Literacy in Judah and Israel: Algorithmic and Forensic Examination of the Arad and Samaria Ostraca.

Shira Faigenbaum-Golovin, Arie Shaus, Barak Sober, Yana Gerber, Eli Turkel, Eli Piasetzky, Israel Finkelstein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A highly discussed issue in the fields of Hebrew epigraphy and biblical research is the level of literacy in the Iron Age kingdoms of Israel and Judah (Rollston 2010; Davies and Römer 2013; Schmidt 2015). Treating this topic using biblical texts, for example, the references to scribes at the time of a given monarch, may lead to circular argumentation: The reality behind a given account may reflect the time of the authors, who could have lived centuries later and retrojected their own situation back onto earlier history. A preferable methodology is to consider the material evidence—the corpora of Iron Age Hebrew ostraca from archaeological excavations. The idea is to use algorithmic and forensic methods to distinguish between handwritings and thus the number of authors in a given corpus.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)148 - 158
Number of pages11
JournalNear Eastern Archaeology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The research reported here received funding from the European Research Council under the European Community’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007–2013)/ERC Grant Agreement 229418, the Israel Science Foundation—F.I.R.S.T. (Bikura) Individual Grant 644/08, and the Israel Science Foundation Grants 1457/13 and 2062/18. The digital epigraphy work at Tel Aviv University, including the current study, is supported by a generous donation from Mr. Jacques Chahine, made through the French Friends of Tel Aviv University. Arie Shaus was also supported by an Azrieli Fellowship and Barak Sober was supported through Math+X grant 400837 from the Simons Foundation, as well as by Duke University.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, University of Chicago Press. All rights reserved.


  • Epigraphy
  • Hebrew language
  • Ostraka
  • Forensic archaeology
  • Palestine -- Antiquities -- Samaria (Region)


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