Today I address two interesting questions on the weekly mailbag, one about the new archaeological discovery in Israel and the other on whether in my last book I violated my own advice about requiring only experts to write for popular audiences.  If you have a question you would like me to address, let me know!



Does the latest information on the discovery of written texts from before the removal of the Israelite’s to Babylon indicating a wider level of literacy in 7th century BCE change your mind in any way about the illiteracy of the followers of Jesus?



I’m not sure if everyone saw this intriguing news item in the NY Times (or elsewhere), but here it is:

Let me say emphatically that I have no inside information about the find – I know only what I read in the papers, and it is fascinating indeed.   They have discovered a number of ostraca (pottery sherds) that have written on them, in ink, grocery/supply requests; they originate from Israel about the year 600 BCE (just before the overthrow of Judah and the destruction of the Jerusalem and the Temple in 586 BCE by the Babylonians), and a detailed computer analysis of the writing shows that at least six different writers were involved.  This has suggested that even in an outpost in a remote area of Judah there were literate persons, serving in the army.

The authors of the article suggest that this shows that literacy was more widespread than we have previously thought.   And so the question that I’m being asked is this: should this rethink our views of literacy in the days of Jesus?

My first response is that we desperately need more of these kinds of findings!  They are extremely valuable and help our historical understanding immensely.   And any kind of evidence should absolutely make us rethink the views we had before the evidence appeared!

In this case, though, there are two things to consider.  The first is…

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