Old Testament writing

14 April 2016
Archaeology

At http://archaeologynewsnetwork.blogspot.co.uk/2016/04/ancient-statues-une… … which refers to a Swiss excavation by Cornelius Pilgrim who unearthed two headless statues on the island in the Nile, Elephantine. One of the statues has an inscription and belongs to an Old Kingdom ruler – and in all likelihood the other statue dates from the same period of history.

At the Washington Post and on Yahoo News we had a story about the discovery of a mass grave, thought to be of soldiers that had died in a battle, near Athens – see www.stonepages.com/news/archives/005650.html

However, the big news of the week is at http://popular-archaeology.com/issue/spring-2016/article/ancient-inscrip… … and various other sources. Biblical scholars have for a long time debated how much of the Bible was composed prior to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Exilic period. Scholars agree that some texts must have existed in the 7th century BC but the exact date of the compilation of the Hebrew Bible has remained in dispute. Minimalists date the compilation as late as the Greco-Roman period, a view which has been used by anti-Semitic factions.

Ostraca from an Iron Age fortress at Arvad on the edge of the desert, guarding the caravan route, have been dated by Israel Finkelstein to around 650 to 600BC. More traditional archaeologists would date it somewhat earlier but suffice to say 600BC can be judged as a bench mark for literacy in Judah of the period. The research is published in PNAS (April 2016) and provides evidence the surviving ostraca were written by 16 different hands. This infers that literacy was widespread at the time – at least among the middle and upper echelons of society (possibly not amongst the peasant farmers). In other words, the people of Judah were capable of compiling both historical and theological documents (but not necessarily in the form of the Bible as we know it nowadays). There is no surprise about this – it is only that firm evidence has now been produced and cannot be trifled with (as with the minimalist agenda).

Following the fall of Jerusalem there was a large gap in the production of written documents in Judah, which reflects the Exile of the upper classes. However, texts are plentiful once again in the 2nd century BC (presumably as a result of the Hasmonean changes) which fueled, in part, the ideas of the minimalists. Presumably Jews wrote in other languages in between the 6th and 2nd centuries – Persian, Babylonian, Greek. However, a purely Hebrew focussed history and theology must have become popular only in the 8th and 7th centuries – or in the 2nd century and after. The full compilation of the Hebrew Bible as it has survived must therefore date to the 2nd century but it's origins lie much earlier. This seems to be indisputable. The minimalist arguments are completely undermined. 

Staying at the same web site there is an interesting story at http://popular-archaeology.com/issue/spring-2016/article/a-crucified-kin… … is a reference to the Abba Cave' tomb found in 1970. James Tabor a professor of ancient Judaism and early Christianity at the University of North Carolina has written about it again at his blog (picked up by Popular Archaeology) and has revived the issue of the identity. He comes down on the original identification of the body with Antigorus II Mattathias, last king of the Hasmonians, who suffered the fate of crucifixion, followed by beheading. This occurred in 37BC – and the memory of it would have been alive in the time of Jesus. Inside the tomb was found an ossuary (a limestone box containing bones) with an inscription. 'I am Abba son of Eleazar the priest. I am Abba the oppressed. The persecuted, born in Jerusalem and exiled to Babylon, who brought back Mattathias son of Judah and buried him in the cave that I purchased'. The Hasmonean dynasty was estabished after the Maccabees rebellion against the Greeks. The Hasmoneans were removed by the Romans – leading the way for Herod the Great to become the king as the loyal subject of Rome. The Romans replaced rulers and put in a man of their own choice, sometimes a younger brother of the former king that had suitably been educated and brought up in a Roman lifestyle. What was the relationship between Herod and the Hasmoneans? You may also note 37BC came early in the reign of Augustus Ceasar. However, Mattathias was crucified at the instigation of Mark Anthony – according to most history books. 

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