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April 14, 2016


I was reading I Crinthians 10:08 the other day and simply wondered if there has been solid archological evidence of the "23,000 died in one day?" Seems to me that the number of dead bodies would have required "massive" burial, as to simply "burn" that many bodies would seemingly be impossible.

Your thoughts? Looking forward to your answer.

Initial news reports such as these often give false impressions of the significance of these discoveries. Unfortunately the study itself is behind a paywall so I can't read it for myself. Christopher Rollston, a recognized expert on Ancient Near-Eastern epigraphy and paleography, weighs in on this study here:
For Rollston, older epigraphic evidence indicates the presence of scribal infrastructure which could have produced literary works in ancient Palestine by 800BCE. So in this sense he sees this study's conclusions as too conservative. But Rollston disputes the idea that this study provides evidence for wide-spread literacy in ancient Palestine in the 7th century BCE. All the evidence so far suggests that literary in ancient Palestine was not widespread, but rather confined to a scribal elite within large population centers, such as Jerusalem. According to Rollston, these inscriptions were most likely composed by trained army scribes not low-level soldiers. Rollston also indicates that the inscriptions from 6 different authors might not have even come from the same time period. Thus, this study does not really provide any evidence for a pre-exilic date of writing for the Hebrew Bible or portions of the Hebrew Bible. That must be decided on the basis of other lines of evidence.

@ Frank Sladek;

“But with whom was he grieved forty years? was it not with them that had sinned, whose carcases fell in the wilderness?” (Hebrews 3:17)

It seems that Israel was on the move when the thousands died. so I wonder if they didn't just let them lay. It took serious washing and isolation from others if anyone touched a dead body. So burying them seems far more of a challenge than just letting them lay and moving on. Just a thought with not much study of the issue.


Maybe there is an equivocation here between what is "widespread" literacy. It doesn't need to be the case that a low-level army soldier was literate in order for literacy to be widespread enough to point away from the conclusion that there would not have been enough scribal literacy prior to 586 B.C. for the "main body of biblical literature" to be written down.

Dear Faux Trump Supporter,
I make the same basic point in the last sentence of my previous comment. The title of this post misleadingly claims that this finding provides evidence for a pre-exilic origin for Biblical texts. It does not. Most scholars of the Hebrew Bible argue that some of the texts found within the Hebrew Bible come from before the exile, but the final composition/editing/arrangement came after the exile. Even very conservative Biblical scholars acknowledge this to a certain degree (think Ezra/Nehemiah and Psalm 137). This finding does nothing to change that consensus. As I understand it, the current evidence for a scribal elite capable of composing literary works like those found in the Hebrew Bible only goes back to the 9th century at the earliest. Could a scribal elite have existed in ancient Palestine before this time? Maybe, but we don't have any current evidence for it. A scribal elite requires a centralized, powerful administration to commission a scribal elite and a wealthy economy with sufficient division of labor to make a scribal elite feasible. These are necessary but not sufficient conditions for the development of a scribal elite. A centralized administration and wealthy economy with widespread division of labor does not guarantee a scribal elite capable of producing literary works like those found within the Hebrew Bible. We must look at the recovered material evidence. At this time, according to Rollston, the earliest evidence we have for a scribal elite capable of producing literary works comes from around 800BCE. Other scholars see a scribal elite developing later because all we find from this time period within ancient Palestine are inscriptions not literary works themselves. This may be due in part to the nature of preservation within the archaeological record. It is always possible that further excavations will reveal older inscriptions and evidence of literary production going farther back than 800BCE, but at this time there is no evidence for literary production in ancient Palestine before that time.

I don't see why there would have to be widespread literacy to have produced a big chunk of the Hebrew scriptures before 586 BCE. Just look how much literature was produced by John Owen alone.


The title of this post misleadingly claims that this finding provides evidence for a pre-exilic origin for Biblical texts. It does not.

Technically I suppose that it provides an undercutting defeater for one of the pieces of evidence used to support the claim that the biblical texts were not or could not have been written prior to the Babylonian exile.

This finding does nothing to change that consensus.

I suppose that depends on the reasons they have for thinking that most of the biblical texts could not have been written prior to the babylonian exile. If their reasoning is primarily based on their view of pre-exilic illiteracy then it will do a lot to undermine that consensus.

The rest of your comment assumes that something called a "scribal elite" is necessary to produce the Bible. Why should I believe that? Sam Harper correctly points to historical examples in which a single person can produce a large amount of high quality literary work. There are other examples one could add (e.g., Aquinas).

Liberal scholarship's confidence in their assertions that such and such could not have been produced without such and such seem to be far more than is warranted.

The earliest example of Hebrew is the Gezer Almanac, inscribed on limestone.


Dated around 925 B.C., some scholars deem it a student exercise. There was a degree of literacy and training of scribes, inculcation of language in the times of Solomon.

The Siloam Inscription is dated 701 B.C. It would be senseless to set a historical marker in a culture of illiterates.

This post isn't all that surprising. A skeptical declaration of all this as irrelevant would be.

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