Historians in Israel claim to have found the first strong evidence that reading and writing were widespread before the sack of Jerusalem, which they say suggests that a large chunk of the Old Testament could have taken shape and been circulated decades before the Jews were taken to Babylon.
Researchers at Tel Aviv University have examined scraps of inscribed pottery, known as ostraca, found in Tel Arad, a fortress on the border, with the kingdom of Edom to the south. The writing itself, dating to about 600BC, is nothing spectacular — requests to take oil, wine and flour out of stockpiles, lists of names and a few broken military commands — but what is extraordinary, they say, is that computer analysis shows that the messages were written by at least six people, from a general to a junior servant.
This, in turn, means that much of the Bible could have been put together in a brief golden age of literacy that would not exist again in the area for centuries, according to the researchers. This purple patch could include most of the books describing the history of Ancient Israel before the Babylonian devastation of Jerusalem, including Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges and Kings.