2,000-year-old Inkwell Found in Khirbet Brakhot

Discovery supports theory that literacy was widespread among ancient Israelites

2nd Temple Inkwell

Photo: Archaeology Unit at the Civil Administration

A rare intact inkwell was found in a large Second Temple period building. It is a clay cylinder with a round handle. The discovery of this inkwell supports the hypothesis that writing, and therefore literacy, was practiced by more than the administrators among the ancient Israelites.

As Alan Millard explains in his 1987 article, “The Question of Israelite Literacy” (Bible Review, Fall 1987), the formal inscriptions aren’t always the most important surviving artifacts. The strongest evidence of widespread literacy among the ancient Israelites is essentially doodles: “graffiti consisting of names and notes written in ink or scratched on pots and pans or scribbled in tombs.” These “occasional inscriptions”– scribbled letters on a step, a name on a mug, an incoherent complaint–suggest writing was widely enough practiced to be spontaneous:. The penmanship is not as polished as the formal inscriptions that survive, also a sign that it may have come from amateurs rather than those few men for whom recording was their livelihood.

Our website, blog and email newsletter are a crucial part of Biblical Archaeology Society's nonprofit educational mission

This costs substantial money and resources, but we don't charge a cent to you to cover any of those expenses.

If you'd like to help make it possible for us to continue Bible History Daily,, and our email newsletter please donate. Even $5 helps:


The excavation was conducted by the Archaeology Unit in the Civil Administration with Herzog College. Dr. Dvir Raviv, Haim Shkulnik and Dr. Yitzhak Maitlis co-led the archaeological excavations at Khirbet Brakhot. Gush Etzion, where Khirbet Brakhot is located, is about ten miles south of Jerusalem.

Read more in the Bas Library

Not a BAS Library or All-Access Member yet? Join today.

Sifting Project Reveals City’s Earliest Writing by BAS Staff. The small piece of inscribed clay has now been studied by leading Assyriologists Wayne Horowitz and Takayoshi Oshima, who report that it is a fragment of a 14th-century B.C.E. tablet, making it the oldest writing ever discovered in Jerusalem, predating the previous contender, the famous Siloam Tunnel inscription, by at least 600 years!1

Literacy in the Time of Jesus: Could His Words Have Been Recorded in His Lifetime? by Alan R. Millard. How likely is it that someone would have written down and collected Jesus’ sayings into a book in Jesus’ lifetime? Several lines of evidence converge to suggest it is quite probable. The first factor to consider is how prevalent literacy was in Jesus’ time. Full literacy means being able to read and write proficiently, but degrees of literacy vary; people who can read, for example, may not be able to write.

Frank Moore Cross—An Interview: How the Alphabet Democratized Civilization by Hershel Shanks. Hershel Shanks: One of humankind’s greatest inventions, if not the greatest, is the invention of the alphabet. It was invented only once. All alphabets ultimately derive from the original Semitic alphabet. It’s astonishing to me that the invention came from this little point of a place on the globe, this tiny nothing of a place. If Cecil B. DeMille were doing this, he might say, “The Semites who brought you God now bring you the alphabet.”

Get more biblical Archaeology: Become a Member

The world of the Bible is knowable. We can learn about the society where the ancient Israelites, and later Jesus and the Apostles, lived through the modern discoveries that provide us clues.

Biblical Archaeology Review is the guide on that fascinating journey. Here is your ticket to join us as we discover more and more about the biblical world and its people.

Each issue of Biblical Archaeology Review features lavishly illustrated and easy-to-understand articles such as:

• Fascinating finds from the Hebrew Bible and New Testament periods

• The latest scholarship by the world's greatest archaeologists and distinguished scholars

• Stunning color photographs, informative maps, and diagrams

• BAR's unique departments

• Reviews of the latest books on biblical archaeology

The BAS Digital Library includes:

• 45+ years of Biblical Archaeology Review

• 20+ years of Bible Review online, providing critical interpretations of biblical texts

• 8 years of Archaeology Odyssey online, exploring the ancient roots of the Western world in a scholarly and entertaining way,

• The New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land

• Video lectures from world-renowned experts.

• Access to 50+ curated Special Collections,

• Four highly acclaimed books, published in conjunction with the Smithsonian Institution: Aspects of Monotheism, Feminist Approaches to the Bible, The Rise of Ancient Israel and The Search for Jesus.

The All-Access membership pass is the way to get to know the Bible through biblical archaeology.

Related Posts

Ferdinand Christian Baur
Jun 13
The Quest for the Historical Paul

By: James Tabor

The Apostle Paul by Rembrandt van Rijn (c. 1657). The apostle sits composing his letter, contemplating the sword that stands before him. Public Domain, Creative Commons Zero.
Jun 12
Paul’s Thorn in the Flesh

By: John Drummond

Jun 11
The Doorways of Solomon’s Temple

By: Megan Sauter

Write a Reply or Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Write a Reply or Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Send this to a friend