egyptian in ink on wooden boards covered in gesso a type of stucco. These, however, are not known outside of Egypt. Wooden boards covered in wax were used prolifically from the second millennium BCE onward in Mesopotamia and Anatolia.
They are also known in Egypt in the Hellenistic period. Only a few wax boards also known as wax tablets survive from the ANE because of their biodegradable nature. They were durable, light, and reusable. They were used for a variety of purposes and often for drafting documents.
A single wax board may be called a pinax Luke Two leaves could be hinged or tied together, which is known as a diptych, and three or more leaves is called a polyptych. The writing surface consisted of a thin layer of beeswax melted into a countersunk recess on the face of the board. Two colors of ink were used since the earliest times, black and red. Black ink was typically made of soot, water, and gum arabic. Red ink was made of an iron-based mineral, water, and gum arabic.
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Erasing ink was difficult. It could be blotted off before it dried or scraped or sanded off after it had dried. Many documents written in ink become defaced over time because ancient ink was not very permanent. Many seals have been found throughout the Levant. Seals are made of either stone or clay. More information about this seller Contact this seller. This specific ISBN edition is currently not available. View all copies of this ISBN edition:. Synopsis About this title Paperback edition is available from the Society of Biblical Literature www. From the Back Cover : This is the first book-length collection in English of letters from the ancient kingdom of the Hittites.
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