Certain texts of the Bible may have been written earlier than previously believed, according to a new research based on the handwriting analysis of ancient inscriptions.

It is dated to be at least 600 B.C. and the presumption is that literacy was prevalent and the texts were composed in the kingdom of Judah, a city with biblical reverence, according to researchers from the Tel Aviv University. They suggest that the educational infrastructure to support Bible writing presumably existed at that time.

About 100 "Ostraca" were unearthed several decades ago near the Dead Sea in an excavation of the Arad fort that probably housed around 30 Judahite soldiers. Ostracon or Ostraca (plural) are primarily pieces of pottery or stones, which were used as a writing pad in ancient times.

High-tech digital analysis of the inscriptions on these shards of pottery interestingly suggests that literacy might have been prevalent way back in 600 B.C. The wealth of texts found at the Fort is phenomenal as it recorded military commands, troop movements, purchase of provisions, order supplies and other related daily activities.

For the purpose of the study, 16 of the ceramic shards that were rich in content were analyzed using a high-tech methodology. Computerized algorithms were developed to distinguish between letters and handwriting styles, and this intense analysis was able to determine the presence of at least six different authors that were involved in etching ink onto the pottery. Even military soldiers of lower rungs seem to have been able to read and write quite efficiently at that time.

"There is something psychological beyond the statistics. There is an understanding of the power of literacy. And they wrote well, with hardly any mistakes," said senior author Israel Finkelstein, a professor of archaeology at Tel Aviv University.

One of the enduring points of the debate over when the Bible could have been ideally written was that there were not enough literates to undertake a huge task such as writing the texts of the Bible. But analysis of the inscriptions suggests that literacy rates in the Arad fort were quite substantial. If these rates were applied across the kingdom of Judah that was populated with 100,000 people, there would have been hundreds of literate people who could have been instrumental in writing certain texts of the bible.

"Several (biblical) texts refer to events which best fit the reality in the years just before the fall of the Kingdom of Judah," added Finkelstein.

The findings of the research have been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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