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.

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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.

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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.”

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