On April 11, researchers at Tel Aviv University published a new paper that suggests some parts of the Bible may have been written years before people originally thought.
While many experts believe key biblical texts were written in the 7th century BC, according to this new study, they could actually have been written earlier, around 600 BC. The Tel Aviv University researchers came to this conclusion after studying the literacy rates in the ancient kingdom of Judah. The literacy rates were essential to the first compilation of biblical works because many scribes would have had to have been involved in the endeavor.
"There’s a heated discussion regarding the timing of the composition of a critical mass of biblical texts," Professor Israel Finkelstein, one of the study's lead authors, told The Jerusalem Post.
"But to answer this, one must ask a broader question: What were the literacy rates in Judah at the end of the First Temple period?" he explained. "And what were the literacy rates later on, under Persian rule?"
In order to help answer these questions, researchers used modern high-tech analytical tools.
Sophisticated computerized image processing and machine learning tools were turned toward fragments of inscribed pottery, dating back to 600 B.C. The fragments had originally been unearthed back in the 1970s.
The inscriptions are mostly mundane things like shopping lists and military commands, but they speak to a larger conclusion.
Using a computer algorithm and probability analysis, the researchers were able to distinguish between different authors and eliminate the likelihood that one person wrote all the inscriptions, according to The New York Times.
The researchers noted the discovery's significance since it means that a wide range of people across social classes were able to read and write in Judah.
"In other words, the entire army apparatus, from high-ranking officials to humble vice-quartermasters of small desert outposts, was literate," the study, which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS), reads.
After the fall of Judah, Finkelstein noted that there was demonstrable drop in the amount of Hebrew inscriptions until the second century BCE, when literacy rates jump back up, according to The Jerusalem Post.
"This reduces the odds for a compilation of substantial Biblical literature in Jerusalem between ca. 586 and 200 BCE," the professor said.