British Museum

Assyrian relief from Sennacherib’s palace at Nineveh (c. 690 B.C.). Two scribes, standing side by side at center, record the number of the enemy slain in a campaign by Sennacherib’s soldiers in southern Babylonia. Heads are piled at their feet. The foreground scribe uses pen and ink on a papyrus scroll; the other scribe writes with a stylus on a hinged writing-board coated with wax (See the sidebar to this article.). Although few papyri survive from this time, pictorial evidence such as this attests to the use of papyrus in conjunction with writing boards and clay tablets.

Professional scribes, however, did not hold a monopoly on literacy. Professor Millard, author of the accompanying article, contends that the archaeological evidence—from monumental inscriptions, tablets, papyri and potsherds—suggests that the ability to read and write was more common in ancient Israel than has been previously believed.