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Bible 'could have been written earlier' than thought

by Hannah Tooley

Using handwriting analysis technology, similar to that employed by intelligence agencies and banks to analyse signatures, a Tel Aviv University team has determined that a famous group of ancient Hebrew inscriptions, dated to around 600 BC, were written by at least six different authors.

The inscriptions are not from the Hebrew Bible and their discovery suggests that there was widespread literacy in ancient Judah at the time, that would support the composition of biblical works.

The findings have been released by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and they contribute to a long-standing debate about when biblical texts first began to be compiled.

The arguments focus around whether or not the writing of the texts took place before or after the Babylonian siege, and destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC and the exile of its inhabitants to Babylon.

However, recently a number of scholars have said this group of biblical texts was written after the siege, a theory Israeli archaeologist Israel Finkelstein, agrees with.

He participated in the study and said that the theory that the biblical texts were written as a result of the exile to Babylon - when the composers began to think about their past and write down their history - makes sense.

He added that he has always thought those texts were written in the late 7th century BC in Jerusalem, before the siege.

Israel Finkelstein said: "It's the first time we have something empirical in our hands."

The team, that was made up of doctoral students in applied mathematics, maths professors, archaeologists and a physicist, examined 16 ink inscriptions on ceramic shards that were found at the site of an ancient military fortress in Arad in southern Israel.

It used special imaging tools to reconstruct Hebrew letters that had been partially erased over time, and then used a computer to analyse the writings to detect differences in handwriting strokes.

The inscriptions themselves are not biblical texts, but they detail troop movements and expenses for provisions, indicating that people throughout the military chain of command down to the fort's deputy quartermaster were able to write.

This high level of literacy supports the idea that some Biblical texts had already been written by this time in history.

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