[b-hebrew] King Josiah's Exciting Discovery

jimstinehart at aol.com jimstinehart at aol.com
Wed Dec 12 09:01:32 EST 2012

Prof.Yigal Levin and Dave Washburn:
Hereis a scholar who interprets this story differently than you two do.  Please consider if his interpretation is moreconvincing than yours.
In1911, an Egyptologist pointed out a critically important facet of King Josiah’sBiblical discovery in the Temple:
 “Naville…believes the narrative [of II Kings22-23] implies that Hilkiah [the priest] was unable to decipher the book[Deuteronomy], and therefore gave it to Shaphan [the scribe] to read out tohim.  This was because it was in a scriptno longer employed in Judah at the time -- perhaps cuneiform -- but a scriptwhich Shaphan, as correspondent on State affairs with the Assyrians andBabylonians and others, could read.” Cited in a 1951 article by Donald W.B. Robinson:  “Josiah’s Reform and the Book of theLaw”.  http://www.biblicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/josiah_robinson.pdf  At pp. 32-33 of that article, Robinson citesthis source, an Egyptologist in 1911:  TheDiscovery of the Book of the Law under King Josiah. An Egyptian Interpretationof the Biblical Account, by Edouard Naville, Hon. D.C.L., Ph.D., Litt.D.,Member of the Institute of France.  46pp.  (S.P.C.K., London, 1911).
Tome, that is the most plausible explanation of this famous story.  Neither the priest nor King Josiah could readwhat had been discovered in the Temple, because although it used west Semiticpre-Hebrew words that they both knew, the writing system was cuneiform.  By sharp contrast, the scribe had to dealwith original correspondence from Assyria and Babylonia in cuneiform, so hecould read this new discovery immediately. The scribe quickly transformed the writing format into alphabeticalHebrew, and now King Josiah could effortlessly read it to all of Judah.
Thisis the “missing link” -- cuneiform.  Cuneiformcan get us all the long way back to the Amarna Age [per the Amarna Letters fromsouth-central Canaan written in cuneiform, containing dozens of west Semiticwords] as the time when the oldest part of the Torah was written down (notmerely being an oral tradition), which alphabetical Hebrew cannot do.  That in turn frees us up to look at thesubstantive content of, and the proper names in, the Torah, in determining theantiquity of various parts of the Torah. A careful consideration and examination of substantive content andproper names discloses that only the Patriarchal narratives go all the long wayback to the mid-14th century BCE. The fact that classic Hebrew and alphabetical Hebrew did not yet existin the Amarna Age is immaterial.  And the1st millennium BCE writing style of the non-poetic common words inthe received text of the Patriarchal narratives is no longer a problem either,much less an insurmountable drop-dead problem, because that’s simply a productof at what late date the cuneiform original was transformed into alphabeticalHebrew.
Writingdown west Semitic words in cuneiform, as is done for dozens of west Semiticwords in the Amarna Letters from the Late Bronze Age, is the “missing link” todiscovering the incredible antiquity of the Patriarchal narratives as a writtentext, whose substantive content for the most part never changed over thecenturies.  To me, the famous story ofKing Josiah’s alleged discovery of an ancient text in the Temple stronglyimplies that only the scribe could read it, which would make sense if and onlyif that ancient religious text were written in cuneiform (using west Semiticwords).  Even if that story is a merelegend, the mere existence of that story is evidence that Jewish wisemen in the7th century BCE thought, probably correctly, that some of the oldestparts of the Torah had originally been written in cuneiform (using west Semiticwords).

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