The emergence and dissemination of writing in Judah

Israel Finkelstein, Assaf Kleiman

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debate


Several ostraca from the fort of Arad, dated by the excavator Aharoni to the Iron IIA in the late 10th and 9th centuries bce, have formed the basis for the discussion regarding the emergence of writing in Judah. It is demonstrated here that these inscriptions do not come from reliable stratigraphic contexts and hence cannot be used to illuminate early scribal activity in the kingdom. Turning to finds from secure contexts, Judahite inscriptions begin to appear only in the late 8th century bce, and even then to a limited extent. At this time scribal activity was confined to administrative and royal circles. Dissemination of writing to the countryside and for mundane use took place only in the 7th century bce. The emergence of writing culture in Judah was the outcome of the kingdom’s incorporation into the Assyrian administration and economy and the impact of Israelites who settled in Judah after the takeover of the Northern Kingdom by Assyria in 720 bce. The findings presented here cast doubt on the very foundations of Hebrew script paleography.
Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)269-282
Number of pages14
JournalSemitica et Classica
StatePublished - 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Archaeology
  • History
  • Religious studies
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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