[b-hebrew] Literature and literacy contemporary to the Torah.

Peter Kirk peterkirk at qaya.org
Thu Jul 8 05:40:04 EDT 2004

On 08/07/2004 01:13, Christopher V. Kimball wrote:

> Taking the Torah as a 5-6 th century BCE document, what other 
> documents OF COMPARABLE LENGTH, in any language, of this period are 
> available?

I think immediately of Herodotus' Histories, from the 5th century and of 
comparable length. And then there are Hindu, Buddhist and Zoroastrian 
scriptures, maybe also Chinese writings, which may date back that far, 
but I'm not sure about length.

But then I don't accept your presupposition - perhaps for the more or 
less final form of the Torah, but not for much of the contents.

> Again focusing on the 5-6 th century BCE, how many people (of a 
> population of how many) could read the Torah, if they had a copy?

We can only guess, as we know almost nothing about the Israelite 
community of that time except for what is written in the Bible. Anything 
based on other communities of the time is highly speculative because we 
know that at least a few centuries later the Jewish community was much 
more literate than many surrounding peoples, and that distinction might 
date back to your period. The stronger limitation would probably have 
been whether people had copies; there would probably have been few 
copies in existence, and quite possibly only the priestly community had 
direct access to them.

Peter Kirk
peter at qaya.org (personal)
peterkirk at qaya.org (work)

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