Tuesday, January 19, 2010

OT Written Earlier Than Previously Thought

The evidence that the early parts of the Old Testament were written earlier than previously thought keeps mounting. Admittedly, it's a trickle, but the data is consistently going in one direction, which is a good sign.

Scholars of a more liberal bent believe Genesis through Kings were written after the exile, by Ezra or some other post-exilic scribe. But the recent discovery of a pottery shard provides the earliest known example of Hebrew writing. Not only that, it contains excerpts from a number of Old Testament verses, showing that these books had already been written and distributed to the common man at least by the reign of David.

"Bible Possibly Written Centuries Earlier, Text Suggests"

Here is a short excerpt from the article on the LiveScience web site:
Scientists have discovered the earliest known Hebrew writing — an inscription dating from the 10th century B.C., during the period of King David's reign.

The breakthrough could mean that portions of the Bible were written centuries earlier than previously thought. (The Bible's Old Testament is thought to have been first written down in an ancient form of Hebrew.)

Until now, many scholars have held that the Hebrew Bible originated in the 6th century B.C., because Hebrew writing was thought to stretch back no further. But the newly deciphered Hebrew text is about four centuries older, scientists announced this month.

"It indicates that the Kingdom of Israel already existed in the 10th century [B.C.] and that at least some of the biblical texts were written hundreds of years before the dates presented in current research," said Gershon Galil, a professor of Biblical Studies at the University of Haifa in Israel, who deciphered the ancient text.
(Here is the link to the article on the university's web site. The news article they link to is in German, so good luck with that.)

The ancient text is written in ink on a trapezoid-shaped piece of pottery about 6 inches by 6.5 inches (15 cm by 16.5 cm). Here is an illustration of the find.

(Credit: University of Haifa)

The writing appears to be a social statement about how people should treat slaves, widows and orphans. Although there are some missing letters, it's fairly easy to fill them in based on the surrounding context. The statements seem to be based on several biblical passages, such as Isaiah 1:17, Psalms 72:3, and Exodus 23:3. In English, the shard reads (by numbered line):

1. you shall not do [it], but worship the [Lord].
2. Judge the sla[ve] and the wid[ow] / Judge the orph[an]
3. [and] the stranger. [Pl]ead for the infant / plead for the po[or and]
4. the widow. Rehabilitate [the poor] at the hands of the king.
5. Protect the po[or and] the slave / [supp]ort the stranger.

Personally, I find things like this fascinating and exciting.

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