Previously in Hello World, I discussed Pope Benedict’s homily in which he pointed out that the last 200 years has seen a great deal of theological and biblical scholarship that, while it has uncovered interesting things, fundamentally misses the point.
Much of this scholarship has been devoted to a skeptical reading of the Scriptures with an intent to discredit them—for example, by arguing that they were written long after the events they record and therefore are unreliable.
Both the books of the Old Testament and the New Testament were assigned late dates to facilitate this claim, but discoveries in the last century have pushed the dates earlier than the skeptics proposed, back toward more traditional dates.
Now comes a story at Fox News and Haaretz concerning a small inscription said to overturn a key plank in the late dating of the Old Testament.
“Did the writing of the Bible begin as far back as the 10th century B.C.E., during the time of King David? That is four centuries earlier than Biblical scholars currently believe - but an inscription recently deciphered by a scholar at Haifa University indicates that for at least some books of the Bible, the answer may be yes. . . .
“[Prof. Gershon] Galil said this discovery disproves the current theory, which holds that the Bible could not have been written before the 6th century B.C.E., because Hebrew writing did not exist until then.
“Moreover, he added, the inscription was found in what was then a minor, outlying community - so if scribes existed even there, Hebrew writing was probably sufficiently well developed to handle a complex text like the Bible.”
So now religious conservatives can take comfort that archaeology has once again thwarted the foes of Scripture.
Something very bizarre is going on with this story. The first sentences are every bit as problematic as a piece opening: “Is the Pope Catholic? Current scholars believe he is the head of the Baptist church, but new evidence points in a Catholic direction.”
Scholarly consensus, even among liberal scholars, does not hold that “the writing of the Bible beg[a]n” in the sixth century B.C. Many may hold that certain books did not reach their present form until that time, or that particular books were not written until then, but the consensus is not that nothing had been written before then.
Much less is it claimed that the Bible couldn’t have been written prior to that time because of the supposed non-existence of Hebrew writing. The Ancient Near East had lots of writing systems, and sometimes people from one culture borrowed the writing system of another. In fact, that’s how the Hebrew alphabet arose.
The discovery of a Hebrew inscription from the tenth century B.C. also isn’t revolutionary, because we already have Hebrew writing from that period, such as the Gezer Calendar.
Either the newspapers are getting it wrong or Prof. Galil is miscommunicating or—since we’re dealing with an ink on clay inscription—there might be archaeological fraud in play.
This is a non-news story, either on grounds of it being hopelessly garbled or on grounds that we already knew of tenth century Hebrew writing.