Writing is one of the most important achievements humanity has ever developed. “Writing” is first mentioned in the Bible in Exodus 17:14, when, after the Israelites defeated the pagan king Amalek, God instructed Moses: “Write this for a memorial in a book.” Numerous other references to writing follow (cf. Exodus 34:27-28; Deuteronomy 31:19,22; Numbers 33:2).
For many years, however, hostile critics of the Bible claimed that the Scriptures were in error regarding this matter. It was alleged that no alphabetic script existed in the days of Moses. This was one argument employed by advocates of the documentary hypothesis in an effort to prove that the Pentateuch (the five books of Moses) was from a time later than Moses.
Some scholars charged that the Torah (law) was not composed until about a thousand years after Moses (Cheyne 1901, 2055). In fact, modernists suggested that the art of writing was virtually unknown in Israel prior to the era of David’s kingdom.
Within the last century, however, a vast body of evidence has been resurrected from the dust of antiquity, totally refuting these baseless suppositions. Note the following.
In 1933, J. L. Starkey, a pupil of the famed Egyptologist, Flinders Petrie, began excavations at Lachish, a city of Judah prominent in Joshua’s conquest of Canaan (Joshua 10). Among the discoveries in the residue of the city was a pottery ewer (water pitcher) “inscribed with a dedication in eleven archaic letters, the earliest ‘Hebrew’ inscription known” at that time (Wiseman 1974, 705). This artifact pre-dated Moses.
Second, ancient Hebrew was similar to ancient Phoenician writing.
“The Old, or Palaeo-Hebrew script is the form of writing which is similar to that used by the Phoenicians. A royal inscription of King Shaphatball of Gebal (Byblos) in this alphabet dates from about 1600 B.C.” (Pfeiffer 1966, p. 33).
In 1904-05, Sir Flinders Petrie uncovered samples of the Proto-Semitic alphabet at Serabit el Khadem in the Sinai Peninsula. These inscriptions were found in turquoise mines, in which Semitic laborers had been employed.
W. F. Albright dated these in the early fifteenth century B.C., though Jack Finegan believed them to come from around 1989-1776 B.C. (Finegan 1946, 126). The important fact about these inscriptions is that they are from the very area where God commanded Moses to “write” (Exodus 17:14).
In 1949, C. F. A. Schaeffer found a tablet at Ras Shamra (ancient Ugarit) containing the thirty letters of the Ugaritic alphabet in their proper order. It was discovered that the sequence of the Ugaritic alphabet was the same as Hebrew, revealing that the Hebrew alphabet goes back at least 3,500 years (Horn 1963, 19).
It was in 1908 when R. A. S. Macalister discovered a small limestone plaque at Gezer. It is dated in the 10th century B.C. Apparently it is a schoolboy’s slate. On it is a list of farming operations for the twelve months. It is in the Palaeo-Hebrew script.
Professor Gleason Archer observed that “since it is obviously a mere schoolboy’s exercise, it demonstrates that the art of writing was so well known and widely practiced in Israel during the tenth century that even children were being taught this skill in the provinces” (1964, 157).
Finally, W. F. Albright, who certainly was not the most conservative scholar of his day, wrote: “Only a very ignorant person can now suggest that writing (in many forms) was not known in Palestine and the immediately surrounding regions during the entire second millennium B.C.” (1935, Vol. 60).
These examples, testifying in concert, demonstrate once again that the charges commonly filed against the Bible are without substance.
Sometimes scholars have to be patient, waiting for the evidence to come to light. It always does, or will eventually. The Scriptures have stood the test of time.