Modern forensics gives clues to 2,600 year old biblical mystery


Jerusalem – Researchers using modern techniques to examine ancient texts have concluded that literacy in Bible times in the Holy Land may be more questionable than before.

A study by Tel Aviv University, along with a retired forensic handwriting expert from the Israeli police, shows that the imperial elite, particularly in reading and writing, may not have the skills, and also a functioning education system in the ancient state. Might be possible. More than 2,600 years before Judah.

An image provided by the Institute of Archeology at Tel Aviv University and the Israel Archaeological Authority shows a collection of pottery with ink writing, or ostraca, recovered from a Tel-Arad archaeological site in Israel’s Negev desert.

Institute of Archeology, Tel Aviv University / Israel Antiquities Authority


Researchers studied 18 different pieces of text inscribed on 12 pottery found decades ago in the Negev desert of Israel. The Tales, or Ostrakas, which are found in the ruins of the Tel-Arad Fort, date to around 600 BCE.

In handwriting forensics with a former Israeli police expert, University researchers used state-of-the-art image processing and artificial intelligence to examine text on a piece of pottery.

“Adapting modern technologies to the 2,600-year-old Austreca was a major challenge,” said Shira Fagenbaum-Golvin, one of the researchers in the project of the applied mathematics department at Tel Aviv University. But the team was able to produce two computer algorithms “that could compare letters and answer the question of whether two given ostraca were written by two different people.”

3-Restoration-Arad-ostracon-24.jpg
The restoration of a character “Wove”, from an ostracca at the Tel-Arad site in Israel. Figure A shows the original character, B and C’s redesigned stroke and D the resulting character restoration.

Barak Sobar / Institute of Archeology, Tel Aviv University / Israel Antiquities Authority.


The texts were discovered in the 1960s at the Tel-Arad site, a small military outpost on the southern border of the Kingdom of Judah two centuries earlier. The fort is situated on a hill on the side of a main road in and out of Jerusalem.

Given that it was simply a series of small outposts along that road and not the seat of power or nobility, researchers believe that the diverse handwriting found there indicates a high level of literacy in ancient times. Currently exists.

The research involved Drs. Barack Sober said, “Since we can identify 12 different handwriting, out of 18 (texts), we can conclude that there was a high level of literacy throughout the state.”

This conclusion may have implications for the ongoing debate among biblical scholars when the various books of the Hebrew Bible and the Old Testament of the Christian Bible were penciled in, and by whom.

“There is a lively debate among experts as to whether the books of Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings were compiled in the last days of the Kingdom of Judah, or after the destruction of the First Temple by Babylon,” Dr. . Ari Shus, one of the leading researchers. “One way to try to get to the bottom of this question is to ask when was the ability to write such complex historical works.”

Sober noted that for the period after 586 BCE “there is much archaeological evidence of Hebrew writings in Jerusalem and its vicinity, when the First Temple was destroyed, there were numerous specimens of Hebrew at that time. , So the question arises – who wrote these documents? Was it a society with broad literacy, or were only a handful of literate people? ”

“Some scholars suggest that many historical texts in the Bible – from Joshua to the Second Kings – were written at the end of the 7th century BC, that is, very close to the period of Ard Ostrica,” said archaeologist Israel Finkelstein. Who have also worked on the project. “According to one view, there have been incidents in which some people who could read and write stood up to the illiterate public and read them. A high literacy rate in Judah puts things in a different light.”

Dr. Sobar also said that if many of the small detachments (only a couple dozen soldiers) stationed at the Tel-Arad site are literate, “someone had to teach them to read and write, so we must assume the existence of a suitable temple first.” Educational system in Judah at the end of the period. “

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