Varied approaches to defining literacy have resulted in diverse analyses of literacy in the Iron Age (1200–586 B.C.E.), with reference both to epigraphic materials and to the Hebrew Bible. Understanding Iron-Age literacy hinges upon reconstructing the dating, location, and distribution of institutions providing training in writing technologies (whether a scribal school, a palace, a temple, or a professional [such as a guild] or familial setting); and these reconstructions inform the debate over the composition and dating of biblical literature. This article discusses literacy and the advent of the linear alphabet more generally. It then examines various approaches to understanding literacy in ancient Israel, including the implications of literacy and scribalism for the dating of biblical literature. It concludes with a summary of the epigraphic and biblical evidence for reading and writing in ancient Israel. Because of the paucity of epigraphic materials from the north, the discussion of “Israelite” literacy here is more general, referring to literacy in the Iron-Age kingdoms of Israel and Judah, in which Hebrew was both the vernacular and the official administrative language.

Literacy and the Consequences of the Linear Alphabet.

Studies of literacy in the ancient world have approached literacy as monolithic, denoting proficiency in both reading and writing, comparable to modern-day mastery of these skills in postindustrial societies. This “literacy thesis” emphasizes the transformational impact of writing on human cognition. In particular, it views the Greek alphabetic script, replete with its development of matres lectionis (vowel letters), as a revolutionary technology that transformed the Western world, ushering in the development of “logic” and catalyzing the dichotomy between “simple” and “complex” societies. Alternate viewpoints counter with ethnographic evidence for abstract, analytic, and logical thought processes in nonliterate and emerging-literate societies and argue that in most societies there is no strict dichotomy between literacy and orality but, rather, they operate on a continuum.

It has been commonly assumed that the invention of the linear alphabet, in the early second millennium B.C.E., sparked a technical revolution that freed writing from the hegemony of state and temple institutions and made literacy accessible to nonelites. This theory posits that nonliterates could easily learn the linear alphabet, which was much simpler than previous writing systems (such as Mesopotamian cuneiform and Egyptian hieroglyphics and hieratic). As W. F. Albright famously stated, “since the forms of the letters are very simple, the twenty-two letter alphabet could be learned in a day or two by a bright student and in a week or two by the dullest” (1960, p. 123). However, the idea of the superiority of alphabetic scripts is challenged by the higher literacy rates in developed countries (such as Japan) that use more “complex” writing systems than in less developed countries using an alphabetic script. Regardless of the nature of the writing system, if the social and political prerequisites for literacy are not operative in a society, literacy will remain an elite monopoly. At the same time, the continued importance of oral culture in emerging and fully literate societies cannot be overlooked.

In the twenty-first century, it is understood that the “democratization” of reading and writing was not immediately achieved with the advent of the linear alphabet; rather, the spread of literacy to nonprofessionals and eventually to nonelites was a gradual process. Claims that alphabetic writing catalyzed widespread literacy oversimplify the challenging nature of learning to read and write, which is a lengthy process, requiring several years of schooling. Moreover, maintaining and updating a standardized language is expensive; for this reason, the state and temple apparatuses in the ancient Near East were the main conduits for scribal training (and retraining) in the norms of written language. This means that, despite the reduced number of graphemes one needed to learn, for at least a millennium after the invention of the alphabet literacy was restricted to scribes, educated elites, and professionals with a limited, “functional” proficiency, who worked in administrative capacities. Even in ancient Greece, which has been described as the first “literate” society (by the sixth–fifth centuries B.C.E.), the literacy rate did not surpass 10 percent and literacy was mainly an elite commodity.

Ultimately, the level of literacy in a given society indicates more about the wealth and stability of its political and social institutions than the simplicity or complexity of its writing system. Changes in the literacy rate in ancient Israel correlated with social changes since literacy is fundamentally a product of political and social institutions. As William Schniedewind states, “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” (2004, p. 93). Once such prerequisites were in place, the linear alphabet catalyzed a “vernacular revolution,” in which small political entities such as Ugarit, Israel, Moab, and the various Aramean states wrote in their own regional languages, developed their own national scripts, and ultimately turned their traditions into national literatures. The coalescing of Israelite group identity and the subsequent vernacularization of its written language fostered a period of political stability and social mobility by the eighth century B.C.E. These mechanisms enabled literacy to gradually spread beyond the state-supported scribal class, which in turn galvanized the continued use of Hebrew and the preservation of biblical literature long after the demise of the Judean monarchy and state bureaucracy in 587 B.C.E.

Defining Literacy.

Literacy has been defined in ways that account for a wider range of abilities. The skills of writing and reading are not equal. Reading, which entails passive knowledge, is more easily acquired than is writing, which requires the ability to reproduce graphemes in the appropriate stance and script style. More advanced levels of literacy entail the ability to improvise, combine, and recombine graphemes to formulate a coherent text, be it a letter, record, or narrative. Once the skills of reading and writing are acquired, the writers’ proficiency depends upon their level of education and professional needs. For example, signature literacy, whereby an individual can write his or her own name and perhaps passively recognize and reproduce the remaining letters of the alphabet, is on the lower end of the literacy spectrum. “Functional” or “basic” literacy refers to the ability to read simple texts and write a few basic words and/or numbers, usually the bare minimum for one’s professional needs. More advanced literacy entails the ability to adapt one’s reading and writing skills to suit daily needs—to read and draft a letter, for example (e.g., Lachish Letter 3, early sixth century B.C.E.), or improvise a short text (e.g., the Siloam Tunnel graffito, eighth century B.C.E., and the Khirbet el-Qom, eighth century B.C.E., and Kuntillet ʾAjrud, late ninth–mid-eighth century B.C.E., inscriptions).

The most advanced level is professional literacy, that of the scribes who worked for state and temple institutions and for private individuals in need of their services. Not all scribes attained the same level of expertise. Evidence from Mesopotamia and Egypt suggests that there were various stages of scribal education, beginning with basic correspondence and economic texts and culminating with more advanced literary texts. Scribes were trained in the technical formulae appropriate to diverse genres of writing, including lists, letters, account ledgers, receipts, seals, and texts with numinous or mantic significance, such as blessing and curse texts (the Khirbet el-Qom, eighth century B.C.E., and Beit Lei, 700 B.C.E., inscriptions and the Ketef Hinnom amulets, late seventh–early sixth century B.C.E.). More complex texts, including the royal annals referred to in the books of Kings and Chronicles, legal materials, treaties, prophetic oracles, and the poetic and prose compositions preserved in the Hebrew Bible, are thought to be the work of skilled professionals, whose advanced training enabled them to create, record, copy, redact, and compile the written and oral materials that constitute biblical literature.

Literacy entailed a range of technical knowledge, including the preparation, use, and storage of writing materials; training in the proper way to hold a stylus and the use of wooden wax boards for notations; the preparation and application of ink onto papyri, parchment (animal skins), and ostraca (clay sherds); and the proper storage of papyri and parchment. Administrative duties additionally entailed familiarity with the hieratic numeric system, exchange equivalences, the abbreviations for various commodities, and the ability to structure an accounting ledger (e.g., the Kadesh Barnea ostraca, 600 B.C.E.). Scribes and/or artisans received training in how to arrange texts on engraved surfaces such as stone (e.g., the monumental Mesha and Tel Dan inscriptions) and on more malleable surfaces such as metals (e.g., the Ketef Hinnom amulets).

Literacy in Monarchic Israel and Judah: Who, When, and Where?

By the Second Temple period, biblical literature had developed within a political and social context that was able to support and sustain a scribal apparatus, which not only created, preserved, and copied archival materials but also collected and recorded the oral and written traditions so crucial to Jewish cultural identity. (Proverbs 25:1 reflects this scribal enterprise.) Literacy in Iron-Age Israel is much debated, chiefly because it is seen as a lynchpin for the dating and proveniencing of biblical literature. Despite consensus that the monarchic era (1000–587 B.C.E.) fostered the formation of scribal institutions in Israel and Judah, there is little agreement about their dates and sizes or the degree to which literacy extended beyond the scribal profession. Facets of the epigraphic and biblical data are differently assessed; some scholars focus upon epigraphic materials, whereas others give equal weight to biblical descriptions of writing and reading in administrative and cultic contexts.

There are three main approaches to dating Israelite scribal institutions and the extension of writing to nonprofessionals, resulting in early (twelfth–ninth centuries B.C.E.), middle (ninth century–587 B.C.E.), and late (post-587 B.C.E.) camps. Some scholars retroject the establishment of a substantial scribal apparatus and scribal schools into Israel’s early history, in part based on biblical descriptions of the Davidic and Solomonic administrations. Such scholars view Iron I to early Iron II epigraphic evidence, such as abecedaries and smaller inscriptions (e.g., the Gezer Calendar, tenth century B.C.E.), as evidence that Israel was fairly literate through most of the Iron Age.

The “late” camp argues that there is virtually no epigraphic evidence in the monarchic period that substantiates the existence of a scribal apparatus extensive enough to write and redact biblical literature. They view descriptions of nonprofessionals reading and writing and the descriptions of the Davidic and Solomonic administrative apparatus in the Hebrew Bible as anachronisms, in reality dating to a much later period. In particular, these scholars characterize the period of the Yehud administrative and temple institutions under Ezra and Nehemiah as the main era in which Israelite identity crystallized. They attribute the heyday of scribalism, the spread of literacy, and the interest in and need for historical writing (i.e., the composition of biblical texts) mainly to the exilic, postexilic, and Hellenistic periods.

Others offer a more balanced approach that equally weighs the epigraphic, biblical, and sociolinguistic evidence for scribalism and literacy. Such scholars are as cautious about equating small and often poorly understood texts with either scribal schools or widespread literacy as they are about minimizing their importance. Scholars in this camp adopt a variety of approaches and differ about the date and locus of scribalism as well as the nature of scribal education. For example, from a socioarchaeological perspective, general literacy was not tenable until the coalescence of the Judean state (eighth century B.C.E.); until the end of the monarchy (587 B.C.E.), writing was limited to scribes who worked for the state and artisans, most often in administrative centers such as Jerusalem. From a sociolinguistic perspective, the period of Hezekiah (late eighth century B.C.E.) is the point at which written artifacts permeated every level of society, thereby ushering in the “democratization” of writing. Literacy in the Iron II was more limited, with individuals described in inscriptions and in biblical narratives as reading and writing being predominantly elites.

Literacy, Iron Age

Letter from Lachish (#3) in which the writer responds to an accusation of illiteracy. Kim Walton, courtesy of the Israel Museum, Jerusalem

view larger image

In light of the institutional prerequisites for literacy, which hinge upon a bureaucracy capable of training scribes and standardizing a national language and script, the spread of literacy among royal, religious, and administrative elites is best dated to the late monarchy—the only period of sufficient urbanization, centralized administration, political stability, and wealth combining to provide the impetus to subsidize prolonged scribal training in the Hebrew language. This period, in addition, correlates with a dramatic increase in Hebrew epigraphic materials. During the Iron II, ostraca and personal seals that contain orthographic errors and are executed in a crude “handwriting” evince the spread of writing among nonprofessional scribes (e.g., Lachish Letter 3, which was written by a nonprofessional, a military officer).

State-Sponsored Education in Ancient Israel?

Though the basic literacy needed for craftspeople (such as potters and engravers) may have been acquired during their training (in guild or familial settings), advanced professional scribal education in ancient Israel entailed some sort of formalized training affiliated with the state and temple. According to Rollston, “That the Old Hebrew epigraphic recordreflects synchronic consistency and diachronic development is significant, because it necessitates a mechanism: formal, standardized scribal education” (2006, p. 58). Such a standardized curriculum could only come about with the advent of an administrative force able to subsidize bureaucracy and enforce a standardized “national” script and language (such as “Israeli Hebrew” used in the north and “Judean Hebrew” used in the south, which differed orthographically).

Some scholars equate abecedaries and other small texts with schools in Jerusalem, Samaria, Lachish, Arad, and Hebron as well as more remote sites such as Izbet Sartah, Kadesh Barnea, and Kuntillet Ajrud. However, small texts such as abecedaries and graffiti are attested throughout the Near East and cannot all be scribal school exercises; rather, some are the work of artisans such as potters, engravers, and others with minimal writing skills. Moreover, there is a lack of unambiguous evidence for education, let alone for schools. The modern notion of education as state-regulated learning in fixed institutional centers (i.e., schools) is anachronistic when examining education in ancient contexts. Moreover, educational materials are often obfuscated in the archaeological record, especially in societies that used perishable writing materials (as did Israel and Judah). Even in Mesopotamia, where there is prolific evidence for scribalism, there is a dearth of “schools” in the material record. For this reason, some advocate a more nuanced definition that includes education outside of state and temple complexes. Similarly, others acknowledge systematic scribal training in Israel, not necessarily in a school setting but in the context of “formal, standardized education.” Still others propose that only a small number of scribes operated in Israel and Judah, with education taking place in a familial setting, until the time of Ben Sira; a small family of scribes would have met the needs of the monarchy. Some reject the notion of formalized education for nonelites, arguing that most Israelites had no need for literacy; rather, a small guild of scribes trained in a guild or state setting would have sufficed for administrative purposes. There is also the apprenticeship model, limited to a small number of scribes.

Also debated is the question of whether scribal schools, and in particular those scribes responsible for the bulk of biblical literature, were affiliated with the palace or the temple or operated independently. Both priestly and royal scribal schools have been posited, with wisdom literature and cultic texts such as the Ketef Hinnom amulets, as well as votive inscriptions, attributed to priestly scribes trained at the temple, beginning in the pre- and early monarchal periods. Some dismiss the notion of private scribes, viewing scribes as palace and temple employees. Rather than a dichotomy between temple and palace sectors, they fulfilled two complementary roles. Palace scribes were administrators, whereas temple scribes were educators trained to write the scholarly and artistic works that culminated in biblical literature. Scribal schools were affiliated with the temples in Israel and Judah as early as 850 B.C.E. and were the loci for written law, prophecy, education, and scholarship; after the fall of Israel (721 B.C.E.), the Jerusalem Temple became the repository for northern traditions. In contrast, some attribute the bulk of biblical literature to royal scribes.

Egyptian and Mesopotamian parallels support a two-tiered scribal apparatus at the state level, whereby scribes worked as both royal and temple administrators and received the appropriate education in palace and temple contexts. The epigraphic record (e.g., the Samarian Ostraca, eighth century B.C.E., and the LMLK seals, late eighth century B.C.E.) and references to scribes in the Hebrew Bible (e.g., 2 Sam 8:17, 1 Kgs 4:3) indicate that scribes were specially trained to serve the administrative needs of the state. Additionally, scribes managed the temple economy (2 Kgs 12:10) and received specialized training to transcribe liturgy and priestly literature and to participate in religious reform (e.g., 2 Kgs 22, in which the Book of the Law, a version of Deuteronomy, is found in the temple archives). Although the degree to which scribes served in a priestly capacity and the degree to which priests were literate (the Sotah ritual in Num 5:11–31 offers a rare example of a priest writing) remain unclear in the Iron Age, by the Persian period these two scribal communities were not exclusive; for example, Ezra is described as both scribe and priest (Ezra 7:21). In addition, much of the writing in the Hebrew Bible (e.g., prophetic books such as Jeremiah and Amos) and in the epigraphic record (e.g., personal seals, the Mesad Hashavyahu Letter [seventh century B.C.E.], the Ketef Hinnom amulets, and blessing and curse tomb inscriptions) falls outside the scope of official “state” or “temple” writing. In addition to scribal education in both state and religious contexts, it is likely that lower-ranking scribes catering to the middle and lower socioeconomic classes provided any necessary training to their peers, perhaps in domestic settings.

Iron-Age Epigraphic Evidence.

Epigraphic evidence suggests that the linear alphabet was standardized and widely adopted in the Levant in the Iron I (1200–985 B.C.E.), nearly a millennium after the first experiments in alphabetic writing. Until the ninth century B.C.E., epigraphic discoveries from the southern Levant are restricted to short, fragmentary, and often enigmatic inscriptions. The earliest Iron-Age exemplars include the ʾIzbet Sarteh (eleventh century B.C.E.) and Tel Zayit (late tenth–early ninth centuries B.C.E.) abecedaries, inscribed objects such as the Kefar Veradim bowl (early tenth century B.C.E.), and short inscriptions such as the Gezer Calendar and the Qeiyafa Ostracon (tenth century B.C.E.). For some, these texts signal the emergence of written Hebrew by the tenth century B.C.E. Others aptly note the dearth of distinctly Hebrew lexemes in these inscriptions and see no evidence for the emergence of an “Old Hebrew” script until the ninth century B.C.E. Furthermore, the divergences in alphabetic order and in the stance and direction of the letters underscore the lack of standardization in this early period.

Though more complex texts are attested in Iron-II contexts (most famously, the tenth-century B.C.E. Phoenician Ahiram sarcophagus inscription and the ninth-century B.C.E. Moabite Mesha and Aramaic Tel Dan inscriptions), monumental inscriptions have not been discovered in Israel. The Siloam Tunnel Inscription (eighth century B.C.E.), a well-executed graffito that commemorates the completion of a tunneling project, is the most substantial inscription to date. Despite the more cosmopolitan and prosperous nature of the Kingdom of Israel, the bulk of Iron-Age epigraphic materials are from Judah. Indeed, the only substantial corpus of epigraphic materials from Israel is the Samaria Ostraca (eighth century B.C.E.), which are administrative records of oil and wine deliveries. Additionally, the Kuntillet ʾAjrud inscriptions (late ninth–mid-eighth centuries B.C.E.) indicate dialectal or orthographical differences from Judean Hebrew and have been attributed to an Israelite author(s), despite their discovery in the Sinai Desert.

A majority of Iron-Age inscriptions are from Judean contexts and consist of letters, graffiti, tomb inscriptions, jar labels, bullae (seal impressions), and seals with personal names, dating to the eighth to sixth centuries B.C.E. The variable orthographies and spellings of late monarchic Hebrew evince a gradual breakdown of the scribal monopoly on education and writing technologies. As basic literacy became more accessible to certain groups (mainly elites, officers, and functionaries), the quality of writing and the degree of standardization decreased. Certain of these inscriptions, such as the Siloam Tunnel Inscription (thought to be the work of an engineer or official working at the site of the tunneling), Khirbet el-Qom 3 (attributed to the owner of the tomb), and Lachish Letter 3 (which references nonprofessional writing and presumes that even a junior officer of the military elite would be literate), appear to have been written without the help of a scribe. In addition, there is an increase in personal seals dating to the eighth to sixth centuries B.C.E. that are inscribed with the name of the seal owner, some of which are crudely written, which reflects the work of nonprofessionals, whether the seal owners themselves or craftspeople. Such seals served as personal signatures on documents, suggesting that writing became central to administration in the private sector economy. Although several seals belonged to women, it is unclear to what degree elite women received basic training in reading and writing as there is no conclusive evidence in either the epigraphic or the biblical record.

Moreover, there is evidence that writing was incorporated into cultic/religious contexts (e.g., blessing and curse texts such as the Khirbet el-Qom, Beit Lei, and Kuntillet ʾAjrud inscriptions and the Ketef Hinnom amulets, which parallel the priestly blessing in Num 6:24–27). Such epigraphic materials provide evidence that by the eighth century B.C.E. writing technologies transcended the scribal apparatuses of the state and temple, though literacy beyond the most basic abilities remained an elite commodity.

Reading and Writing in Biblical Literature.

Biblical references to reading and writing as media of communication (1 Kgs 21:8–9; 2 Kgs 5:5–7, 10:1, 10:6–7; for record keeping [Num 33:2, Josh 18:8–9, Judg 8:14], including lists and genealogies [Gen 5:1] and royal annals [1 Kgs 11:41, 15:23; 2 Kgs 20:20]), as well as references to royal scribes (2 Sam 8:17, 20:25; 1 Kgs 4:3; 2 Kgs 12:10; Isa 36:3), underscore their growing importance. Moreover, references to writing in Deuteronomy (4:13, 6:9, 27:3, 28:58, 29:20–21, 30:10, 31:19, 31:24), in Josiah’s reforms (2 Kgs 22–23), in prophetic works (Jer 25:13, 29:1, 30:2, 36:4, 36:8; Isa 8:1, 29:11–12, 30:8; Hab 2:2; Ezek 37:16), and in “divine writing” (Exod 31:18; Deut 4:13, 4:13,5:22; especially God’s book [Ps 56:9, 69:29]) suggest that writing was increasingly considered authoritative. Figures such as Moses (Exod 17:14, 24:4; Num 17:2–3, 33:2; Deut 31:9, 24), Joshua (Josh 24:26), Samuel (1 Sam 10:25), and David (2 Sam 11:14–15) are described as reading and writing. Writing is prescribed in a variety of contexts, including covenant making (throughout Deuteronomy and Josh 8:30–35), legal contexts (such as divorce [Deut 24:1–3, Isa 50:1], the sale of property [Jer 32:10–14, 32:44], and a lawsuit [Job 31:35]), in priestly contexts (Exod 28:9–12, 28:36; at the trial of a woman accused of adultery [Num 5:23]), and with regard to the law of the king (Deut 17:18).

The use of the verb qrʿ (“call out,” or “read”) in the Hebrew Bible and in inscriptions is ambiguous, denoting both the act of reading and being read to. The same applies to the verb ktb, which denotes both writing and dictating. Despite an increase in the use of writing, oral culture continued to play a significant role in Israelite culture. Literacy and orality were not exclusive; rather, writing was incorporated into domains previously dominated by oral culture (exemplified in the uses of the blessing known as the Shema [Deut 6:4–9], which is part of oral education and is also written on phylacteries and on the doorposts and gates of Israelite settlements). Along with the increased role of writing in daily affairs came a suspicion of the educated elite that resounds in texts such as Isaiah 10:1–4 and Jeremiah 8:8, which critique abuses of power by educated and scribal elites.

Although descriptions of writing in biblical accounts of pre- and early monarchic Israel may be anachronistic, reflecting the scale of administration and the diffusion of literacy in a later stage in Israelite history, references to the Israelite and Judean states in external sources (e.g., Ahab, Jehu, and Hezekiah in Assyrian records and the Davidic and Omride dynasties in the Aramaic Tel Dan and the Moabite Mesha Stelae) and the dramatic increase in inscriptions beginning in the eighth century B.C.E. suggest that from the Iron II on the administrative and scribal apparatuses described in biblical narratives were operant. In addition, Josiah's reform in 2 Kings 22–23 (dated to 621 B.C.E.), which derives its authority from the “discovery“ of the Book of the Law (presumably an early form of Deuteronomy), is central to the issue of literacy and the role of writing in Israelite culture. This narrative is a watershed event that formalizes the authoritative power of the written word and heralds a period of political and cultic reform, all based on the authority of a written text.

Concluding Remarks.

New methodologies have catalyzed a paradigm shift whereby literacy is no longer considered the direct and immediate consequence of the invention of alphabetic writing but rather a gradual and complex process, dependent upon such factors as financial and political environments that would allow for sustained training in writing technologies. In consequence, literacy in ancient Israel is understood as a process dependent upon social and political factors. The simplification of writing by the use of a linear alphabet with 22 graphemes may have facilitated the task of learning for scribes and elites already positioned to receive training. However, it did not dramatically affect the average Israelite until social changes such as urbanization, wealth redistribution, and the development of an urban middle class catalyzed an environment in which they had both a use for and a means of reading and writing. Ultimately, though the Iron II did usher in periods of relative internal political and economic stability (despite the turmoil of Assyrian and subsequent Babylonian aggression), which fostered the spread of literacy among nonprofessional elites, literacy was not widespread in Iron-Age Israel.

Recent studies of Israelite literacy factor in sociological, archaeological, and sociolinguistic concerns. They examine the political and social contexts needed to standardize a local vernacular and elevate it to the official written language of the state, institute spelling and script reforms, support scribal institutions, and train scribes and state and temple elites. This has brought about a refined definition of education, which is divorced from the modern paradigm of “schools” as formalized centers of learning, paid for and regulated by the state. Instead, scholars define education more broadly, to include pedagogy in guilds and in familial settings. In addition, current approaches to Israelite literacy abandon a strictly diachronic approach since it overlooks the continued importance of oral culture, in particular among nonelites. Literacy and orality were not exclusive but rather operated on a continuum, often intersecting. Most important, such approaches have brought to the field of biblical studies a deeper appreciation of the range of literacy that existed in Israelite society, at any given point in time.

[See also ARAD; DAN; LACHISH; and SAMARIA/SEBASTE.)]

Bibliography

  • Albright, W. F. Discussion in City Invincible: A Symposium on Urbanization and Cultural Development in the Ancient Near East, edited by C. H. Kraeling and R. M. Adams, pp. 194–123. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1960.
  • Carr, David M. Writing on the Tablet of the Heart: Origins of Scripture and Literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.
  • Crenshaw, James L. Education in Ancient Israel: Across the Deadening Silence. New York: Doubleday, 1998.
  • Davies, Philip R. Scribes and Schools: The Canonization of the Hebrew Scriptures. Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 1998.
  • Demsky, Aaron, and Meir Bar-Ilan. “Writing in Ancient Israel and Early Judaism.” In Mikra: Text, Translation, Reading, and Interpretation of the Hebrew Bible in Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity, edited by Martin Jan Mulder, vol. 1, pp. 1–37. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1988. A summary of writing in Israel from the Iron Age into the Rabbinic period.
  • Goody, Jack, and Ian Watt. “The Consequences of Literacy.” Comparative Studies in Society and History 5, no. 3 (1963): 304–345. A key article that very much informed early debates about the impact and implications of literacy in the ancient world.
  • Halverson, John. “Goody and the Implosion of the Literacy Thesis.” Man 27, no. 2 (1992): 301–317. A summary of various critiques of Goody and the “literacy thesis.”
  • Hess, Richard. “Literacy in Iron Age Israel.” In Windows into Old Testament History: Evidence, Argument, and the Crises of “Biblical Israel,” edited by V. Philips Long, David W. Baker, and Gordon J. Wenham, pp. 82–102. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2002. A response to Ian Young’s 1998 articles examining the issue of literacy in Iron-Age Israel.
  • Jamieson-Drake, David. Scribes and Schools in Monarchic Judah: A Socio-Archaeological Approach. Sheffield, U.K.: Sheffield Academic Press, 1991. An attempt to evaluate scribalism and literacy in Judah based upon the archaeological evidence for statehood in Judah.
  • Lemaire, André. Les écoles et la formation de la Bible dans l’ancien Israël. Orbi Biblicus et Orientalis 36. Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1981. Summarizes epigraphic findings at various sites in Israel and the Transjordan, arguing that they are evidence for the presence of schools.
  • Millard, Alan R. “The Practice of Writing in Ancient Israel.” Biblical Archaeologist 35, no. 4 (1972): 97–111.
  • Niditch, Susan. Oral World and Written Word. Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 1996. A seminal work on the relationship between orality and literacy in ancient Israel.
  • Ong, Walter. Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word. London: Methuen, 1982. A seminal work examining the effects of literacy and the development of a range of writing technologies.
  • Rollston, Christopher A. “Scribal Education in Ancient Israel: The Old Hebrew Epigraphic Evidence.” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 344 (2006): 47–74.
  • Rollston, Christopher A. Writing and Literacy in the World of Ancient Israel: Epigraphic Evidence from the Iron Age. Atlanta, Ga.: Society of Biblical Literature, 2010. A synthesis of all major epigraphic finds in the Iron-Age, northwest, Semitic-speaking world. Includes a discussion of literacy and education in ancient Israel.
  • Sanders, Seth. The Invention of Hebrew. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2009. An invaluable examination of alphabetic writing as a catalyst for the development of written vernaculars, such as Hebrew, upon social and political structures in the Levant.
  • Schniedewind, William M. How the Bible Became a Book: The Textualization of Ancient Israel. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2004.
  • Toorn, Karel van der. Scribal Culture and the Making of the Hebrew Bible. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2007. A discussion of scribalism in the ancient Near East that argues that priestly scribes affiliated with the Jerusalem Temple wrote the bulk of biblical literature.
  • Young, Ian M. “Israelite Literacy: Interpreting the Evidence.” Vetus Testamentum 48, no. 2 (1998): 239–253, and 48, no. 3 (1998): 408–422. A two-part survey of arguments for and against widespread literacy in Iron-Age Israel. Young examines biblical and epigraphic evidence, concluding that writing was restricted to elites.

Alice Mandell