One of the enduring problems in biblical studies is how the Bible came to be written. Clearly, scribes were involved. But our knowledge of scribal training in ancient Israel is limited. William Schniedewind explores the unexpected cache of inscriptions discovered at a remote, Iron Age military post called Kuntillet 'Ajrud to assess the question of how scribes might have been taught to write. Here, far from such urban centers as Jerusalem or Samaria, plaster walls and storage pithoi were littered with inscriptions. Apart from the sensational nature of some of the contents-perhaps suggesting Yahweh had a consort-these inscriptions also reflect actual writing practices among soldiers stationed near the frontier. What emerges is a very different picture of how writing might have been taught, as opposed to the standard view of scribal schools in the main population centers.
It has been increasingly evident to specialists that Mesopotamian literature cannot be understood properly without grasping the realities of scribal practice, including education. With his bold proposal that the inscriptions from Kuntillet 'Ajrud reflect the work of students and show the influence of older cuneiform education, Schniedewind advances dramatically the application of this approach to alphabetic writing and biblical literature. As discussion and debate continue, this will be essential reading for years to come. * Daniel E. Fleming, Ethel and Irving A. Edelman Professor of Hebraic and Judaic Studies, New York University * Bill Schniedewind brilliantly lays out the evidence of early Israelite scribal literacy in this clearly-written book. Basing his research in the archaeological record, Schniedewind gives the reader a glimpse of the ancient Israelite educational system: how Hebrew scribes were trained, the Mesopotamian and cuneiform pedigrees of these training methods, and how these shaped the Bible we have today. This book is essential for those studying the origins of the Bible. * Robert R. Cargill, Editor of Biblical Archaeology Review and Associate Professor of Classics and Religious Studies at the University of Iowa * The Finger of the Scribe is an exciting, original proposal about how ancient ancient Israelite scribes learned their craft. Schniedewind argues that a number of well-known inscriptions actually represent different stages of training in Hebrew literacy. Moreover, he presents a persuasive case that Hebrew and earlier forms of alphabetic education were modeled on educational patterns developed in Mesopotamia and practiced in Canaan up through the Late Bronze Age. * David M. Carr, author of Writing on the Tablet of the Heart: Origins of Scripture and Literature * Overall, The Finger of the Scribe is a helpful development in how we understand ancient Israelite scribal curriculum and its origin...a valuable contribution to the history of ancient Israel, a necessary starting point for any scholar interested in ancient Israelite scribalism. * The Biblical Review *