How the Bible Became a Book | Reflections & Notes

William M. Schniedewind. How the Bible Became a Book. Cambridge University Press, 2004. (257 pages)


Humans throughout history have needed something into which they can anchor their faith. Several religions explicitly identify sacred texts as their objects of security, earning the notable description of being “people of the book,” (Judaism, Christianity, Islam). Also throughout history, people have challenged this idea, arguing that a technological artifact is insufficient and even modifies religious expression to such a degree that it creates a completely different faith. If you’re at all intrigued at the journey of that process and the historical influences and nuances of these developments, this is your book!

Schniedewind journeys deep into serious questions of alphabetic developments, authorship and authority, orality and textuality, socio-economic circumstances, scribal and priestly roles, philology (the study of languages), archaeology, and military and political events and philosophies, all as aspects of the development of “the Bible.” A few quick takeaways:

  1. In “literate” cultures, the written word is a tool of the state.
  2. In “textual” cultures, the written word can become more democratized.
  3. Throughout history, there is a tension between the oral and written ‘word.’
  4. Judaic and Christian history suggests that texts were consistently being leveraged and challenged to create communities of egalitarian power.

Perhaps most beautiful, as a follower of Jesus, I see in the “Word becoming flesh” and Jesus’ conflict with “the scribes,” evidence of a desperately needed and relevant lesson; that for Jesus followers, the written text does not hold the ultimate authority. In a world saturated in “bibliolatry” and “biblicism,” I am compelled, once again, by The Way of Jesus as brilliant, and just what American Christianity needs to redeem itself.

May this thorough understanding of the development of “The Bible” strip from us our idolatry of the text and reinstill within us a love for the “word made flesh.”



“There is no end to the making of books.” – Ecclesiastes [12:12]

עשות ספרים הרבה אין קץ

1 How the Bible Became a Book

The Bible is a book. That seems like an obvious statement, but it is also a profound development in religion. … The fact that a sacred, written text emerged from a pastoral, agricultural, and oral society is a watershed of Western civilization. In the pages that follow we will explore the movement from orality to textuality, from a pre-literate towards literate society. Along the way we will need to trace the social history of ancient Israel and early Judaism as well as the formation of the Bible as written literature. The Bible itself will be an eyewitness to this epic shift in human consciousness, the shift from an oral world toward a textual world. Central to this shift will be the encroachment of the text upon the authority of the teacher. (1)

…what function did writing serve in ancient Israelite society during different historical periods? How is the increasing importance of writing in ancient Israel reflected in the formation of biblical literature? How does the Bible itself view its own textuality? What is the relationship between oral tradition and written texts? When and how does the written word supplant the authority of the oral tradition and the living voice of the teacher? (1)

These questions can be related to three basic issues. The first is a critique of the question of who wrote the Bible. This book contends (1) that the question “when was the Bible written?” is more appropriate than an anachronistic interest in the Bible’s authors. … This leads to a second issue: how is it that the Bible is written at all? … This leads us to a final issue: what were the particular historical circumstances under which the Bible becomes a text and then Scripture? (2)

cf. The Power of the Written Tradition (Jack Goody); The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of the Typographic Man (Marshall McLuhan); Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word (Walter Ong); Preface to Plato (Eric Havelock)

What I shall argue here is that one of the most central moments in the history of the written word occurred in ancient Israel when the written word spread from the narrow confines of palace or temple scribes to the broader society. Writing became part of the fabric of everyday life. More importantly, written texts for the first time in human history began to have religious and cultural authority. This transference of authority from oral to written is what I refer to in the subtitle of this book, “the textualization of ancient Israel.” (3)

The Problem of Who Wrote the Bible

We tend to read the Bible through the lens of modernity. This is to say, we read the Bible as a book. Not only do we tend to think of the Bible as a single book, but we also read the bible as if it came from a world of texts, books, and authors. We read the Bible from our own perspective of a highly literate world. Yet, the Bible was written before there were books. (3)

cf. Is There a Text in This Class? (Stanley Fish)

The question about who wrote the Bible is also misguided because it emphasizes the individuality of the author. The emphasis on individual expression is not a universal cultural value, even if it is a god of modern American culture. (6)

The Authority of the Author?

The Classical Hebrew language does not even have a word that means “author.” The nearest term would be sofer, [סופר] “scribe,” who was a transmitter of tradition and a text rather than an author. Authorship is a concept that derives from a predominantly written culture, whereas ancient Israelite society was largely an oral culture. Traditions and stories were passed on orally from one generation to the next. They had their authority from the community that passed on the tradition rather than from an author who wrote a text. (7)

The age of Hellenism…brought with it the concept of authorship. … The earliest Jewish text that (7) identifies its author is the Wisdom of Ben-Sira, dating from the early second century B.C.E. … the Book of Deuteronomy,…is framed as a third-person report of a speech by Moses and not as something that Moses himself wrote, “These are the things Moses said to all Israel…” (Deut 1:1). [אלה הדברים אשר דבר משה אל כל ישראל] In the books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, Moses is a character, not an author. (8)

A most remarkable attempt to address the authority of the Torah is found among the Dead Sea Scrolls… The Temple Scroll…exchanges the third-person voice of Moses for the first-person voice of God.

Deuteronomy 17:14. When you have come into the land that YHWH your God is giving you, and have taken possession of it and settled in it, and you say, “I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are around me,” 15 you may indeed appoint a king whom YHWH your God will choose. From one of your brethren you shall set a king over you. …

Temple Scroll (11QT) 56:12. When you have come into the land that I am giving you, and have taken possession and settled in it, 13 and you say, “I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are around me,” 14 you may indeed set a king over yourselves–one whom I will choose. From one of your brethren you shall set a king over you. …

The change in voice makes a rather startling claim for authority. God is the author of the Temple Scroll. (8)

The Bible, in contrast, shows a distressing disinterest in who wrote it. It was distressing, that is, to Jewish readers living in a Hellenistic society where the authority of literature was closely tied to its author. (9)

The prophets are generally commanded to speak the words of God, not to write them. … Writing comes to play a more central role in the Book of Jeremiah. Prophecies, for example, are for the first time explicitly written from a prophet to the king. Yet, Jeremiah himself does not write; rather, the scribe Baruch serves as Jeremiah’s secretary (Jer 36:32). Indeed, until the later periods there was little reason to write things down. Few could read, and writing materials and the production of scrolls were expensive. There was no social infrastructure for book learning. The traditions of Israel were largely oral unless they dealt with the royal court or the temple, which had the economic resources and social infrastructures to have the traditions written down. (10)

The very fact that the Bible itself eschews discussion of authorship certainly lends little help to the search for the authors of the Bible. Ironically, for the authors of the Bible, authorship seems unimportant. The author apparently was not critical to the authority of the message or the meaning of the text. (11)

The meaning of the Bible depends more on when the Bible was written than on who wrote it. Our question, then, should be not “Who wrote the Bible?” but “When was the Bible written?” (11)

Why Is the Bible a Written Text?

…it is difficult to imagine the hordes of slaves Moses led out of Egypt as reading books. (11)

cf. Education in Ancient Israel (James Crenshaw)

…according to biblical literature, wisdom was fundamentally transmitted orally in ancient Israel. (11)

Linguists have emphasized the fluidity between orality and literacy. …”let us not think of orality and literacy as an absolute split.” [D. Tannen. “The Myth of Orality and Literacy,” in Linguistics and Literacy (ed. W. Frawley; New York: Plenum Press, 1982), p. 47.] (12)

Perhaps more importantly, oral tradition and written texts also represented competing centers of authority. While orality and literacy may exist on a continuum, orality and textuality compete with each other as different modes of authority. (13)

…while there was a continuum between orality and literacy, there is also a tension and competition between a written text and a living voice. This tension tightens when the two compete as the basis of cultural or religious authority. (14)

…you are a letter of Christ, prepared for us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts …the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. -2 Corinthians 3:3, 6

This treatise is…a remedy for forgetfulness, a rough image, a shadow of those clear and living words which I was thought worthy to hear. – Clement of Alexandria, Stromateis

…the critique of writing was part of a larger cultural debate. (15)

| Orality was also an ideology of Rabbinic Judaism. … The Qumran sectarians were a priestly elite group that functioned in opposition to the Jerusalem priesthood. Likewise, the tension between the Sadducees and Pharisees over the authority of the oral tradition should be understood, as least in part, as tension between the literate social elites who controlled the written texts and the more lay population who were largely illiterate. Oral Torah was egalitarian, whereas Scripture was elitist. Both the early Christian church and Rabbinic Judaism initially distanced themselves from the sole authority of written texts, but the institutionalization of both Christianity and Judaism ultimately resulted in the resurgence of authoritative written texts (like the New (15) Testament and the Mishnah). (16)

The shift in religious authority…has the capacity to alter religious performance. It transforms the nature and purpose of education. It redistributes political power. [cf. Haym Soloveitchik, “Rupture and Reconstruction: The Transformation of Contemporary Orthodoxy,” Tradition 28 (1994)] (16)

For example, David’s many wives violated the injunction “not to multiply wives” (Deut 17:17). The Qumran sectarians explain that “David had not read the sealed book of the Law in the Ark; for the Ark was not opened in Israel from the day of the death of Eleazar and Joshua and the elders who served the goddess Ashtoret. It lay buried <and was not> revealed until the appearance (16) of Zadok” (CD 5:2-5)

…the technological change that first enabled the spread of literacy was the invention of the alphabet, which made literacy more accessible. … The alphabet, coupled with the rise of the first world empire (the Assyrian) in the eighth century B.C.E., became the catalyst for social changes that made the written word authoritative in ancient Israel. Later, the codex…was better suited than scrolls for use in preaching, teaching, and liturgical reading. When the writings of early religious communities were gathered into a defined canon, a single large codex offered physical representation to the concept of a scriptural canon. In this way, the codex sealed a final stage in our understanding of how the Bible became a book. (17)

Exactly When Was the Bible Written?

I shall argue that biblical literature was written down largely in the eighth through the sixth century B.C.E., or, between the days of the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah. The writing of biblical literature was closely tied to the urbanization of Jerusalem, to a growing government bureaucracy, to the development of a more complex global economy, and then to the spread of literacy. The two critical figures in the flourishing of biblical literature were the kings Hezekiah (r. 715-687 B.C.E.) and Josiah (r. 640-609 B.C.E.). I shall pursue this topic at length in Chapters 5 and 6. (17)

The Complexity of Biblical Literature

The Bible reflects a diachronic richness and complexity. …not written at one time or in one place. … it is simply an absurd reduction to argue that biblical literature was composed at whichever date we give to the first manuscript evidence we find. (19)

…a common editorial technique in the Bible (known as a “repetitive resumption,” or Wiederaufnahme) when a later author or editor makes an addition. It shows that the later writer is aware of drawing on an earlier text or tradition. (21)

2 The Numinous Power of Writing

Writing was not used, at first, to canonize religious praxis, but to engender religious awe. Writing was a gift of the gods. It had supernatural powers to bless and to curse. (24)

We sometimes forget that writing was an invention. It is a relatively recent development in human history. (24)

We usually discuss writing from the viewpoint of the literate. Yet, early writing was controlled by the king and the priests. Very few people were literate. Estimates are that as few as one percent of people in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia were literate. (25)

The Divine Character of Early Writing

In early societies writing was a guarded knowledge of political and religious elites. (25)

cf. Enuma Elish. According to the story, Marduk defeated the wicked Tiamat and her consort Kingu and became king of the gods. By virtue of this victory, Marduk controlled the Tablets of Destiny upon which were written the functions of moral, social, and political order. [See J. Black and A. Green, eds., Gods, Demons, and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia: An Illustrated Dictionary (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1992).]

cf. Isiah 46:1; Deut 32:49. … It is perhaps not a coincidence that Moses ascends to heaven from the top of Mount Nebo, a mountain apparently dedicated to a god of scribes. … other biblical texts call this mountain Pisgah (Deut 3:27; 34:1). (26)

The Egyptian god of writing was Thoth, and one of Thoth’s titles is “Lord of the hieroglyphs” (the word hieroglyph means “sacred writing”). (26) … Thoth was not only the god of writing and scribes but also the god of magic. He is described as “excellent in magic.” It was the god Thoth who revealed the secrets of the scribal arts to human beings. (27)

The Old Egyptian Pyramid Texts from the third millennium B.C.E. reflect the belief that writing could actually spring to life. These spells and magic rituals use “mutilated writing,” that is, incompletely written hieroglyphic signs. Using this defective writing prevented the writing itself from becoming animated and thereby posing a danger to both the dead and the living. (27)

Ritual Writing

Egyptian Execration texts…were curses directed at people or cities. The power of the curse is ritualized by the writing down of the words or of the name of the cursed person, often on a figurine depicting the one accursed … The magical effect is not in the writing itself, but in the ritual breaking of the figurine or bowl that contains the written text.

The Written Name

…the name Moses is from a well-known Egyptian word means “born, begotten”; hence, the name of the famous Egyptian Pharaoh Ramasses means “begotten of the god Ra” and the name of Pharaoh Thutmoses means “begotten of the god Thoth.” (30)

Writing could have a ritual power even when humans wrote names down in a list. Just as in some cultures making an image or a picture could capture the subject’s essence (and then be magically manipulated), so in the ancient Near East (including Israel) writing down a name could be a ritual act used to manipulate a person’s fate. As a result, taking a census–that is, the registering of names in a list–dabbled in the divine. (30)

cf. Exodus 30:11-16; Number 1:53; 2 Samuel 24

…the writing down of names in a list treads in the realm of the divine. As a result, David and Israel must endure a pestilence, and seventy thousand Israelites die because their names were written down in a census list. The plague strikes not only David, who took the census, but also those whose names were written down in the list. (31)

| This sense of the numinous power of writing down names certainly continues in Judaism until this day. (31)

In the Dead Sea Scrolls, several scribal devices indicate the reluctance to write down the name of God. Sometimes four dots replace the four letters of the name of God. In other places, an archaic paleo-Hebrew script is employed to represent the name of God. (32)

| Yet the concept of the numinous power of the written name would have to give way as writing became more important to the economy of the palace. (32)

God’s Writing

The heavenly “book of life” is another example of the divine writing. There are several references in biblical literature to a divine book in which are written the names of all humanity. Erasing names from the book extinguishes life. (33)

But now, if you will only forgive their sin–but if not, blot me out of the scroll that you have written – Exodus 32:32

cf. Daniel 7:10; Revelation 20:15; 21:27 … The ultimate fate of every person depends on whether his or her name is written in or erased from the divine book. (34)

3 Writing and the State

Nowhere did writing flourish in the ancient Near East without the auspices of the state. Writing became a part of the self-definition of early civilizations in Egypt and Mesopotamia. It became pivotal to administration and high culture, even though it was essentially restricted to the emergent scribal class. It was a central element of public monuments, even though the public was essentially non-literate. Writing projected royal power in public forums. Public written monuments were not for reading, but were displays of royal power and authority. Even the pettiest would-be kings of the ancient Near East desired their own royal scribes. The flourishing of writing and literature in the ancient Near East cannot be understood without the context of the state. (35)

The Early Use of Writing

…the Sumerian cuneiform sign for “heaven” (AN) was originally shaped like a star and over time became increasingly stylized (see Figure 3.1). When the system was taken over in Akkadian, the sign was used to represent the god of heaven, Anu. Eventually, the sign became so stylized that it is only barely recognizable as a pictograph. To make the system more flexible, these signs also began to serve as syllables. In the case of this “star,” it could serve as the syllable il or el. (36)

At any given time, cuneiform scribes employed about six hundred or more signs, many of which could represent words, grammatical (e.g., plural) or semantic (e.g., “man,” “city”) concepts, and syllables. Egyptian hieroglyphic writing also had several hundred signs, most of which were used to transcribe either full words (ideograms) or groups of only two or three consonants (Egyptian writing generally did not indicate the vowels). Egyptian also used signs, called determinatives, to classify the words and to distinguish between homographs. In addition to these, Egyptian employed about twenty “alphabetic” signs to represent single consonants; these signs (36) were used initially to transcribe foreign names. (37)

…it was only in the Old Babylonian period (between 2000 and 1600 B.C.E.) that many of these texts were copied down in scribal schools. The major collections of literary works actually date to the Assyrian libraries of the first millennium. The famous library of Assurbanipal (ca. 650 B.C.E.), in particular, collected a variety of Mesopotamian literary traditions, including texts dealing with rituals, myth, math, astronomy, and other subjects. For the most part, however, writing served an administrative and bureaucratic role. Writing preserved the records of the court and the temple; its primary role was not to preserve the cultural heritage of antiquity. (37)

| Writing was also a display of royal power. …public monuments displaying cuneiform also included symbolic art that communicated the content of the writing to the masses. (37)

cf. Code of Hammurabi

The Invention of the Alphabet

A defining moment in the history of writing was the invention of the alphabet. … In the case of early hieroglyphs and cuneiform, writing was only a mnemonic aid. Early writing systems were independent semiotic systems. They had only a loose relationship to speech. But the invention of the alphabet aligned the semiotic system of writing with speech and thereby made literacy more accessible. [Theorists correclty criticize the cliché that writing represents speech, particularly following the work of J. Derrida, Of Grammatology (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1974). Still, the invention of the alphabet clearly related the semiotics of writing with speech, even if they are not equated.] The alphabet had the power to democratize writing and made it possible for literacy to spread beyond the scribal classes. This innovation also took the mystery out of writing. It is perhaps no surprise that the first alphabetic inscriptions are essentially graffiti. [See J. Naveh, Early History of the Alphabet: An Introduction to West Semitic Epigraphy and Palaeography (2nd ed.; Jerusalem: Magnes, 1987), pp. 23-28.] Although alphabetic writing made it much easier to learn to read and write, more than a millennium passed after its invention before we have evidence that literacy actually spread significantly beyond the scribal classes. (38)

Although the Wadi el-Hol inscriptions have yet to be completely deciphered, they nevertheless confirm that the invention of the alphabet emerged based on the system of Egyptian consonants. (38)

Figure 3.2. First Known Alphabetic Writing from Wadi el-Hol, Egypt.

Additional evidence of early alphabetic writing comes from peoples speaking an early West Semitic language in Canaan and Sinai during the sixteenth through fifteenth centuries B.C.E. At a place known today as Serabit el-Khadem, forty-five “Proto-Sinaitic” inscriptions carved in stone were discovered. (39)

Serabit el Khadim in the Sinai is one of the Egyptian sites believed by Petrovich to contain the oldest Hebrew writing.

The most well -known inscription is on a basalt statue and reads, lb’lt, “to the Lady.” Alphabetic inscriptions dating to the late second millennium B.C.E. also have been found at Gezer, Lachish, and Shechem. As far as we understand, the letters are drawn according to an acrophonic principle; so, for example, the consonant m is a jagged line representing waves of water and corresponding to the word that begins with the sound /m/ in West Semitic languages (mayim, “water”). The early alphabet appears to be conceived by an attempt to represent every consonantal sound (phoneme) with one corresponding letter (grapheme), although this system would later be simplified and adapted. (39)

Royal Scribes

The scribe was among the most necessary figures in ancient Near Eastern governments. [One could not even pretend to be a king if he did not have a scribe.] (40)

The first thing that Mesha, the king of Moab, does when he throws off Israelite domination is have a long inscription (over thirty lines) written to commemorate the victory. The inscription begins as follows: [One recent and convenient translation and discussion is by K. A. D. Smelik in The Context of Scripture, vol. 2: Monumental Inscriptions from the Biblical World (ed. W. W. Hallo and K. L. Younger, Jr.; Leiden: Brill, 2000), pp. 137-38. Also see A. Lemaire, “‘House of David’ Restored in Moabite Inscription,” Biblical Archaeology Review 20, no. 3 (1994): 30-37.]

I am Mesha, son of Chemosh-{yat}, king of Moab, the Dibonite. My father reigned over Moab thirty years, and I reigned after my father. I made this high place for Chemosh [the Moabite national deity] in Qarhoh because he delivered me from all the kings and caused me to triumph over all my adversaries. As for Omri, king of Israel, he humbled Moab many days because Chemosh was angry at his land. And his son [the Israelite king Ahab] succeeded him and he also said, “I will humble Moab.” In my days he spoke thus, but I have triumphed over him and over his house, while Israel has perished for ever! Now Omri had occupied the land of Medeba, and (Israel) had dwelt there in his time, and half the time of his son, forty years; Chemosh dwelt there in my time. And I built Baal-meon, making a reservoir in it, and I built Kiriathaim…

…one scholar has even suggested that the Moabite king must have employed a captured Israelite scribe. [S. Segert, “Die Sprache der Moabitischen Königsinschrift,” Archiv Orientalni 29 (1961): 197-269.] But this explanation is unnecessary. Almost no one could read this monument, which was intended to project royal stature for the new upstart king who had his scribe monumentalize (exaggerated) victories in writing. (41)

Figure 3.3. Tel Dan (“House of David”) Inscription

The Tel Dan inscription is fragmentary (see Figure 3.3), but the remaining pieces read as follows: [See the original publication by A. Biran and J. Naveh, “An Aramaic Stele Fragment from Tel Dan,” IEJ 43 (1993): 81-98. The translation here, however, is based on my article, Schniedewind, “Tel Dan Stela: New Light on Aramaic and Jehu’s Revolt,” BASOR 302 (996): 75-90.]

[…consp]ire against[…]and cut/made (a treaty) ?[…Baraq]el my father, went up [against him when] he was fighting at A[bel ?] and my father lay down; he went to [his ancestors.] Now the king of Israel entered formerly in the land of my father’s land; [but] Hadad made me myself king, and Hadad went in front of me; [and] I departed from [the] seven[…] of my kingdom; and I slew seve[nty ki]ngs, who harnessed thou[sands of cha]riots and thousands of horsemen. [And I killed Jo]ram, son of [Ahab,] king of Israel, and [I] killed [Ahazi]yahu, son of [Joram, ki]ng of the House of David; and I set [their towns into ruins…the ci]ties of their land into de[solation…] other and to over[turn al their cities…and Jehu ru]led over Is[rael…] siege upon […]

The inscription apparently commemorates a victory of this Aramean king over the two kingdoms of ancient Israel: the northern kingdom, which was known as Israel, and the southern kingdom of Judah, which was known as the “House of David.” (43)

…(see 1 Kgs 19:15-18). [See the full discussion in my article, “Tel Dan Stela.”] (43)

Figure 3.4. Royal Scribe before Bar-Rakib on Throne

The scribe has in his hand a scroll and carries another document under his arm. He writes for the king. (45)

Writing as a Projection of State Power

The Assyrian Empire would eventually adopt a foreign writing system, the alphabet, and a foreign language, Aramaic, to advance its political and administrative aims. [See H. Tadmor, “The Aramaization of Assyria: Aspects of Western Impact,” in Mesopotamien und seine Nachbarn. Teil 2 (ed. H.-J. Nissen and J. Renger; Berlin: Dietrich Reimer, 1982), pp. 449-70.] … In the Dûr-Sharrukîn cylinder inscription, the task of linguistic unification is given to the Assyrian monarch Sargon (r. 722-705 B.C.E.):

Peoples of the four regions of the world, of foreign tongue and divergent speech dwellers of mountain and lowland, all that were ruled by the light of the gods, lord of all, I carried off at Assur, my lord’s command, by the might of my scepter. I made them of one mouth and settled them therein. Assyrians, fully competent to teach them how to fear god and the king, I dispatched as scribes and overseers. The gods who dwell in heaven and earth, and in that city, listened with favor to my word, and granted me the eternal boon of building that city and growing old in its midst. (Luckenbill, ARAB 2.65-66)

The Assyrians pursued an activist linguistic policy rooted in political ideology. They were well aware of the relationship between language and nationalism. The Assyrian program would use a foreign writing system to help break the relationship between people, land, and language. The brilliance of this policy was that the Assyrians chose not to use their own language — Akkadian — to unify their empire. They chose instead an alphabetically written language — Aramaic — that was easier for scribes to master, in order to facilitate the administration of their growing empire. The imperial use of the alphabet alongside the growth of an urban and global economy would help spread writing in the West. (45)

Writing at the Ancient City of Ugarit

The cosmopolitan character of Ugarit is reflected in the many languages and scrips discovered in the excavations at Ras Shamra. Clay tablets were found inscribed in a variety of scripts (cuneiform, alphabetic cuneiform, hieroglyphic) and langauges (Ugaritic, Akkadian, Sumerian, Hurrian, Hittite, Egyptian, Cypro-Minonan), although the primary languages were Ugaritic and Akkadian. (46)

[Umberto] Cassuto suggests that biblical literature is the continuation of Canaanite antecedents. This implies that early Israelite scribes were, like their Late Bronze counterparts, part of a larger Syro-Palestinian scribal tradition and is seen not only in literary influences but also in linguistic and paleographic affinities. The eminent paleographer Joseph Naveh has pointed out, for example, that the West Semitic alphabets (Phoenician, Aramaic, and Hebrew) are almost indistinguishable in the tenth century B.C.E. [Naveh, Early History of the Alphabet, pp. 89-112.] Scribes throughout the region learned the scribal arts in loosely connected pan-Levantine scribal schools. The affinities between Ugaritic and biblical poetry–especially early biblical poetry–thus point to Canaanite tradition as the heritage of early Israelite scribes. (47)

4 Writing in Early Israel

Early Israel was an oral society. Biblical literature depicts the early Israelites as semi-nomadic wanderers who finally settled in Canaan and followed a pastoral and later, an increasingly agrarian lifestyle. This was not a setting in which we should expect writing to flourish. Rather, the “literature” of the early Israelites was an oral literature — the songs and stories, proverbs and folktales of a traditional society. … According to Deuteronomy, every Israelite confessed about his ancestors: “my father was a wandering Aramean” (Deut 26:5). (48)

…the Biblical Hebrew verb qara’ [קרא] means “to call out, proclaim” and was only rarely used in the sense of “to read out loud”… The verb qara’ [קרא] in its sense of calling out or proclaiming had come to denote reading, as in Nehemiah 8:3, where Ezra reads the Torah to the people in the public square: “He read (qara’)[קרא] from it facing the square before the Water Gate from the early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the Torah.” Later stages of the Hebrew language transform this word, and its primary reaming becomes “to read,” thereby reflecting the increasing importance of texts and reading in Jewish society. (49)

Writing was not unknown in early Israel, but the level and sophistication of early Israelite literature was necessarily tied to the development of the state. (49)

The Early Israelites

Where did the Israelites come from? … The problem is simple. Outside of the Bible, we have no mention or record of “Israelites” until the late thirteenth century B.C.E. Not that we should expect to hear of them. After all, the biblical accounts of Abraham and his sons point to a patriarchal chieftain whose family is forced into slavery in Egypt by a famine in Canaan. Archaeological evidence suggests that the early Israelites emerged out of a society that was largely pastoral and agrarian. The biblical narratives depicting the emergence of Israel in Canaan, which were likely written down centuries later, also point to shepherds and farmers. There is little reason to believe that we would have explicit written evidence of such an early agrarian and pastoral people. (49)

The Israelites appear in a victory stele of Pharaoh Merneptah that dates to about 1207 B.C.E. (49)

The princes are prostrate, saying: “Mercy!”
NOt one raises his head among the Nine Bows.
Desolation is for Tehenu; Hatti is pacified;
Plundered is the Canaan with every evil;
Carried off is Ashkelon; seized upon is Gezer;
Yanoam is made as that which does not exist;
Israel is laid waste, his seed is not;
Hurru is become a widow for Egypt!
All lands together, they are pacified;
Everyone who was restless, he has been bound by the King of Upper and Lower Egypt:
Ba-en-Re meriAmon; the Son of Re: Mer-ne-Ptah Hotep-hir-Maat, given life like Re everyday. (50)

The people of Israel are explicitly pointed to by the determinative marker in the Egyptian language of the stele. The Egyptian language used such determinative markers to classify nouns, including people, city, person, land, and nation. [See J. Allen, Middle Egyptian: An Introduction to the Language and Culture of Hieroglyphs (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), s3.5.] An attempt at a literal translation reflecting these determinative markers might be as follows: “Yanoam(city) is made as that which does not exist; / Israel(people) is laid waste. …” Apparently, the Israelite people were to be distinguished from the Canaanite city-states like Ashkelon, Gezer, and Yanoam, which have the determinative marker for cities. Scholars have usually inferred from this that the people of Israel were not organized in city-states like the Canaanites were; the scholars have located the Israelites in the hill country, as the Bible itself suggests. (50)

Village culture was hardly conducive to the development of writing. Writing flourishes in urban cultures, where it first of all must meet the administrative needs of government. … One of the earliest examples of writing in ancient Israel comes from a small Israelite village called Ebenezer (now known as the ruins of Izbet Sartah), [M. Kochavi and A. Demsky, “An Israelite Village from the Days of the Judges,” BAR 4, no. 3 (1978): 19-21.] where archaeologists discovered (51) a clay shard that while it was still wet had been inscribed with the Hebrew alphabet (see Figure 4.2). (52)

The Songs of the People

The earliest biblical literature included songs of the people. These songs belong to what is usually called oral literature. (52)

One collection of archaic Israelite songs has come to be known, infelicitously, as “the Book of Jashar.” (sefer ha-Jashar) … “the book of the upright.” (53)

cf. Joshua 10:12-13; 2 Samuel 1:19-27; 1 Kings 8:12-13.

The word “Jashar” (Hebrew yashar), though it appears at first to be a personal name, is actually a form of the Hebrew verb “to sing” (yashir) [ישיר] Alternatively, the word could reflect a metathesis of letters, which would yield the Hebrew wordîshir, “song.” The name of this text, the Book of Jashar, is actually an allusion to its contents, the scroll of the songs. This was evidently a collection of ancient national songs. (54)

cf. Exod 15:1; Deut 31:30; Num 21:17.

Presumably, these oral songs carried the traditions of Israel, yet they could be written down and taught to the Israelites. (54)

The Song of the Sea [Exodus 15] was part of the sacred liturgy of ancient Israel. (55)

The Song of Deborah is also prefaced by a prose account of Barak and Deborah’s battle against Sisera in the preceding chapter (Judg 4-5). In this way, the historical narrative gives a literary framework to the oral poetry of ancient Israel. (55)

| The Israelites’ inclusion of oral liturgy in their written prose was critical to the formation of this literature as sacred Scripture. (55)

From Canaanite to Israelite Scribes

…the rejection of Canaanite culture is a feature of the Josianic religious reform and its literature. (56)

Although some later biblical narratives advocate a cultural break, the stories of Judges and the accounts of the early monarchy from Samuel and Kings suggest that the early Israelite kings drew heavily upon a Canaanite administrative infrastructure. It was only the Deuteronomic ideology stemming from the late seventh century Josianic religious reforms that advanced the notion of a complete cultural break with Canaanite social institutions. (57)

The Emergence of the Early Israelite Monarchy

The Gezer Calendar…dates to the tenth century B.C.E. and was discovered at…Gezer. It reads,

two months of ingathering [olives],
two months of sowing (grain),
two months of late sowing,
a month of hoeing flax,
a month of harvesting barley,
a month of harvesting (wheat) and measuring,
two months of grape harvesting,
a month of ingathering summer fruit. (58)

…it is a priori unlikely that the classical language of the Bible would reflect the early Israelite monarchy. Rather, the Classical Hebrew language of the Bible indicates the emergence of the urban culture of the late Judean monarchy. [Contra C. Rabin, “The Emergence of Classical Hebrew,” in The Age of the Monarchies: Culture and Society (ed. A. Malamat; Jerusalem: Massada, 1979), ] (59)

cf. 1 Kgs 4:7-19

Thus, these lists of David’s and Solomon’s officials give every indication of being authentic and ancient lists from the early Israelite monarchy because they include many non-Yahwistic names. The general drift of scribal transmission tended to replace these non-Yahwistic names with Yahwistic names. So, for example, the name Shisha comes from an Egyptian word for scribe. In 2 Samuel 8:17, this name is “YHWHized” as Seraiah. The personal name Adoram, meaning “hadad is exalted,” in David’s list of administrators becomes the more neutral Adoniram, “my lord is exalted,” in Solomon’s list. These changes are often subtle and probably also often unconscious scribal variations. Such shifts probably mask the entire extent of the Canaanite administrative infrastructure of the kingdoms of David and Solomon. (60)

the relative paucity of mundane writing from early Israel is telling of the limited role that writing played during the twelfth through ninth centuries B.C.E. (61)

The most mundane type of administrative writing is seal impressions and ostraca. (61)

The term “ostraca” is the plural form of a Greek word, ostrakon, meaning “shell, shard.” (62)

The term hekat is an Egyptian term for measuring barley. The four Arad texts use hieratic numerals and signs borrowed from Egyptian accounting systems known from the tenth century B.C.E. Thus, not only were scribes doing government accounting at this remote outpost, but they had also borrowed a concept of numerals and accounting abbreviations from their contemporary (62) Egyptian scribes. (63)

The social and historical contexts suggests the opposite. Writing had a limited role in Israel during this early period. The literature of Israel was primarily oral. There is no reason to insist that the supposed “J” source of the Pentateuch had to be a document rather than an oral tradition. Nor is there any reason to insist that the stories of Samson and Delilah or of Deborah and Barak in the Book of Judges had to have been written down in the days of David and Solomon. At some point, of course, these stories did take on a written garb, but that time had not yet come. Writing did not play an important enough role in early Israelite society to warrant writing down these songs and stories, proverbs and parables. That time, however, would come in the eighth century. (63)

5 Hezekiah and the Beginning of Biblical Literature

The Bible as we know it began to take shape in Jerusalem in the late eighth century B.C.E., in the days of Isaiah, the prophet, and Hezekiah, the king of Judah. (64)

What were the local catalysts for such a dramatic transformation of Judean society? Why did biblical literature begin to flourish in the late eighth century? The answers to these questions begin with the rise of the Assyrian Empire and the social, economic, and political challenges that it would present. In particular, the exile of the northern kingdom by Assyria and the subsequent urbanization of the rural south were the catalysts for literary activity that resulted in the composition of extended portions of the Hebrew Bible. (64)

The Assyrian Empire

The impact of the rise of the Assyrian Empire on Judah, on Syria-Palestine, and, indeed, even on the course of Western civilization is difficult to overstate. (65) … Tiglath-Pileser III (r. 745-727 B.C.E.), unified Assyria and Babylon, conquered the kingdom of Urartu to the north (in Asia Minor), and expanded the empire west to the Mediterranean Sea. … Assyria built the first in a series of expanding world empires. (65)

| Assyria moved the Near East toward globalization: one polity, one economy, one language. As the Assyrian king Sargon (r. 722-705 B.C.E.) expressed the imperial ideology:

Peoples of the four regions of the world, of foreign tongue and divergent speech, dwellers of mountain and lowland, all that were ruled by the light of the gods, the lord of all, I carried off at Ashur, my lord’s command, by the might of my scepter, I made them of one mouth and settled them therein. Assyrians, fully competent to teach them how to fear god and the king, I dispatched as scribes and overseers. (Dûr-Sharrukîn cylinder)

…the Assyrians chose to use Aramaic (rather than their native Akkadian) as they dispatched “scribes and overseers” to administer their conquered lands in the west because Aramaic–with its alphabetic writing system–was easier to implement in training these bureaucrats than the exceedingly complex syllabic cuneiform system. (65)


The ferocity of the Assyrian Empire pressured rural populations to settle in the cities where they could find relative security. (66)

Domestically, even the size of cooking pots shrank as the society evolved toward [sic] smaller, nuclear, families. Implicit in these differences is the momentous transformation of Judean society, from an isolated, rural nation to an urbanized, cosmopolitan one. Especially in the days of Hezekiah, Judah experienced significant growth not only in population but also in the size of its cities. There was also a marked increase in the numbers of inscriptions and public monuments as well as in the availability of luxury goods–all signs of urbanization. (67)

The Urbanization of Jerusalem

We must assume that the political and religious capital, Jerusalem, was the center for the collection and composition of biblical literature. (68)

Jerusalem’s growth was a by-product of the rise of the Assyrian Empire. First of all, Assyria destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel resulting in the immigration of Israelites to Jerusalem and other cities in the south. A few years later, another influx of dispossessed refugees came into Jerusalem from the foothills of Judah following the campaign of Sennacherib against Judah in 701 B.C.E. (68)

The Book of Isaiah itself places this prophecy [9:1-7] between 730 and 715 B.C.E.–just a few years after the fall of Galilee to Tiglath-Pileser III and perhaps several years after the final defeat of the north. … To Isaiah’s audience, this child could be none other than Hezekiah! Nostalgically, the people of Jerusalem looked to Hezekiah, the son of David, to restore the golden age of peace and prosperity. (69)

When the Assyrian king Sargon died in 705 B.C.E., Hezekiah led a (foolhardy) coalition against the Assyrian Empire. The new Assyrian monarch, Sennacherib (r. 705-681 B.C.E.), (69) was on the throne for four years before he was able to address Hezekiah’s rebellion in the remote western part of the empire. … Sennacherib recorded:

As to Hezekiah, the Jew, he did not submit to my yoke, I laid siege to 46 of his strong cities, walled forts and to the countless small villages in their vicinity, and conquered them by means of well-stamped earth-ramps and battering-rams brought thus near to the walls combined with the attack by foot soldiers, using mines, breeches as well as sapper work. I drove out 200,105 people, young and old, male and female, horses, mules, donkeys, camels, big and small cattle beyond counting, and considered them booty. Himself I made a prisoner in Jerusalem, his royal residence, like a bird in a cage. I surrounded him with earthwork in order to molest those who were leaving his city’s gate. His towns which I had plundered, I took away from his country and gave them over to Mitinti, king of Ashdod, Padi, king of Ekron, and Sillibel, king of Gaza. Thus I reduced his country, but I still increased the tribute and the katrû-presents due to me as his overlord which I imposed upon him beyond the former tribute, to be delivered annually. [Transation from ANET, pp. 287-88.]

According to archaeological calculations, there was an 85 percent decrease in the number of cities and towns in the foothills west of Jerusalem at the end of the eighth century as a result of Sennacherib’s invasion. The population decreased by about 70 percent, suggesting that the depopulation affected the smaller agricultural towns and villages more than the cities. Thus, Sennacherib’s invasion resulted in both depopulation of rural areas and further urbanization. (70)

Figure 5.2. Lemelek Stamp

Hezekiah created four administrative cities and a system of taxation and supply. The most visible archaeological remains of this administration are the royal storage jars and their seal impressions (see Figure 5.2). … They have even been found in excavations in northern Israel, reflecting Hezekiah’s aspirations to incorporate the northern kingdom after it had fallen to the Assyrians. The seals were stamped on jar handles while the clay was still wet. The royal insignia, probably best understood as a flying sun disk, occupies the center of each seal. Above the insignia, the seal bears the Hebrew inscription lemelek, “belonging to the king,” and the name of one of four cities — Hebron, Socho, Ziph, or MMST. (71)

The complete text of [Hezekiah’s] tunnel inscription is as follows:

[…] Now this is the account of the breach. While [the masons were wielding[ their pick-axes, each man towards his neighbors, and while there were still three cubits to be [tunneled through], a man’s voice [was heard] calling to his neighbor because there was a fissure in the rock running from south [to nor]th. Now on the day the breach was made, the mason struck, one man towards his co-worker, pick against pick; and the water flowed from the spring to the pool, a distance of one thousand two hundred cubits. A hundred cubits was the height of the rock above the head of the masons. [See S. Lancaster and G. Long, “Where They Met: Separations in the Rock Mass Near the Siloam Tunnel’s Meeting Point,” BASOR 315 (1999): 15-26; A. Faust, “A Note on the Location of the Siloam Inscription and the Excavation of Hezekiah’s Tunnel,” in New Studies on Jerusalem: Proceedings of the Second Conference November 28th 1996 (ed. A. Faust; Ramat Gan: Ingeborg Rennett Center for Jerusalem Studies, 1996), pp. 21-24.)

The inscription itself was written on a prepared panel, about .5 meters high and .66 meters wide, but the text occupies only the lower half of the panel. This curious fact has led to several theories. (72) … Here, outside the royal palace and the temple, writing is being used by engineers, craftsmen, and laborers to memorialize their accomplishment. That this writing takes place away from the palace or the temple is most significant. It portends major shifts in the role of writing in Judean society. (73)

In sum, the late eighth century witnessed a process of rapid centralization and urbanization. Judah shiftee from a large rural state to a smaller but more centralized and urbanized state. The centrality of Jerusalem was the de facto result of the exponential increase in the city’s population and the depopulation of the foothills to its west. Jerusalem, which held about 6 percent of Judah’s total population in the mid-eighth century B.C.E., would grow to about 30 percent in scarcely two generations. These processes were coordinated with a political ideology that envisioned the restoration of a golden age to Judah and the reunification of the northern kingdom. This golden age would be textualized by the collection, composition, and editing of literature by the royal scribes of Hezekiah. (73)

Hezekiah’s Creation of a Golden Age

Among the important accouterments of a king was his scribe and the royal library. (74) … The building of libraries was particularly a passion of the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal (r. 668-627 B.C.E.). In one letter, he writes.

…every last tablet in their establishments and all the tablets that are in Ezida [the name of the scribe god Nabû’s shrine in the city of Borsippa]. Gather together the entirety of … (a long list of text types) and send them to me. … If you see any tablet which I have not mentioned and it is appropriate for my palace…send it to me!”

The Men of Hezekiah

cf. Proverbs 25:1

A Historical Work

[Martin] Noth hypothesized that a single exilic historian composed the narrative from Deuteronomy to 2 Kings using earlier written sources. This narrative has been called the “Deuteronomistic History” to describe its dependence on the religious ideology of the Book of Deuteronomy, which shaped its interpretation of Israel’s history. …scholars have followed four basic lines. Some adhere to the theory of a single exilic edition, written after the Babylonian exile in 586 B.C.E. and before the return from exile that began with the decree of the Persian king Cyrus in 539 B.C.E. Other scholars isolate an exilic history with two further redactional hands (prophetic and nomistic),… A third school follows the dual-redaction theory … that the original edition of the Deuteronomistic History was written in the pre-exilic period to support the reforms of Josiah (r. 640-609 B.C.E.) and was later updated by an exilic editor (ca. 550 B.C.E.) who was concerned to explain the Babylonian exile. The fourth approach … identify two pre-exilic editions written under the royal sponsorship of the Judean kings Hezekiah and Josiah followed by an exilic redaction. (77)

Hezekiah is presented in the Book of Kings as the “new David.” … “And he did right int he eyes of YHWH according to all that David, his father, had done” (2 Kgs 18:3). (80)

Pentateuchal Literature

Writing and written texts do not play a significant role in Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, or Numbers. As we shall see in Chapter 7, only in Deuteronomy will writing come to the fore. (81) … In Jubilees, writing becomes a main topic from the very first verse! This observation has significant implications. It suggests that the first four books of the Pentateuch were written when writing was not self-consciously important. Deuteronomy’s emphasis on writing remedies this gap: Deuteronomy recognizes the need to address the writing down of the law and the stories of early Israel. (82)

| Before bypassing the dating of the Pentateuch, a few comments are in order. For two reasons, it is difficult to assume that the Pentateuch was essentially composed at a very late date (i.e., the Persian period, or fifth-fourth centuries B.C.E.). The first reason is simply that the language is Classical Hebrew, not late Hebrew. (82)

The second reason that the Pentateuch is unlikely to have been very late is the prominent role given in it to the northern tribes of Israel. … Genesis tells a story of Israel’s origins that is consistent with Hezekiah’s political vision. The Book of Exodus also tells a story of all the tribes of Israel that will become (82) the people of Israel. The story begins in Exodus 1:1-4 by naming the tribes: (83)

These are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob, each with his household: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin, Dan and Naphtali, Gad and Asher.

These twelve tribes are essentially a pre-exilic concept. The concept does not appear, for example, in the Persian books of Ezra and Nehemiah. Those were books written in the fifth or fourth century B.C.E. when the northern tribes were not only lost — as a result of the Assyrian exile —  but also irrelevant. But in the days of Hezekiah, the northern tribes were still on the minds of the people in Judah. Indeed, many of them were refugees living in Jerusalem. … Yet, there are ways that a negative pall is cast upon the northern tribes. So, for example, the sin of the Golden Calf (Exod 32-33) reflects directly and poorly on the northern kingdom that repeats the sin (1 Kgs 12). (83)

Scholars therefore have proposed that “Horeb” was the name of the mountain in northern traditions, whereas “Sinai” was the name of the mountain in southern traditions. (83)

As Israel Knohl, professor of biblical studies at Hebrew University, demonstrates in The Sanctuary of Silence: The Priestly Torah and the Holiness School, there were two distinct priestly schools in ancient Israel — a Holiness school and a Priestly school. The “Holiness” school engaged three basic issues in late-monarchic Judah: the incursion of northern idolatrous practices, the economic and social polarization of urban elites and rural farmers, and the detachment of morality from cult. (84)

The Eighty-Century “Writing” Prophets

Ironically, the so-called early writing prophets — that is, Isaiah, Micah, Amos, and Hosea — were not writers at all.  By calling them “writing” prophets, they are contrasted with figures like Nathan or Elijah, who do not have independent books. But in the books ascribed to them, the early writing prophets are rarely portrayed as having written anything. God commands them to speak, not to write. There are no books in their books! Writing is a marginal activity for the eighth-century prophets. So, who wrote their books? The prophetic books of Isaiah, Micah, Amos, and Hosea contain superscriptions that place them in the second half of the eighth century B.C.E. These superscriptions point to the editorial activity of collectin prophetic oracles. (84)

…the collection of the books of the four prophets was assembled during the reign of Hezekiah, to celebrate and interpret the extraordinary sequence of events associated with the Assyrian invasion of Judah and investment of Jerusalem, along with the departure of the Assyrian army and the deliverance of the city. – David Noel Freedman, “Headings in Books of Eighth-Century Prophets,” Andrews University Seminary Studies 25 (1987): 22.

As we would expect, writing was not an important part o the popular culture in the eighth century. Rather, writing was still closely tied to the palace. It was an activity of royal scribes. … The state, however, was always interested in writing as a projection of royal power and authority to the general public. The role of writing would become much more central in the later prophets, like Jeremiah, Ezekiel, or Zechariah, reflecting the rising importance of writing in Israelite culture. The act of writing is rarely mentioned in the eighth-century prophets, and, certainly, reading and writing are not part of the prophetic call. There is scant mention of writing, texts, or scribes in the other prophetic works of Hosea, Amos, and Micah, and this is hardly coincidence. (85)

| The few references to “writing” (Hebrew, katav [כתב]) in Isaiah 1-39 reflect early attitudes about writing. …Isaiah 4:3… (85)

cf. Isiah 7:14 … Isaiah sees the destruction of Samaria as an appropriate consequence of the division of the north from the south after the death of Solomon: “YHWH will bring on you and on your people and on your father’s house such days as have not come since the day that Ephraim departed from Judah — the king of Assyria” (Isa 7:17). (86)

The vision of these days was to reestablish the kingdom of David and Solomon, to revisit the golden age of Israel. (87)

…the reference in Amos 6:2 to the disappearance of Philistine Gath, which was known to have been destroyed by Sargon’s invasion in 712 B.C.E. [It is also noteworthy that Gath is missing from the list of Philistine cities mentioned in Amos 1:6-8. Its fate is apparently summed up in the words of the prophet Micah, “Tell it not in Gath” (Mic 1:10).] …Amons 9:11…has been widely analyzed as a late addition to the book. The ruins here are of the “booth of David” and not the city of Jerusalem; in other words, the ruins relate to the division of the “house of David,” not to the destruction of Judah. Scholars have often thought that this language points to the destruction of Jerusalem, but actually the language is a metaphor for the division of the kingdom — “the booth of David.” (88)

In sum, the exile of the northern kingdom and the urbanization of the rural south –particularly Jerusalem — set into motion the collecting and editing that resulted in the writing of extended portions of the Hebrew Bible. This began in the court of King Hezekiah in the late eighth century B.C.E. with the collecting and editing of prophetic works such as Amos, Hosea, Micah, and Isaiah of Jerusalem. In addition, Hezekiah’s scribes gathered wisdom traditions that they attributed to old King Solomon. The royal scribes also produced a pre-Deuteronomic historical work that ended with the fall of the northern kingdom. Current events, the exile of the north, and the survival of the sons of David were the backdrop for this literature. The temple priests probably also collected and edited some priestly traditions like the Holiness Code (Lev 17-26). Traditional stories of early Israel, such as those found in Genesis and Exodus, were likely collected as (89) well. The story of the Exodus already served as [sic] powerful symbol of exile, redemption, and royal power. Each of these writings ultimately pointed to the sons of David. (90)

| Urbanization, centralization of political power, and social change in Jerusalem naturally attracted social, political, and religious interpreters. Where these interpretations could be put down on parchment and papyrus was the royal court. The political situation invited, even necessitated, the collection of oral traditions and the writing of literature. The process began in earnest in the late eighth century under King Hezekiah, but it would spread and reach its apex in the latter days of the Judean monarchy. In the time of Hezekiah and Isaiah writing was still closely associated with the king and the state. This, however, was about to change. (90)

6 Josiah and the Text Revolution

With the emergence of literacy and the flourishing of literature a textual revolution arose in the days of King Josiah. This was one of the most profound cultural revolutions in human history: the assertion of the orthodoxy of texts. As writing spread throughout Judean society, literacy broke out of the confines of the closed scribal schools, the royal court, and the lofty temples. Beginning in the burgeoning government bureaucracy, the use of writing spread throughout society. Basic literacy became commonplace, so much so that the illiterate could be socially stigmatized. The spread of literacy enabled a central feature of the religious revolution of Josiah: the religious authority of the written text. This was the great and enduring legacy of the Josianic Reforms in the development of Western civilization. (90)

| It is ironic that the spread of literacy does not necessarily translate into a higher level of literature. Quite the contrary, its democratization increasingly takes writing out of the hands of professionals and places it into the hands of ht general public. Writing in the days of Hezekiah had largely been done by court or temple scribes. Writing in the days of Josiah spread throughout the government bureaucracy and the economy. This spread of literacy meant that writing was more broad, but also more shallow. The quantity of writing tended to diminish the quality of writing. The important innovation that emerged with the Josianic Reforms was not the spread of literacy, but the concept of textual authority. (91)

The introduction and spread of vowel letters in Hebrew can be associated with the explosion of writing in the late Judean monarchy. …in the seventh century B.C.E.,… (92)

…the alphabet was invented about 2000 B.C.E., and literacy did not spread until centuries later. (92) … Writing had long been the property of either the state or the temple, which guarded the secrets of writing in closed scribal schools. The alphabet could break this monopoly, given the right circumstances. But it took the growth of centralized political power in Jerusalem, the development of an extensive bureaucracy, a shift toward an urban society, and the globalization of the economy to plow the fields for the spread of literacy. Finally, literacy needed to be watered by political revolution. (93)

The Social Context of Literacy

Writing flourishes in certain social, cultural, and political conditions reflect factors such as demographics (i.e., urban vs. rural), politics (centralized government vs. decentralized tribal leadership), economics (prosperity vs. poverty(), and technological innovation (including the invention of the alphabet, the development of papyrus and parchment, the invention of the codex, and, most famously, the invention of the printing press). The spread of literacy is grounded in both social and technological changes. (93)


Who were the refugees from the north? … A disproportionate number of the refugees would have been the social and cultural elites: nobles, government officials, scribes, craftsmen, temple priests. In other words, a significant number of the immigrants who fled south into Judah and Jerusalem would have been literate. (95)

The devastation of the Judean foothills along with the growth of Jerusalem resulted in a corresponding increase in the number of smaller settlements around Jerusalem that were established in the late eighth or seventh century B.C.E. (95)


Urbanization, or demographic centralization, also facilitated political and religious centralization. … Since the temple was a centerpiece of the economy and essentially under the control of the palace in ancient Judah, any religious centralization was likely an extension of political centralization. (96)

The informal political structures of the rural Judean state were the tribal elders, “the house of the father,” [בית אב]  or “the people of the land.” [עם הארץ] These groups were marginalized as power shifted to the urban center in Jerusalem. … Although the changes in the demographics of the Judean state favored centralization, the reaction by the older traditional agrarian and pastoral elements of (96) Judean society against political centralization was ever present. This is evident in the Book of Deuteronomy’s concern for social justice; it is also evident in the Book of Jeremiah’s idealization of the wilderness (e.g., Jer 2:2-3). Thus, the movement toward political and religious centralization was neither simple nor linear. (97)

…most of the eighty-eight Hebrew ostraca excavated at the administrative fort at Arad (about 50 miles south of Jerusalem on the desert fringe) concern the administration of the late Judean monarchy. One letter orders, “Send fifty men from Arad and from Qinah; and send them to Ramat-negeb under Malkiyahi, son of Qerbur.” Another letter states, “And now, give to the Greeks [mercenaries?] two bath-measures of wine for four days, three hundred loaves of bread, and a full homer-measure of wine. Send them out tomorrow; do not wait. If there is any vinegar left, give it to them.” …  A practical level of literacy, particularly the ability to read the name in a seal and perhaps some basic administrative documents, is suggested by this evidence. If this is the case, then writing is no longer something that can be deciphered only by highly trained scribes. Writing begins to lose its exclusivity as well as its mystery. (97)

Oral tradition was the commonly held tradition of a community. The stories and wisdom of the community were held socially by the group. The transmission of tradition depended on the groups. The assertion of the individual, however, undermined the community. The advantage of textual orthodoxy for political revolution is that textual orthodoxy does not rely on tradition. (98)

| Written texts had the power to emancipate the individual from the authority of the community-held tradition. In the case of the Protestant Reformation, the cry sola scriptura (“scripture alone”) was a cry of freedom against the supposed tyranny of the community (or, the Roman Church). By another interpretation, however, the written text — Scripture — in the Protestant Reformation was a pretext authorizing social, political and religious revolution. As we shall see, texts not only could emancipate religion, they also could restrict access to it to the social and religious elites who were literate and able to interpret texts. Texts and literacy had the power to both liberate and oppress. (98)

Evidence for Writing in Judah

Taking into consideration the size of the Judean kingdom during this period, this large body is truly astonishing. – Ephraim Stern

Figure 6.1 A Conjectured Reconstruction of a Sealed Deed with Seal Impressions (after Avigad)

The use of seals is representative of the seals and weights minimally points to signature, or craft, literacy, that is, to the ability to read and write one’s own name, to read and write receipts, and perhaps to read short letters. (100)

Figure 6.2. A Receipt for Payment of Silver with Seventeen Signatures (photograph and drawing by R. Deutsch and M. Heltzer)

Another growing corpus of inscribed items are weights. … Some of the terms (100) inscribed on weights, like the word shekel, continued to be used until the Roman period and are even used today. Other terms, like pîm, which refers to “2/3 or a shekel,” are known only from the Hebrew inscriptions of the Iron Age or from the Hebrew Bible. (101)

The Letter of a Literate Soldier

…seventh century B.C.E. Lachish Letter 3, the so-called Letter of a Literate Soldier, captures a debate between a junior and a senior officer on the topic of the ability to read. [The editio princepts was done by H. Torczyner, Lachish I. The Lachish Letters (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1938). The present discussion draws upon my article, Schniedewind, “Socioloinguistic Reflections on the Letter of a ‘Literate’ Soldier (Lachish 3),” pp. 157-67.]

Your servant Hoshayahu sent to inform my lord Yaush: May YHWH cause my lord to hear a report of peace and a report of good things. And now, please explain to your servant the meaning of the letter which you sent to your servant yesterday evening because the heart of your servant has been sick since your sending to your servant and because my lord said, “you do not know (how) to rea da letter.” As Yhwh lives, never has any man had to read a letter to me. And also every letter that comes to me, surely I read it and, moreover, I can repeat it completely! And concerning your servant, it was reported saying, “The commander of the army, Konyahu ben-Elnathan, came down to enter into Egypt. And he sent to take Hodavyahu ben-Ahiyahu and his men from this place.” And as for the letter of Tobyahu, servant of the king, which came to Shallum en-Yada through the prophet, saying, “Beware!” your servant sent it to my lord.

We may infer from the passion of the junior officer’s protestations that illiteracy carried a social stigma, which would be a first. (102)

Mesad Hashavyahu Ostracon

May the official, my lord, hear the plea of his servant. Your servant was working at the harvest. Your servant was in Ḥaṣar Asam. Your servant did his reaping, finished, and stored it a few days ago before the Sabbath. When your [se]rvant had finished reaping and had stored it a few days ago, Hoshayahu, son of Shobay came and took your servant’s garment. When I had finished my reaping at that time, a few days ago, he took your servant’s garment. All my companions will testify for me, all who were reaping with me in the heat of the sun; my brothers will testify for me. Truly I am innocent from any gu[ilt]. [Please return] my garment. If the official does not consider it an obligation to retur[n your] ser[vant’s garment, then please hav]e pi[ty] upon him [and ret]urn your [se]rvant’s [garment]. You must not remain silent [when your servant is without his garment.]

This letter is especially noteworthy because it recalls the biblical law of a garment taken in pledge. Exodus 22:26-27, for example, enjoins a creditor (also see Deut 24:10-15; Amos 2:8):

If you take your neighbor’s cloak in pawn, you shall restore it before the sun goes down for it may be your neighbor’s only clothing to use as cover; in what else shall that person sleep? And if your neighbor cries out to me, I will listen, for I am compassionate.


…graffiti points to the ability to write among non-scribal classes. (104)

| The most famous corpus of graffiti was discovered in the burial caves at Khirbet el-Qôm. … One graffito,…asks for a blessing from “YHWH and his Asherah.” … Another…inscription scrawled by the tomb cutter, who asks for a blessing upon himself. (104)

…the tombs at Khirbet Beit-Lei,… (104)

Ketef Hinnom Silver Amulets

…Numbers 6:24-26: “May YHWH bless you and keep you. May YHWH make his face to shine upon (105) you and give you peace! May he be gracious to you. May YHWH lift up his face upon you.” The second passage is the well-known text from Deuteronomy 7:9-10: “Know, therefore, that only YHWH your God is God, the steadfast God who keeps His covenant faithfully to the thousandth generation of those who love Him and keep His commandments.” This latter passage continued to be an important text in the Second Temple period (cf. Dan 9:4; Neh 1:5). … Wisdom literature mentions the wearing of words of wisdom around the neck, on the fingers, or on the chest (cf. Proverbs 1:9; 3:3; 6:21; 7:3); however, usually this is understood metaphorically. What is notable about the development of this tradition is that it is the text from a particular book, the Torah, which is to be written on the doorposts, in the phylacteries, or — in the present case — on the amulet. (106)

Although these texts were not to be read, their use speaks to the religious power that written texts came to have in the late Judean monarchy. (106)

Orthodoxy of a Book

Josiah’s reforms precipitate from the discovery of a scroll, and the execution of Josiah’s reforms follow the prescription of a scroll. It is hardly coincidental that these textually inspired religious reforms are alleged to have happened precisely at a time (108) when we see the social conditions necessary for writing emerge and the archaeological evidence tells us there was an explosion in writing. (109)

| The biblical book that forms the blueprint for the Josianic Reforms is the Book of Deuteronomy. When we look carefully at specific elements of the Josianic Reforms — for example, the centralization of the cult (cf. Deut 12), the covenant with YHWH (cf. Deuteronomy 26), or the destruction of foreign cults — they mirror the Deuteronomic legislation. The covenant ceremony that launches the reform, “The king stood by the pillar and made a covenant before YHWH, to follow YHWH, keeping his commandments, his decrees, and his statutes, with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this scroll” (2 Kgs 23:3), echoes Deuteronomic language (e.g., Deut 4:40; 6:17; 7:11; 26:17). The relationship between Josiah’s reforms and the Book of Deuteronomy is quite clear. (109)

cf. Deuteronomy 27:3; 17:18; 6:9; 11:20

…the written text had become the basis of religious authority in Judean society. (109)

| What was the purpose of writing in Deuteronomy and the Josianic Reforms? The written word authorized the religious reforms of the rural elders and leaders who had been disenfranchised by the centralization of power in the city of Jerusalem and the person of the king. Deuteronomy placed remarkable limits on the power of the power of the king through the written word and the “levitical priests”:

When (the king) has taken the throne of his kingdom, he shall have a copy of this TORAH written for him in the presence of the levitical priests. It shall remain with him and he shall read in it all the days of his life, so that he may learn to fear YHWH his God, diligently observing all the words of this law and these statutes, neither exalting himself above other members of the community nor turning aside from the commandment, either to the right or to the left, so that he and his descendants may reign long over his kingdom in Israel. (Deut 17:18-20)

This was a radical innovation. The power of the king was being limited. A written Torah, deposited with the “levitical priests,” ensured that the king did not become too powerful, “exalting himself above other members of the community.” In the Near East the king’s word tended to be law, but this passage placed the king under equal obligation to the law. (110)

cf. Jeremiah 15:16; 1:9; 36:1-2, …the prophet calls on Baruch to transcribe his dictation (v.4). This description of the process of writing down a prophets words is the first and the only account of the writing process. (111)

A New Social Location for Writing

Not only had writing spread since the days of Hezekiah, it now had a new social location. Writing was no longer essentially a prerogative of the state, but it had spread to various non-scribal classes as well, as can be seen in the inscriptional evidence discussed earlier. (111)

cf. Deuteronomy 17:16-18

Deuteronomy serves to check the power of the king. It is a book of social conscience that promotes the power of the rural polity, the disenfranchised, and the rural levitical priests. Thus, Deuteronomy is the literature of the “people of the land”… (113)

The Critique of the Book

Writing locates authority in a text and its reader instead of in a tradition and its community. … The community held the keys to wisdom and authority. Written texts had the possibility of replacing traditional community-centered wisdom. One no longer had to depend on the community for knowledge and wisdom because the written word itself could confer knowledge. Viewed from this (114) perspective, the emphasis on a written text in the Josianic Reforms and in the Book of Deuteronomy was not only a novel development but is also a dangerous one. … The tension between text and tradition, between the written and the oral, is already evident in the Book of Jeremiah. (115)

7 How the Torah Became a Text

…this chapter begins with a different approach, asking the question: how does the Torah relate to its own textuality? (118)

My approach to the formation of biblical literature began with an assessment of the practical aspects of writing and the social contexts of writing as they developed in ancient Israel and early Judaism. For example, very complex models of the composition, redaction, and editing of biblical literature into multiple layers by many different hands appear to me not only to be unreasonably subjective but also to require sophisticated concepts of textuality and quite developed Hebrew scribal schools that just cannot be warranted based on the external evidence from archaeology and inscriptions. (119)

The Word “Torah”

The word comes from the Hebrew root YRH, [ירה] meaning “to instruct.” (119)

The transition from Torah as a specific instruction to the sacred ‘Book of the Torah’ of the Josianic period marked a turning point in Israel’s spiritual life. – Moshe Weinfeld

the original meaning of the Hebrew word torah as “teaching” underlines its orality. The word meant to teach or to instruct orally and had nothing to do with written texts. Part of my intent in this chapter is to show how “teaching” becomes sacred text. (120)

The word torah is part of a frequently used triplet: commandments, laws, and teachings (i.e., torah). Moreover, torah was not necessarily God’s teaching. As we see in the Book of Proverbs, the torah could be the teaching of a parent to a child: “my son, do not forget my teaching [torah], and let your mind retain my commandments” (Proverbs 3:1), and “My son, keep your father’s commandment; and do not forsake your mother’s teaching [torah]” (Prov. 6:20. (120)

…the written Torah (with a capital “T”) is central to the religious program of the Persian period as reflected in Ezra-Nehemiah. (120)

cf. Neh 8; 1 Chr 16:40; 2 Chr 15:3. … This sense of the Torah as a text began with Deuteronomy and the Josianic writers. (121)

The First Revelation at Sinai

To facilitate a literary analysis of Exodus 24, I have formatted the translation that follows with paragraphing, indentation, and bracketed notes that indicate some of the basic literary units and problems within the story. (122)

1 Then he [no subjected indicated] said to Moses, “Come up to YHWH, you and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and worship at a distance. 2 Moses alone [change in who goes up the mountain] shall come near YHWH; but the others shall not come near, and the people shall not come up with him.” 3 Moses came and told the people all the words of YHWH and all the ordinances; and all the people answered with one voice, and said, “All the words that YHWH has spoken we will dol” 4 And Moses wrote down all the words of YHWH. He rose early in the morning, and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and set up twelve pillars, corresponding to the twelve tribes of Israel. 5 He sent young men of the people of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed oxen as offerings of well-being to YHWH. 6 Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he dashed against the altar. 7 Then he took the scroll of the covenant [this same scroll is apparently found in 2 Kgs 23:2], and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, “All that YHWH has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” 8 Moses took the blood and dashed it on the people, and said, “See the blood of the covenant that YHWH has made with you in accordance with all these words.”

9 Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel [the same group mentioned in verse 1] went up, 10 and they saw the God of Israel. Under his feet there was something like a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness. 11 God did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; also they beheld God, and they ate and drank.

12 YHWH said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain, and wait there; and I will give you the tablets of stone (also, the law [tôrah] and the commandment [mitzvah]), which I have written for their instruction.” 13 So Moses set out with his assistant Joshua, and Moses went up into the mountain of God…

My approach takes as its presupposition that the very development of the notion of the written and then of the sacred text must be central to the analysis of the composition and editing in Exodus 24. (123)

…who (123) said, “Come up to YHWH”? In addition, verse 1 does not easily connect to Exodus 23. Perhaps it should be read as picking up from Exodus 20:22, where the laws of the Covenant Code (Exodus 21-23) begin. But this still would not explain the mysterious and missing subject of the first verse. (124)

The high priest Hilkiah finds a scroll that turns out to be this same “Book of the Covenant” — note that Exodus 24:7 and 2 Kings 23 are the only places in the entire Hebrew Bible where the exact expression “the scroll of the covenant” are found. (125)

We may surmise that it is here, in the final editing of the Bible, that Moses becomes a writer. Parenthetically, I should also point out that this editing of the Bible is probably taking place in the late Persian or Hellenistic period. (126)

Exodus 24 has two accounts of writing. The first account, in 24:4, casually notes that Moses had written down the words of God. … The second account, in 24:12, portrays God himself as writing on tablets that God gives to Moses. How do these two writings relate to one another? (127)

In its current literary form, Exodus 24 textualizes the Torah in significant ways. This textualization is most closely tied to the language of Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomistic History. First, it adds the statement, “Moses wrote down all the words of YHWH” (v.4). Second, Moses takes the “scroll of the covenant” and reads it before all the people (vv. 7-8). Surely it is no coincidence that the expression “scroll of the covenant” (Hebrew, sefer ha-brît) occurs only here in Exodus 24:7 and in the story of Josiah’s religious reforms (2 Kgs 23:2, 21). A ritual reading of the text in Exodus 24:7-8 is then the basis for the confirmation of the covenant between God and Israel, just as we also find in 2 Kings 23. (127)

| In sum, the revelation of the Covenant Code in the Book of Exodus was originally depicted as an oral revelation. (127) … Since the (127) “scroll of the covenant” is central to the Josianic religious reforms, the formation of the Pentateuch as we know it must have begun in the late seventh century B.C.E. (128)

The Tablets of Stone

cf. Exodus 24:9-18

The theological difficult this physical sighting of God created was made clear by the obfuscation of the text when it was translated into Aramaic in the second century C.E. in Targum Neophiti: “they saw the Glory of the Shekinah of YHWH, and they rejoiced over their sacrifices, which were received as if they ate and drank.” (128)

Thus, the narrative that begins in Exodus 24:12 is closed off by recalling this verse in Exodus 31:18

[24:12] YHWH said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain, and wait there, and I will give you the tablets of stone, with the law and the commandment, which I have written for their instruction.”

…(plans fr the tabernacle and the Sabbath commandment)…

[31:18] When God finished speaking with Moses on Mount Sinai, he gave him the two tablets of the covenant, tablets of stone, written with the finger of God.

According to Exodus 31:18, God literally wrote the tablets with his own finger. (129)

After promising to give Moses the tablets, the narrative describes the various aspects of building the tabernacle and concludes with the proscription for the Sabbath service in the tabernacle. (130)

cf. Exodus 25:22

Actually, this would suggest that torah is received only after the ark with the tablets is completed and placed in the tabernacle. (130)

cf. 1 Chronicles 28:10-12

Just as it was critical to its legitimacy for the tabernacle to have divinely inspired and written plans, so also was it critical for the Jerusalem Temple to have inspired and written plans. (131)

cf. Jeremiah 3:16-7; 7:4

The ark was both a symbol and the promise of God’s protection of the Temple. (133)

In sum, the original contents of the stone tablets written by God seem to have been the divine plans for the tabernacle and Temple. … The revelation to Moses then would have been an oral revelation, as was befitting early Israel. … For the most part, Exodus 19-31 reflects rather early conceptions about the role of writing in Israelite society. In Exodus 24, however, an account of the writing of the revelation would have been inserted by later editors who were interested in the textualization of religious orthodoxy. This addition notes that Moses wrote down this revelation into the “book of the covenant.” This is identified with the same “book of the covenant” that the priest Hilkiah would discover in the temple that led to the Josianic religious reforms. (134)

The Second, Written Law at Horeb

cf. Deuteronomy 5:22

It is this latter form — the treaty — that forces the revelation to become fundamentally a written text. (135)

One of the most striking parallels is in the covenantal scene, where in both the entire people are gathered (Deut 29:9-11//Vassal Treaty of Esarhaddon 4-5). In both scenes the gathered take the pledge not only for themselves but also for the future generations (Deut 29:14//Vassal Treaty of Esarhaddon 6-7; also see the Sefire treaty I A 1-5) (135)

Now we can ask why is textuality so prominent in Deuteronomy, while it is almost absent in Genesis through Numbers? Fundamentally, it is Deuteronomy that makes the textuality of the Torah a centerpiece of Jewish religion. It is Deuteronomy that makes Judaism a religion of the book. In Exodus, torah is oral teaching, whereas in Deuteronomy the Torah is written law. Only when we read Exodus through the refracted light of Deuteronomy’s interpretation does the significance of a written law become apparent in Exodus 19-24. (135)

The Book of Deuteronomy evidences throughout its reliance on a textual model that presupposes a textual culture. In contrast, the revelation in the Book of Exodus reflects a fundamental orality in Israelite culture. In Deuteronomy, writing is central to the revelation of the Torah, whereas in Exodus, speaking is central to the revelation of the Torah. (136)

The Continuing Textaualization of the Torah

cf. the Book of Jubilees … Jubilees accounts for both the divinely written tablets and the Mosaic composition in a much more elegant and premeditated way than the Book of Exodus or even Deuteronomy. (137)

The contents of the text largely parallel the canonical Book of Deuteronomy, although there is a striking change in the voice. The Book of Deuteronomy is cast as a speech of Moses, written in the third person. Thus, the Book of Deuteronomy is an account of Moses’ farewell speech where Moses summarizes the Exodus experience and the content of God’s revelation to him on Mount Sinai. Deuteronomy has only Moses’ account of God’s revelation on Mount Sinai. But what did God literally say to Moses? The Temple Scroll fills in this gap. (137)

According to the Sayings of the Fathers, “Moses received Torah at Sinai and handed it on to Joshua, Joshua to elders, and elders to prophets, and prophets handed it on to the men of the great assembly” (M. Avot 1:1). (137) … The irony is that this later textualization of Oral Torah in Rabbinic Judaism recalls the earlier textualization of revelation from Exodus to Deuteronomy. Perhaps this is the tyranny of writing, namely, that it continually imposes itself on oral tradition. (138)

cf. Jeremiah 8:8-9 …the prophet Jeremiah was already sensitive to the rising importance of the written Torah, which was used by the religious elites (the lying scribes) to control orthodoxy. The written texts naturally completed and eventually replaced oral tradition. Although the oral tradition would continually reassert itself, it would always be supplanted by the process of textualization. (138)

8 Writing in Exile

Although the Babylonian conquests and exiles decimated the Judean people, the scribal infrastructure of the royal family remained intact during the Babylonian exile and into the early Persian period. In the troubled days following the Babylonian invasions writing returned to state control under the exiled royal family in Babylon. (139)

The exile was also a turning point for the Hebrew language. Biblical texts written before the exile are described as “Classical Hebrew,” or “Standard Biblical Hebrew,” whereas later biblical texts (such as Ezra-Nehemiah, Daniel, and Esther) are categorized as “Late Biblical Hebrew.” (140)

cf. Exile and Restoration, Peter Ackroyd

Supposedly, the exile provoked a creative burst of literary energy, part of which was a reaction to the pathos of the destruction of Jerusalem. … However, this seems an overdrawn construction. One would expect exile to invite retrenchment rather than intense literary activity. Moreover, the suggestion that writing was a natural response to the attempt to preserve culture is clearly a modern outlook, the reaction of a culture that presumes textuality Ancient Israel, however, was a society of emerging textuality at the end of the Judean monarchy. Writing was not necessarily the natural cultural response to catastrophe as it would become in a post-Gutenberg world. (140)

The Fury of Babylon

Two assumptions underline critiques of the exile. The first assumption is that the majority of the people were left in the country at the end of the Babylonian period — in other words, that the demographic picture changed very little. The second assumption is that the life of the Judean people continued much as usual. Neither proposition stands up to scrutiny. In fact, the demographic changes in Judah were quite profound, reflecting a massive depopulation. The land was not emptied, but it was depopulated. Moreover, every cultural institution of Judean life changed. There was no more Davidic king. There was no Temple. According to biblical tradition (Dan 1:3-4), the scribal infrastructure was exiled as well. Even the language that the people spoke changed, from Hebrew to Aramaic. To be sure, the everyday life of the peasant in Yehud was perhaps not much different under the Babylonians or Persians than it had been under the Davidic kings — that is, the life for those few peasants who were not either killed in war, exiled to Babylon, or forced to flee from economic blight and social chaos. (143)

…in the seventh century B.C.E. (at the end of the monarchy), there were at least 116 settled sites (cities, towns, and villages) in Judah. In the sixth century B.C.E. (the Babylonian period), the number drops to 41 sites. Even more striking is that 92 of the 116 sites of the late monarchic period were abandoned in the Babylonian period. Eighty percent of the cities, towns, and villages were either abandoned or destroyed in the sixth century. Many of the towns and villages of the Persian period (42%, i.e., 17 of 41) were settled at previously virgin locations, reflecting a profound disjunction in the population. Moreover, the average size of the sites has shrunk, from 4.4 hectares to 1.4 hectares — a 70 percent reduction. Not only was Jerusalem burned, but most large cities disappear from Judah proper. In general, there is a population shift from the cities to villages. (144)

The Babylonian policy in their campaigns to the west was brutal. Rather than attempt to implement a policy that would exploit the region as a province, the Babylonians systematically pillaged the land. (144) …deportations were compounded by economic flight, mostly to Egypt where large Jewish communities suddenly appear. (145)

Another measure of the changes brought on by the Babylonians was the precipitous decline in public works. Likewise, there is also a decline in luxury items … In antiquity, writing needed a prosperous urban economy in order to thrive. There is no evidence of such a flourishing urban economy in the Judean hills before the third century B.C.E. Thus, we have very little inscriptional evidence of writing (particularly Hebrew writing) during the Babylonian period. (145)

There are no Hebrew inscriptions that have been dated conclusively to the Babylonian period (586-539 B.C.E.). Whichever poor Judeans remained in the land would have been fortunate to eek out a marginal subsistence. They certainly were not part of any great literary flourishing. (146)

…scribal schools in the sixth through fourth centuries B.C.E. would be teaching young apprentices to write and to read Aaramic. (147)

By the Rivers of Babylon

The plight of Judah was bleak, but was the situation in exile much better? Could Babylonian exile have been the setting for a literary flourishing? Perhaps not, but there certainly seems to have been some literary activity during the exilic period. (147)

We now have Babylonian exts that confirm that at least some of the Judean exiles were deported to the central Euphrates region. (147)

cf. Psalm 137:1-4; Psalm 70

…songs don’t require scribes. When this dirge and other psalms were actually written down is another problem. It is impossible to say. They did not necessarily require pen and parchment. These songs merely required the pathos of a people. (149)

The Royal Family and the Royal Archives in Exile

Biblical poetry captures many heartfelt expressions of the exile period. What is missing, however, is a sustained prose account of the exilic period. The social condition of the exiles simply did not lend itself to encouraging sustained prose narratives. Rather, we have oral literature. … “If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither!” (Psalm 137:5). There are three brief prose accounts dealing with aspects of and individuals in exile. … Gediliah … King Jehoiachin … Jeremiah and Ezekiel (149)

Why is the fate of King Jehoiachin, a prisoner in Babylon for some thirty-seven years before his release in 550 B.C.E., so important to this narrative of the exile? The obvious answer is that this same Jehoiachin was behind the writing of the Bible during the exile. (149)

Figure 8.1. Cuneiform Tablet (Babylon 28178) Listing Rations for Jehoiachin (after Weidner)

Most important for us is the record of payments to “Jehoiachin, king of Judah” (or, as it is transcribed from the Akkadian cuneiform writing, ana1ya’ukinu šaKURyahudu). These texts continue to call Jehoiachin “the king of Judah.” (151)

Why does Jeremiah 52 largely copy the ending of the Book of Kings? (154)

| One of the strangest stories in the composition of biblical literature is the Book of Jeremiah. We essentially have two different “books of Jeremiah.” A book of Jeremiah (not the canonical Book of Jeremiah) was completed before the third Babylonian exile of the Judeans in 582 B.C.E. This book is actually hinted at within the canonical Book of Jeremiah itself: …(Jer 25:13). This scroll of Jeremiah then suffered two different fates. One (shorter, non-canonical) book of Jeremiah was apparently edited in Egypt and later became the basis for the Greek translation of the Book of Jeremiah (known as the “Septuagint,” or LXX). … The longer, canonical Jeremiah was edited in Babylon under the auspices of the exiled Judean royal court. (154)

The fact that for both versions chapters 1-5 are identical in their order suggests that this arrangement of the composition was already (154) set when the second half of the book began to be edited after the exile. The order in the second half of the book is dramatically different, although the content of the oracles is largely identical. Since the text of the oracles is practically the same in both the Hebrew and Greek, they must have been already written down but not arranged into a complete literary composition when the two “books” of Jeremiah went their separate ways. (155)

In Jeremiah 29, a Babylonian interpretative addition (vv. 16-20) to Jeremiah’s prophecy is evident when we compare the Hebrew and Greek texts. Verses 16-20 are missing in the Old Greek text reflecting an earlier and shorter Hebrew text. These verses must have been added when the scroll of Jeremiah was edited in Babylon for the exiled royal family. They reflect an interpretative addition that contextualized Jeremiah’s prophecy for the royal family in Babylon by critiquing their rivals who remained in Jerusalem. (156)

For this reason, it seems likely that the Book of Jeremiah (as we now know it through most English translations from the Masoretic Text) received its final form during the exile and under the general auspices of the exiled royal court of Jehoiachin. (157)

The Continuing Influence of Jehoiachin’s Family

I gathered all their [exiled] inhabitants and returned to them their dwellings. … May all gods whom I settled in their sacred centers ask daily of Bel and Nabu that my days be long and may they intercede for my welfare. – Cyrus Cylinder

One of the major scholarly issues concerning the Book of Isaiah has been “authorship.” However, there are no authors in the Book of Isaiah. Authorship is not even a concept that is raised by the book itself. Authorship is a Hellenistic or modern issue; it was never an issue in the editing of the book. (158)

[via: Can we say that scribes were “agents” of a community?]

Elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible, the spirit came upon leaders (not usually prophets), especially as they were about to assume their leadership roles (e.g., Deut 34:9; Judg 3:10; 6:34; 11:29; 13:25; 1 Sam 11:6). The anointing was part of the ritual that marked the installation of a king or a high priest. Prophets, in contrast, did not hold an institutional office into which they could be installed. The spirit comes upon the “anointed” (Hebrew, messiah) king so that the appointed leader can carry out royal duties, including humanely treating the oppressed, setting free prisoners, and rebuilding the ancient ruins of Jerusalem. Such were the duties of a righteous king. This description, then, was likely taken as a reference to one of the exiled princes in Babylon who was being called to restore Jerusalem. (159)

[via: So, what is the meaning behind Jesus saying “Today fulfilled in your hearing”?]

cf. Isa 66:1-2 … This universalistic prophecy then would continue to justify the exiled royal family in Babylon, even while the royal family apparently established a foothold back in Jerusalem. (160)

Cyrus’s edict of return is personalized for the Jews in Ezra 1:1-4:… (161)

Both archaeological investigations and literary sources suggest that the economic blight extended well into the fifth century B.C.E. (162)

Fundamentally, the writing of the exilic period was an extension of writing by the state. It was writing by and for the Judean royal family. The royal family is the only social setting suitable for writing substantive literature during the exile. … Thus, writing during the exile and the early post-exilic period was largely not a response to the Babylonian destruction and exile in the traditional sense. Rather, it was a return to the more traditional setting of writing in antiquity — as a production of the government, even a government in exile. The great literature of the exile was oral literature, the psalms and the lamentation of the people. But when and how this oral literature was finally put down on parchment remains difficult to say. There is no reason to suppose that they were written down until much later. (164)

9 Scripture in the Shadow of the Temple

The Persian period brings an end to royalist-centered biblical literature. The Davidic kings vanish from the scene, and the leadership of the Jewish community in Jerusalem passes to the priests. … At the center of the priestly leadership will be the Book of Moses. The priests become the guardians of the Mosaic Torah and the sacred writings of ancient Israel. The oral word of God through the prophets comes to an end as the temple priests and scribes will textualize the word of God. (165)

Rather than a golden age, however, the archaeological record points to the economic deprivation of Jerusalem and its surroundings. Rather than the great flourishing of biblical literature, this would be a time of retrenchment. … I will argue that the priests and scribes were preserving the literature of Israel rather than creating it. (166)

The most likely books composed in the Persian period would be the Book of Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah. Other books like Esther and perhaps Ecclesiastes may have been composed in the fourth or third century B.C.E. The final composition of the Book of Daniel is usually placed in the mid-second century B.C.E. (166)

The Recent Trend

As a “book,” the Bible actually awaits the technological innovation of the codex, which gave it the physical form of a book. (167)

The Dark Shadow of the Persian Empire

cf. Hecataeus of Abdera, who lived about 300 B.C.E. Hecataeus suggests that the Jews came originally from Egypt but were expelled from there and settled in Judea, “which is not far distant from Egypt and was at that time utterly uninhabited.” (168)

The Israeli archaeologist Ephraim Stern observes that “even if there was a formal intent to create [the proper infrastructure to build any sort of coherent administrative structure or economy], the country lacked the proper conditions.” (169)

We have to assume a variety of groups or (171) schools to account for the composition of biblical literature in these periods only if we also assume that biblical literature must have been composed primarily in the Persian period. (172)

Where can we go? Back to the late Judean monarchy. Back to the days of King Hezekiah and King Josiah. Back to the times of the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah. Then, the social and economic conditions favored the flourishing of literature. There, an abundance of writing in Hebrew during the late Judean monarchy has been uncovered in archaeological excavations. It is there that biblical Hebrew literature found its magical moment. (172)

Priestly Leadership

Moses picked out the men of most refinement and with the greatest ability to head the entire nation, and appointed them priests. … These same men he appointed to be judges in all major disputes, and entrusted them to the guardianship of the laws and customs. For this reason, the Jews have never had a king, and authority over the people is regularly vested in whichever priest is regarded as superior. [Emphasis added.] – Hecataeus of Abdera (~300 B.C.E.)

Several coins from the mid-fourth century bear the inscription “Yehezequiah, the governor.” … This Judean leader is striking coins not only with his own image upon it but also with inscriptions using the archaic national script of the Jews (ie.e, in paleo-Hebrew rather than imperial Aramaic). As linguistic anthropologists have observed, language and especially script is often encumbered with political and ethnic ideology. These coins point to a nationalist Jewish movement led by the priests. (174)

Hebrew in an Aramaic World

We have almost no inscriptional evidence for Hebrew writing in the Persian period. (174)

No, Hebrew did not cease after the exile, but it would be overshadowed by the pervasive influence of an Aramaic-speaking world. (175)

The Aramaic world had an insidious influence on the development of the Hebrew language. Even what is known today as the “Hebrew” alphabet, is actually an Aramaic alphabet (see Figure 9.2). … Remarkably, the early biblical manuscripts found among the Dead Sea Scrolls are written in Aramaic (not Hebrew) script. This change was so pervasive that almost all biblical texts copied in later periods were written in Aramaic letters rather than the old Hebrew script. When inscriptions in the Hebrew language do begin to appear in numbers during the Hasmonean and Roman periods (beginning in the second century B.C.E.), it is usually the Hebrew language written with Aramaic letters. (176)

The Aramaic language predates the rise of the Persian Empire. Aramaic is the language of the Aramean states that arose in Syria in the tenth century B.C.E. (177)

My father was a wandering Aramean (Deut 26:5)

Jan Joosten, professor of Hebrew at the University of Strasbourg, points out that the Septuagint translators demonstrate a knowledge of their own contemporary Hebrew, which is distinct from the Hebrew of biblical literature. Joosten points to several anomalies in the Septuagint’s translation, observing that “The mechanism leading to the Septuagint’s translation appears to be one of the unconscious assimilation to contemporary Hebrew.” One interesting example is the Biblical Hebrew word ger, which means a “resident alien” in all biblical texts. However, as a result of religious developments in the later Second Temple period, the Hebrew word ger comes to mean “a religious convert,” as attested by Qumran Hebrew texts and Rabbinic literature. The Septuagint reflects the meaning of the word in contemporary (i.e., “late”) Hebrew by translating ger as a religious convert. The point is that by the third century B.C.E., the Hebrew language itself had changed so much that it represents a completely different phase in the history of Hebrew. For this reason, it is impossible to reconcile the historical development of the Hebrew language with a late Persian or Hellenistic dating for the composition of biblical literature. (178)

Writing and Biblical Literature in the Persian Period

…the Book of Ezra includes substantial sections composed in Aramaic. Even where Hebrew was being written, the influence of the Aramaic lingua franca imposed itself on the Hebrew. (179)

However, the Books of Ezra-Nehemiah, and Chronicles are literary works of the Persian period. The Book of Daniel dates to the Hellenistic period, although the Aramaic stories in the book seem to date back to the Persian period. It is difficult to be precise about the Book of Esther, though it must be dated somewhere between the fifth and second centuries B.C.E. These happen to be the texts for which there has always been wide agreement, because of both language and content, that they were written in the Persian and Hellenistic periods. (179)

cf. Nehemiah 8:8, … This text assumes that an audience in Jerusalem in the fifth century B.C.E. did not understand the Hebrew of the Torah. It had to be interpreted or translated, as the Hebrew word, meforash, in this text suggests (also see Ezr 4:18). In fact, the very Hebrew word employed, meforash, is a loanword from Aramaic, where it was a technical term used in the Persian chancellery. In other words, the use of this expression, with interpretation, indicates that the author had training by the Persian administration in Aramaic. (180)

When we come to the second century B.C.E., Hebrew literature sees a revival. The Book of First Maccabees, the Wisdom of Ben-Sira, the Book of Jubilees, and the Book of Daniel (among others) are all composed in the second century B.C.E. This revival is certainly spurred on by the rise of the Hasmonean state, which adopts Hebrew as part of its nationalistic agenda. The Hasmoneans try to revive the old Hebrew script, which they use for their coins. The Qumran religious sect makes the use of Hebrew a strong ideological part of their sectarian identity; they compose many new works found among the famous Dead Sea Scrolls. But this Hebrew is markedly different from the Classical Hebrew known from the Bible and inscriptions dating to the seventh century B.C.E. This is the precursor to what comes to be known as Rabbinic Hebrew (sometimes, Mishnaic Hebrew). (181)

…literacy rates were so low that written law made little sense for most people. Laws were customs rather than written statements demanding adherence to the letter. – Jon Berquist, Judaism in Peria’s Shadow, p. 137

The Temple Library

According to one late Hellenistic Jewish tradition, Nehemiah founded a library in Jerusalem. … 2 Maccabees 2:13-14: … (182)

The Textualization of Jewish Religion

cf. Nehemiah 8:1-5

The Book of Chronicles is the most extensive literary work of the Persian period. Although Chronicles represents one of the few Persian literary works, it is a poor excuse for literature. Chronicles is largely a retelling of the history of Juda, and it borrows mercilessly from the Books of Samuel and Kings. (184)

The very idea of “Scripture” depends upon a textual culture. In an oral culture the activities of composing, learning, and transmitting blend together. Tradition is constantly reinventing itself. Writing, on the other hand, freezes tradition. As Plato so astutely observes in Socrates’ speech to Phaedrus, “written words go on telling you just the same thing forever.” Henri-Jean Martin, in his monumental work The History and Power of Writing, observes that writing “is not revolutionary, but it appears every time that a revolution in communications prompts a fusion into a larger whole. When this occurs it accelerates the changes set in motion within that society.” [p.86-87]

Textualizing the “Word of YHWH” — the Eclipse of Prophecy

The most telling aspect of the change in the religious culture advocated by the priests is in the transformation of the meaning of the (187) technical term, “the word of YHWH.” Throughout biblical literature and particularly in the Former Prophets, “the word of YHWH” refers to the words of the prophets. (188)

…”the word of YHWH” is not used to describe the Mosaic revelation in the Pentateuch. … “the word of YHWH” is a technical term for the prophetic revelation. (188)

Jeremiah complained that the scribes and the wise men had rejected “the word of YHWH” and instead had favored the written Torah (Jer 8:7-9). Fundamentally, Jeremiah was complaining that the “wise men and scribes” had displaced the traditional loci of authority — oral tradition and the prophetic word — with a new kind of authority, the written word. Torah, which had been “oral instruction,” was turned into a textual authority by “the lying pen of the scribes.” … Now, in the Book of Chronicles, “the word of YHWH,” has been transformed from the oral word of God spoken by the prophets into the written word of God. (188)

| It may seem strange that the Hebrew word for “prophecy” — nevû’ah — was coined in the late Persian period. The word appears only in the Books of Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah (2 Chr 9:29; 15:8; Ezr 6:14; Neh 6:12), which were written in the Persian period. Why is this? Simply put, the normal term for prophecy had been “the word (188) of YHWH,” but this term was co-opted by the textualization of the literary traditions. Since the “word of YHWH” now had come to refer to the Torah of Moses, a new term was needed that would refer specifically to the prophetic word. This neologism, of course, continues to exert an enormous influence on modern religious expression — the “word of God” is now usually thought of as a text. (189)

Other terminology also reflects this new emphasis on the written word as an authoritative basis of religion. The word darash, “to inquire,” and the related noun Midrash no longer mean simply “to inquire” but begin to be used for interpretation of a written text. … An explicit example of this process is found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, in their commentary on the prophetic Book of Habakkuk. The true interpreter was “the Teacher of Righteousness, to whom God made known all the mysteries of his servants the prophets” (1 QpHab 7:4-5). … Ironically, the sect did not consider the Teacher of Righteousness a prophet. Rather, he was thought to be the inspired interpreter of the divine word. (189)

| The Book of Chronicles uses four formulas for its formal citations of the Mosaic law known from the Pentateuch. …”as it is written,” …”according to the commandments of Moses” (e.g., 2 Chr 8:13), “according to the Torah of Moses (e.g., 2 Chr 30:16), and “according to the word of YHWH” (e.g., 1 Chr 15:15; 2 Chr 35:6). (189)

Although prophecy was marginalized by the new orthodoxy, it would reemerge later in new forms like apocalyptic literature. But, fundamentally, the dissent was silenced in history. First of all, it was silenced by the oral locus of the dissent. The oral tradition is not preserved for future generations after the speakers are gone. Ironically, in order for criticism of the written word as we see in Jeremiah to be registered, it had to be written! Thus, an institutional bias exists that limits our awareness of the full extent of the critique of the written word in Second Temple Judaism. Second, the control of writing resided among the temple and political elites. Those who had a vested interest in the shift of authority from the oral tradition to the written texts were also those who controlled the means of production of the written word. (190)

The Synopsis

The time has come to review some of the main arguments of this book see how I have answered some of the questions that I first posed. When was the Bible written? Why was it written? How did the Bible become a book? I approached these questions from the perspective of the role of written texts in ancient Israel. I pointed out that writing had a restricted role in antiquity. Writing was first of all controlled by the state. Writing was both a display of state power and a tool of state of ministration. Second, writing was a gift of the gods. As such, writing was part of magical ritual selected the Execration texts or the ritual of the bitter waters (Num 5). Writing was also something (190) done in heaven, as with the book of life or the divine tablet set originally had the blueprints for God’s birthday about. Oral tradition, in contrast, was the medium of cultural continuity. Early Israel sang songs with their ancestors and told stories of their forefathers. Through Proverbs and folktales and songs each generation received and passed on the cultural legacy of ancient Israel. (191)

| A major transition in ancient Israel began in the late eighth century B.C.E. Writing became both more centralized and more widespread in Judah; as the society became urbanized, the economy more complex and the government more substantial. Writing had always been a projection of royal power, and now this power extended to the collection of a great library in Jerusalem (just as the Assyrians and the Egyptians were doing during the same period). King Hezekiah desired to create a kingdom similar to the legendary (in his days) kingdom of David and Solomon. The oral traditions of ancient Israel were compiled into written texts. The palace archives containing administrative texts avenge of Judah were used in composing histories of the Judean kings. One catalyst for the restoration of the golden age of Israel – that is, the united monarchy of David and Solomon – was the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel. This final destruction vindicated the house of David, which had struggled for centuries with its northern neighbor. As many refugees from the north flooded into Jerusalem, Judah accommodated not only these new citizens but also their traditions. Some other prophetic traditions, as in the Book of Hosea, were edited in the Judean royal court. These also were understood to vindicate Judah. A history of Israel was written as though Judah and Israel were one kingdom, so even this account acknowledges that the “united” Israel was but a fleeting historical moment. Nevertheless, this ideology of one kingdom of the twelve tribes of Israel was embodied in the literature of the late eighth century. This literature both preserved and created the golden age of David and Solomon. This great literary flourishing, albeit short-lived, what is the beginning of biblical literature as we know it. The political vision of Hezekiah took its military expression in a revolt against a Syria in 705 B.C.E. The Assyrian king Sennacherib crushed this revolt in 701 B.C.E. and with it all dreams of a new golden age under the sons of Hezekiah. Judah then struggled as a vassal of Assyria until the demise of the Assyrian Empire in the days of king Josiah (r. 640—609 B.C.E.). (191)

| The second major phase in the literary formation of the Bible came in the days of King Josiah in the late seventh century B.C.E. The use (191) of writing for mundane economic and administrative purposes had continued unabated from the days of Hezekiah. Literacy has spread throughout the fabric of Judean society. Soldiers could read and write. Craftsman were literate. Whereas writing had previously had a restricted role in society, the spread of writing into everyday life meant that now writing could become a tool for subversion of the centralized power of the government. Texts were no longer only the products of the palace or the priests. A turning point for biblical literature with the assassination of King Amon (r. 642—640 B.C.E.); the “people of the land” set up the boy-king, Josiah, at the tender age of eight years old, on the throne in Jerusalem. Influenced by the “people of the land” and his family connections in the rural foothills of Judah, Josiah instituted political and religious reforms that were directly aimed at the cultural influence that urbanization and northernization had had in the days of Hezekiah. Writing became a tool, as in the Book of Deuteronomy, for critiquing the vision of Hezekiah. Solomon was not a great king according to the Deuteronomists, ut a king who violated the divine law as recorded in “the book of the covenant” (compare 1 Kgs 11 with Deut 17:14-20). The Deuteronomists advocated a return to the traditional religion of their forefathers. Of course, this tension between the urban and the rural, between the central palace and the rural elders, must have always existed. However, the Deuteronomic revolution gave the rural elders a written notice. Ancient writings, which had been elevated as literary propaganda in the days of Hezekiah, were turned on their head. Writing becomes a typical mode of expression in the latter days of the Judean monarchy. Biblical literature realized its apex in the last decades of the Judean monarchy. (192)

| The end of the great independent literary flourishing came swiftly. The lull between the fall of the Assyrian Empire and the rise of the Babylonian Empire lasted only as long as the reign of Josiah (r. 640-609 B.C.E.). When Josiah died in battle at Megiddo at the hands of the Egyptian Pharaoh Neco, with him died the hope for an independent Judean kingdom. (192)

| The Babylonians quickly assumed control of the region; three military campaigns, in 597, 586, and 581 B.C.E., were punctuated by destruction and exile. The royal family led by King Jehoiachin submitted to the Babylonians in 597 B.C.E. and were taken into exile where they were apparently treated relatively well. Those who remained and resisted the Babylonians did not fare quite as well. The Babylonians pillaged the region, and Judah was depopulated by destruction, exile, (192) and flights until the land was nearly uninhabited. Judean captives worked as slaves on the canal projects of Babylon while the Judean royal family and their entourage lived in relative ease in the southern citadel in the city of Babylon. Because of all this the exilic period was a period of retrenchment for biblical literature. The writing and preservation of biblical literature returned to the hands of the royal family. The continuity in the royal family of Jehoiachin reached to the end of the sixth century B.C.E. continuing even after the fall of Babylon to the Persian king Cyrus in 539 B.C.E. Under the Persians, a descendent of Jehoiachin, Zerubbabel, assumed leadership of those who returned to Jerusalem in the late sixth century. However, Jerusalem and Judah were but shells of their former selves. The land was ravished by war and depopulated. As part of the royal family’s claim to leadership in the restoration, Zerubbabel helped rebuild the Temple (completed in 515 B.C.E.). Shortly thereafter, however, Zerubbabel and the royal family mysteriously disappeared. The biblical literature of the exile and early post-exilic periods mostly complete and update earlier works. The great shift from orality to textuality that began in the late Judean monarchy suffers an enormous setback in the devastation of Jerusalem and Judah. The conditions in which literacy and textuality could flourish disappeared. (193)

| The Persian period was a dark age for biblical literature. The Persian province of Yehud was depopulated, impoverished, and geographically isolated. The once great city of Jersusalem remained mostly in ruins, even though some semblance of a temple had been rebuilt. Even the Hebrew language saw a decline, as Aramaic language and letters began to replace Hebrew as the language of the Jews. In the shadow of the Persian Empire, faithful priests who served in the Jerusalem Temple preserved biblical literature. For the most part, the work of the priests was not the composition of literature, but its preservation. This meant that they added the editorial framework to some biblical literature. The great poems of the Book of Job, for example, were given an editorial prologue and conclusion. The priests shaped the Psalms into a five-part book that paralleled the Five Books of Moses (or, Pentateuch). The priest Ezra was an ideal exemplar of the new priesthood. Ezra was both a secular and religious leader who was trained in the courts of the Persian kings and served in Jerusalem with their support. From the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah, which were among the few biblical books actually composed during the Persian period, it is clear that Ezra was trained in the Aramaic scribal (193) chancellery. Ezra and the priestly leadership were both the guardians and the teachers of the sacred texts. As such, they controlled the authoritative texts. This secular priestly leadership continued to the end of the Second Temple period and the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. It is clear that in the late Second Temple period the priestly leadership explicitly rejected the authority of oral tradition. Undoubtedly, they did so because it undermined the scriptural authority that they could claim as the teachers of Israel. The rabbinic leadership that followed the destruction of the Second Temple would mark a decisive break with this model of secular leadership by priests and with its rejection of oral tradition. (194)

| This brings us to the epilogue of our story. In the third century B.C.E., Jewish literature would again begin to flourish under the cultural renaissance of Hellenism. Egyptian Hellenistic rule brought peace and relative prosperity back to Jerusalem. The city began to grow again. But the canon of biblical literature was largely closed. For the most part, the Bible was no longer being written. Rather, it was being copied, translated, paraphrased, commented upon, and embellished in every conceivable way. The literati were largely composed of the priests and the Levites. But the end of the third century B.C.E., students at Jewish schools in Jerusalem were studying the Scriptures as exemplified in the proverbs o the priestly schoolmaster Sirach. By the mid-third century, the Scriptures were being translated into Greek by priests in the Egyptian Diaspora. The Dead Sea Scrolls include Hebrew manuscripts dating to the third century B.C.E., pointing to the active copying and transmission of the Hebrew Scriptures. Neither Rabbinic Judaism nor early Christianity, in contrast, would number their early adherents from among the scribes. They were not dominated by social elites or by learned priests. Rather, they were lay movements and emerged out of the unlearned and unschooled. As a result, they would reflect the authority of both the oral tradition and the teacher. (194)

10 Epilogue

I would like to reflect on the relationship between oral tradition and written text in the formation of Judaism and Christianity. (195)

…the invention of the codex forced decisions to be made about the set order o the biblical books within the codex. Christians adopted the codex form for their manuscripts from the second century C.E., and that preference helped shape the canon of Christian literature. Jews, in contrast, continued to favor the scroll as a writing material for many centuries after the invention of the codex. (196)

…william Graham argues in his book Beyond the Written Word: Oral Aspects of Scripture in the History of Religion, even the written word is relational. That is to say, “A text becomes ‘scripture’ in active, subjective relationship to persons, and as part of a cumulative communal tradition. No text, written or oral or both, is sacred in isolation from a community.” [p.5] (196)

Even if you explicate the verse all day long I won’t accept it, rather it is oral torah given to Moses from Sinai – Rabbi Elazar ben Azaria (cf. Sifra Tzav, Parasha he, Pereq Yod Alef, 34b–35a; B. Menahot, 89a).

This is a question of where cultural authority lies. It does not lie in the citation and explication of Scriptures. According to Elazar, it lies in the oral tradition passed down from Moses within the community. Although there can also be symbiosis between orality and textuality, there is no continuum. There is a choice to be made here. Does authority rest with the text or with the teacher? Once authority resides in the text, the teacher can be dismissed (even if this does not always happen). It is not coincidental that Martin Luther’s refrain sola scriptura (“Scripture alone”) took root in the fertile soil of the Gutenberg Galaxy (to borrow from the title of Marshall McLuhan’s seminal book). It is also instructive that the competing claims of orality and textuality have a long history. This history was influenced by both technological innovation and socio-political change. (197)

…the [Torah] scroll also reflected a fundamental, perhaps ideological, rejection of the concept of the codex. (198)

Both Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism emerged out of popular culture. They were not sponsored by the state, nor did they emerge from institutional relgion. Because of this, the written word played an uneasy role in early Christianity and formative Judaism. (198)

The Social Location of the Written Word

Ptolemy I (also known as Ptolemy Soter, r. 305-282 B.C.E.) established the great library in Alexandria. (198)

Ptolemy II Philadephus is remembered for his generosity to science and the arts. According to a popular Jewish tradition, Philadephus even commissioned the translation of the Torah into Greek. More generally, he sought to acquire books for his library by any means necessary. He built Alexandria into the cultural capital of the Hellenistic world. He also spread Hellenism into the Palestine, creating such Hellenistic cities as Philadephia (which is today within the city of Amman, Jordan), Philoteria (on the Sea of Galilee), and Ptolemais (just north of the modern-day city of Haifa on the Mediterranean coast). Ptolemy II (Euergetes I, r. 246-222 B.C.E.) was also a patron of literature. Ptolemy IV (Philopator 4. 222-204 B.C.E.) was a writer. (199)

…the first non-biblical evidence for the earnest study, copying, and translating of biblical literature is precisely in the third century B.C.E. These manuscripts attest to a lively scribal tradition that developed in the Hellenistic period. (199)

The Prests as Teachers

cf. The Wisdom of Sirach

…the authority of oral tradition (as opposed to written texts) had its greatest currency among the multitudes. (202)

Oral and Written in the Dead Sea Sect

cf. Isaiah 40:3…

From Pharisees to Rabbis

All we have by way of sources concerning the Pharisees are the words of others talking about them. We have no texts written by the Pharisees themselves. (204)

[via: Except, Paul, perhaps?]

In general, however, the Pharisees seem to derive their identity from their opposition to the (204) Sadducean priestly aristocracy. (205)

There is not a single text from the Second Temple period that can sustain for long the argument that it was composed by a Pharisee for the purpose of stating a Pharisaic point of view. – Martin Jaffee, professor of Rabbinics at the University of Washington, Torah in the Mouth, p.39

There can be no mistake that the torah referred to in The Sayings of the Fathers must be specifically the oral tradition. (206)

“How can you say, ‘We are wise, and the torah of YHWH is with us,’ when, in fact, the false pen of the scribes has made it (i.e., teaching/torah) into a lie (i.e., a written text/Torah)?” [Jeremiah 6] It was the pen of the scribes that changed the very essence of torah (“teaching”), transforming it into Torah (“text”). This transition, however, does not have the two Torahs mirroring one another; rather, they are competing with one another. The new written Torah locates authority in a different social group–those who called themselves “the wise” (Hebrew, chakham). These were the scribes of (206) ancient Israel, and they wrested authority from the traditional groups such as the elders and the prophets. The “wise” were identified with the political leadership of Jeremiah’s day. Rabbinic tradition would turn the tables on the definition of the “wise.” (207)

[via: Perhaps why Jesus is in conflict/contrast with the “scribes”.]

It is important to remember that there is a significant difference between ancient Israel and Rabbinic Judaism in their respective attitudes toward text. The Rabbinic culture had to assume some authority for the written Torah because it already existed, whereas ancient Israelite culture introduced the authority of the written word and then had to figure out the implications. Thus, Rabbinic Judaism, which depended on oral tradition, had to struggle with its relationship with the ancient textual authority that had been introduced in Israel during Josiah’s (seventh century B.C.E.) and Ezra’s (fifth century B.C.E.) reforms. This issue was debated in early Judaism, but Rabbinic Judaism would later merge the distinction between the oral and written Torah. (207)

All the same are the words of the Torah and the words of the scribes (bYoma 28b)

Writing in Early Christianity

John 21:25. This is an implicit critique of John’s own written work that began by defining the true Word as a person, not a text:… [cf. John 1:1, 14] (208) … In biblical literature, the “word of God” was invariably the oral prophetic word. In the Persian period, however, the Book of Chronicles textualizes this term so that it refers to the written Torah of Moses. Seen in this context, the Book of John’s assertion that the “Word of God” is a person and not a text seems most radical. (208)

The advantage of books, however, is that they endure when the teacher passes away. (209)

Thus, it is a question not of a rejection of scriptural authority, but of the relationship of the written word to oral teaching. (209)

Werner Kelber notes in his book The Oral and the Written Gospel (1983) that in early Christianity the transition from oral to written (210) tradition was a movement not of continuity (as the form critics supposed) but of discontinuity. Oral communication is different from written since speaking involved presence and immediacy. Written communication is external, abstract, objective. (211)

…the teacher is more important than the text. Despite Jesus’ use of the text to critique the religious establishment, he claims a higher authority that is not textually based. (211)

How the Bible Became a Book

Throughout this book I have contended that the making of books and the appeal to the authority of writing was largely derived from the institutions of state and temple. Writing was the domain of the royal court and then the priestly aristocracy. Writing was used as a tool of government and then taken over as a tool of religious authority and orthodoxy. (212)

As literacy became more prevalent, textuality became more plausible. That is to say, the better people could read, the more the written word could serve as guidepost for religious orthodoxy. … Orality and literacy were stages along the same road, whereas orality and textuality was the fork in the road. The road more traveled was oral tradition, where the community and the teacher provided education and defined authority as they had for generations. The new road was textual authority. This was a road built by the government with the support of the social and religious elites. (213)

Both early Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism…Although they acknowledged the authority of the written Scriptures, they also asserted the authority of oral tradition and the living voice of the teacher. Christianity, however, quickly adopted the codex. In fact, early Christianity was quite innovative in its adoption of the codex. (213)

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