Perhaps at the time of King David (tenth century BCE). In other words, earlier than most contemporary Bible scholars have previously assumed. Below is a quote from a report on a tenth century BCE pottery shard recently discovered with Hebrew words on it. The pottery shard was discovered by University of Haifa Professor Gershon Galil:
Prof. Galil also notes that the inscription was discovered in a provincial town in Judea. He explains that if there were scribes in the periphery, it can be assumed that those inhabiting the central region and Jerusalem were even more proficient writers. “It can now be maintained that it was highly reasonable that during the 10th century BCE, during the reign of King David, there were scribes in Israel who were able to write literary texts and complex historiographies such as the books of Judges and Samuel.”
Before jumping to conclusions (“The Bible was written hundreds of years earlier than current scholarship supposes!”) I would suggest two cautions:
- How archaic is the Hebrew on the shard? In other words, is it Hebrew that looks like the Hebrew of the Bible, or Hebrew that looks several centuries earlier? In other words, just as there are big differences between, say, Chaucer’s English, Shakespeare’s English, and our own contemporary English, I’d like to know if anything in the Hebrew Bible reads like the Hebrew on the pottery shard.
- The pottery shard contains no biblical verses, and so it is only an inference that parts of the Bible had been started at this time. We don’t have any actual evidence that they did.
Still, it’s interesting. But fundamentalists shouldn’t be leaping on this as an example of archeology proving the Bible.
Here’s the English translation of the text discovered on the shard:
1′ you shall not do [it], but worship the [Lord].
2′ Judge the sla[ve] and the wid[ow] / Judge the orph[an]
3′ [and] the stranger. [Pl]ead for the infant / plead for the po[or and]
4′ the widow. Rehabilitate [the poor] at the hands of the king.
5′ Protect the po[or and] the slave / [supp]ort the stranger.
Whoever wrote this, he (or she) sure doesn’t sound like a Republican.