Tech UPTechnologyWhen was the Bible written?

When was the Bible written?


In September 2016 archaeologists were able to read some passages from the oldest manuscript we have that contains passages from one of the books of the Bible. The scroll was discovered in 1970 in Ein Gedi, an oasis located on the west bank of the Dead Sea, near two very famous archaeological sites: Masad á -fortification famous for the collective suicide of its occupants when they were lost by the siege of the Romans during the Great Jewish Revolt of 66 AD. E.-, and the caves of Qumr án , where the Essene manuscripts were found. Inside the synagogue’s holy ark, which was destroyed by fire, archaeologists found several poorly preserved and charred fragments. Luckily, the dry climate of the area played in favor of the archaeologists and preserved them . Researchers have had these manuscripts in their hands for several decades but have been unable to read them for one simple reason: it was dangerous to try to unroll them.

However, with the support of Google and the US National Science Foundation, an imaging technology called virtual unwinding has been developed that allows you to see what is inside a manuscript without touching it . Starting from a computerized X-ray microtomography, a 3D version of the scanner used in hospitals to generate images of internal parts of the body, a digital analysis is carried out in search of those pixels that correspond to inked areas of the manuscript, and finally the manuscript is virtually ‘unrolled’. Of course the technique is not easy nor is it easy to recognize the Hebrew writing in the image obtained . For this reason, of all the scanned scrolls, only one could be read: it was a passage from the book of Leviticus. But most importantly, with it the researchers found proof of something they had long suspected: the current Hebrew Bible (Tanakh) has not changed its wording in more than 2,000 years .

Versions of the same Bible

In ancient times many versions of the Jewish Bible circulated. The famous Dead Sea Scrolls from the 3rd century BC contain versions that differ radically from the current version. Scholars have always believed that the standard version of the Bible was composed 2 millennia ago but have never found proof of it. Until 2016 the oldest fragments of the modern biblical text were from the 8th century , and the charred scroll discovered at Ein Gedi is now known to be “100% identical to the version of the Book of Leviticus that has been in use for centuries.” ”, says the expert on the Dead Sea Scrolls Emmanuel Tov of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. “It is surprising that in 2,000 years the text has not changed at all.”

Now, when was the Bible written? Or rather, when was it first compiled? Scholarly debate centers on whether the first phase of the compilation occurred before or after the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC. C. _ It all depends on how widespread literacy was, since it is considered a precondition for the creation of such texts. How to know? Due to the proliferation of inscriptions, both on papyrus and on ceramics. It is at this point that a paper published in 2016 in the journal PNAS by Tel Aviv University doctoral students Shira Faigenbaum-Golovina, Arie Shausa and Barak Sober, together with researcher Israel Finkelstein, has an impact.

In search of lost literacy

His work focused on 16 inscriptions written in ink on ostraca (broken pottery pieces) found in the desert fortress of Arad, in southern Israel, and dated to around 600 BC Using image processing algorithms developed by These researchers deduced that at least six different hands had intervened in the inscriptions, which contained instructions for the movement of troops and lists of food expenses. According to the researchers, this indicates a high degree of literacy in the Jewish administrative apparatus and provides a possible setting for the compilation of biblical texts.” “The results indicate that in this remote fortress, literacy had spread throughout the military hierarchy, down to the quartermaster and probably even below that rank,” the researchers state in their article. For the director of the research project, archaeologist Israel Finkelstein, author of the classic book The Unearthed Bible , “adding what we know about Arad to other fortresses and administrative locations in ancient Judah, we can estimate that many people could read and write during the last phase of the First Temple period . We assume that in a kingdom of about 100,000 people, at least several hundred were literate.”

But not all researchers agree. Christopher Rollston, a professor of Semitic language and literature at George Washington University, argues that there is not enough information on these ostraca to estimate the level of literacy, especially considering that, according to Yohanan Aharoni, who first excavated Arad, these ostraca come from different strata, so not all of them are from 600 BC Furthermore, he adds, we cannot say how many of these inscriptions were written in the Arad fortress and how many came from other places.


Finkelstein, I. et al (2016) Algorithmic handwriting analysis of Judahs military correspondence sheds light on composition of biblical texts, PNAS 113 (17) 4664-4669,

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