Algorithmic handwriting analysis of the Samaria inscriptions illuminates bureaucratic apparatus in biblical Israel

Shira Faigenbaum-Golovin, Arie Shaus, Barak Sober, Eli Turkel, Eli Piasetzky, Israel Finkelstein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Past excavations in Samaria, capital of biblical Israel, yielded a corpus of Hebrew ink on clay inscriptions (ostraca) that documents wine and oil shipments to the palace from surrounding localities. Many questions regarding these early 8th century BCE texts, in particular the location of their composition, have been debated. Authorship in countryside villages or estates would attest to widespread literacy in a relatively early phase of ancient Israel’s history. Here we report an algorithmic investigation of 31 of the inscriptions. Our study establishes that they were most likely written by two scribes who recorded the shipments in Samaria. We achieved our results through a method comprised of image processing and newly developed statistical learning techniques. These outcomes contrast with our previous results, which indicated widespread literacy in the kingdom of Judah a century and half to two centuries later, ca. 600 BCE.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0227452
JournalPLoS ONE
Volume15
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2020

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