Both the most controversial and best-selling book ever written, the Bible is an unusual book not least because, for the most part, we’ve got no idea who wrote it. Which makes it easy to pull find-replace jobs and make unfortunate typos. The Old Testament, in particular, is more or less anonymous. But less and less so, thanks to artificial intelligence.
We might never be able to pin the Bible down to a specific author, but we can get closer by understanding who had the capability to write and their literary complexity. Furthermore, being able to pin down the historical era the early books of the Bible were written would offer both insight into the history of the time and the ability to contrast it with other texts. To this point it’s largely been held that only a handful of people would be able to write in the first place, but new research has blown that open. How? By studying what amounts to ancient Post-Its.
To communicate, most people in the Kingdom of Judah used shards of pottery with words scratched into them, called ostraca, to give each other notes. Most historical ostraca are basically mundane day-to-day things like military orders, supply requisitions, and other minutiae that let us know holding down a job hasn’t changed in thousands of years. But, importantly, they’re examples of both ancient Hebrew and distinct handwriting.
Artificial intelligence was designed by researchers at Tel Aviv University to both restore rubbed-away letters and to look for signs of specific handwriting on the. The results revealed that even the lowliest water-hauler in the Kingdom of Judah’s army knew how to write, and to a fairly complex level. It makes sense, when you think about it: Armies thrive on communication, so literacy would have been as crucial as sword and shield. Still, it would imply that it wasn’t just an elite class of teachers and scholars who could have created the books of the Bible. It could have been, quite literally, some dude hauling water who thought it was a good idea to write this religion stuff down.
Just as importantly, though, it proves the tools for analyzing handwriting work, so we can run other ancient texts through them and look for similarities. That has far-reaching implications for historical studies, as being able to determine who inscribed what will give historians a lot of new data to work with, and possibly lay bare some seemingly unsolvable historical mysteries.