Nashon Sneh/Israel Antiquities Authority

Literacy in the united monarchy? Inscribed potsherds (ostraca) from the eighth and seventh centuries B.C.E., found in both Israel and Judah, provide evidence for writing in the tenth century B.C.E. These ostraca contain Hebrew characters as well as signs and numerals in hieratic—a cursive form of Egyptian hieroglyphics. Curiously, these hieratic signs do not appear in contemporaneous documents of Israel’s neighbors, even though Egypt’s relations with Philistia and Phoenicia in the ninth and eighth centuries B.C.E. were much closer than those with Israel. Moreover, no eighth- or seventh-century Egyptian parallels have been found for many of the signs on the Hebrew ostraca. So author Na’aman concludes that the hieratic writing must have entered the Hebrew script in the tenth century. And since the hieratic signs appear on ostraca from both Israel and Judah, the borrowing probably took place before the division of the monarchy into northern and southern kingdoms. If so, writing was introduced into the Jerusalem court in the tenth century, probably in the time of David and Solomon.