October 29, 2020

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

Picture: Illustrations of Hebrew ostraca from Arad.
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Credit: Michael Cordonsky, TAU and the Israel Antiquities Authority

Scientists at Tel Aviv College (TAU) have analyzed eighteen historic texts relationship again to all around 600 BCE from the Tel Arad military services submit utilizing condition-of-the-art impression processing, equipment mastering systems, and the knowledge of a senior handwriting examiner. They have concluded that the texts ended up written by no fewer than 12 authors, suggesting that quite a few of the inhabitants of the kingdom of Judah all through that interval ended up capable to browse and generate, with literacy not reserved as an distinctive area in the palms of a handful of royal scribes.

The special interdisciplinary study was executed by TAU’s Dr. Arie Shaus, Ms. Shira Faigenbaum-Golovin, and Dr. Barak Sober of the Division of Utilized Arithmetic Prof. Eli Piasetzky of the Raymond and Beverly Sackler University of Physics and Astronomy and Prof. Israel Finkelstein of the Jacob M. Alkow Division of Archeology and Ancient Near Jap Civilizations. The forensic handwriting professional, Ms. Yana Gerber, is a senior specialist who served for 27 many years in the Questioned Documents Laboratory of the Israel Police Division of Identification and Forensic Science and its Global Crime Investigations Device.

The benefits ended up revealed in PLOS A person on September nine, 2020.

“There is a energetic debate among the gurus as to no matter whether the guides of Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings ended up compiled in the last times of the kingdom of Judah or after the destruction of the First Temple by the Babylonians,” Dr. Shaus points out. “A person way to check out to get to the bottom of this concern is to talk to when there was the likely for the writing of such complicated historical performs.

“For the interval next the destruction of the First Temple in 586 BC, there is pretty scant archaeological proof of Hebrew writing in Jerusalem and its environment, but an abundance of written documents has been found for the interval previous the destruction of the Temple. But who wrote these documents? Was this a culture with widespread literacy, or was there just a handful of literate people today?”

To solution this concern, the researchers examined the ostraca (fragments of pottery vessels made up of ink inscriptions) writings identified at the Tel Arad site in the sixties. Tel Arad was a tiny military services submit on the southern border of the kingdom of Judah its constructed-up region was about twenty,000 sq. ft and it housed involving twenty and 30 troopers.

“We examined the concern of literacy empirically, from distinct instructions of impression processing and equipment mastering,” suggests Ms. Faigenbaum-Golovin. “Among the other issues, these places support us currently with the identification, recognition, and assessment of handwriting, signatures, and so on. The large challenge was to adapt present day systems to two,600-12 months-aged ostraca. With a whole lot of effort, we ended up capable to make two algorithms that could assess letters and solution the concern of no matter whether two presented ostraca ended up written by two distinct people today.”

In 2016, the researchers theorized that eighteen of the Tel Arad inscriptions ended up written by at minimum 4 distinct authors. Put together with additional textual proof, the researchers concluded that there ended up in reality at minimum six distinct writers. The study aroused terrific desire all around the entire world.

The TAU researchers then determined to assess the algorithmic solutions, which have considering the fact that been refined, to the forensic approach. To this conclude, Ms. Gerber joined the staff. Following an in-depth evaluation of the historic inscriptions, she found that the eighteen texts ended up written by at minimum 12 distinctive writers with varying degrees of certainty. She examined the original Tel Arad ostraca at the Israel Museum, the Eretz Israel Museum, the Sonia and Marco Nedler Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv College, and the Israel Antiquities Authority’s warehouses at Beit Shemesh.

Ms. Gerber defined:

“This study was pretty exciting, maybe the most exciting in my professional profession. These are historic Hebrew inscriptions written in ink on shards of pottery, employing an alphabet that was previously unfamiliar to me. I examined the characteristics of the writing in get to evaluate and assess the inscriptions, whilst benefiting from the capabilities and understanding I obtained all through my bachelor’s diploma studies in classical archaeology and historic Greek at Tel Aviv College. I delved into the microscopic aspects of these inscriptions written by people today from the First Temple interval, from plan issues such as orders relating to the movement of troopers and the source of wine, oil, and flour, by means of correspondence with neighboring fortresses, to orders that achieved the Tel Arad fortress from the substantial ranks of the Judahite military services procedure. I experienced the experience that time experienced stood nevertheless and there was no hole of two,600 many years involving the writers of the ostraca and ourselves.

“Handwriting is designed up of unconscious pattern designs. The handwriting identification is dependent on the principle that these writing designs are unique to each human being and no two people today generate specifically alike. It is also assumed that repetitions of the very same text or people by the very same author are not specifically equivalent and a person can define a selection of natural handwriting variants specific to each a person. Thus, forensic handwriting assessment aims at tracking features corresponding to specific folks, and concluding no matter whether a solitary or alternatively distinct authors wrote the presented documents.

“The evaluation method is divided into a few techniques: assessment, comparison, and evaluation. The assessment features a comprehensive evaluation of each solitary inscription, according to several features, such as the spacing involving letters, their proportions, slant, etcetera. The comparison is dependent on the aforementioned features throughout several handwritings. In addition, steady designs,such the very same combinations of letters, terms, and punctuation, are identified. Ultimately, an evaluation of identicalness or distinctiveness of the writers is designed. It need to be pointed out that, according to an Israel Supreme Court ruling, a human being can be convicted of a crime dependent on the opinion of a forensic handwriting specialist.”

Dr. Shaus further more elaborated:

“We ended up in for a large shock: Yana identified more authors than our algorithms did. It need to be understood that our present-day algorithms are of a “careful” character — they know how to establish scenarios in which the texts ended up written by people today with significantly distinct writing in other scenarios they refrain from definite conclusions. In contrast, an specialist in handwriting assessment understands not only how to place the distinctions involving writers more properly, but in some scenarios may perhaps also get there at the conclusion that quite a few texts ended up really written by a solitary human being. Obviously, in phrases of consequences, it is pretty fascinating to see who the authors are. Many thanks to the findings, we ended up capable to construct an entire flowchart of the correspondence relating to the military services fortress — who wrote to whom and about what subject. This reflects the chain of command inside the Judahite military.

“For case in point, in the region of Arad, near to the border involving the kingdoms of Judah and Edom, there was a military services drive whose troopers are referred to as “Kittiyim” in the inscriptions, most probable Greek mercenaries. Somebody, probably their Judahite commander or liaison officer, asked for provisions for the Kittiyim unit. He writes to the quartermaster of the fortress in Arad “give the Kittiyim flour, bread, wine” and so on. Now, thanks to the identification of the handwriting, we can say with substantial probability that there was not only a person Judahite commander writing, but at minimum 4 distinct commanders. It is conceivable that each time another officer was sent to be part of the patrol, they took turns.”

According to the researchers, the findings lose new light-weight on Judahite culture on the eve of the destruction of the First Temple — and on the placing of the compilation of biblical texts. Dr. Sober points out:

“It need to be remembered that this was a tiny outpost, a person of a sequence of outposts on the southern border of the kingdom of Judah. Given that we found at minimum 12 distinct authors out of eighteen texts in total, we can conclude that there was a substantial stage of literacy during the entire kingdom. The commanding ranks and liaison officers at the outpost, and even the quartermaster Eliashib and his deputy, Nahum, ended up literate. Somebody experienced to instruct them how to browse and generate, so we need to think the existence of an ideal instructional procedure in Judah at the conclude of the First Temple interval. This, of system, does not suggest that there was almost universal literacy as there is currently, but it seems that considerable portions of the citizens of the kingdom of Judah ended up literate. This is vital to the dialogue on the composition of biblical texts. If there ended up only two or a few people today in the complete kingdom who could browse and generate, then it is unlikely that complicated texts would have been composed.”

Prof. Finkelstein concludes:

“Whoever wrote the biblical performs did not do so for us, so that we could browse them after two,600 many years. They did so in get to market the ideological messages of the time. There are distinct views about the day of the composition of biblical texts. Some students recommend that quite a few of the historical texts in the Bible, from Joshua to II Kings, ended up written at the conclude of the 7th century BC, pretty near to the interval of the Arad ostraca. It is vital to talk to who these texts ended up written for. According to a person watch, there ended up situations in which the handful of people today who could browse and generate stood just before the illiterate community and browse texts out to them. A substantial literacy level in Judah puts issues into a distinct light-weight.

“Right up until now, the dialogue of literacy in the kingdom of Judah has been dependent on circular arguments, on what is written inside the Bible itself, for case in point on scribes in the kingdom. We have shifted the dialogue to an empirical point of view. If in a remote position like Tel Arad there was, above a shorter interval of time, a minimum amount of 12 authors of eighteen inscriptions, out of the populace of Judah which is approximated to have been no more than one hundred twenty,000 people today, it indicates that literacy was not the distinctive area of a handful of royal scribes in Jerusalem. The quartermaster from the Tel Arad outpost also experienced the means to browse and appreciate them.”

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