Authors, Books, and Readers in the Ancient World

Alan Millard

in The Oxford Handbook of Biblical Studies

Published in print February 2008 | ISBN: 9780199237777
Published online September 2009 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Religion and Theology

 Authors, Books, and Readers in the Ancient World

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This article discusses authorship, books, and readers in Old Testament and New Testament times. In the Old Testament world, authorship is necessarily admitted in letters, and related to letters are prophetic communications. The usual physical form of the book in Babylonia was the clay tablet, normally of a size convenient to hold in the left hand while the right impressed the cuneiform signs with a reed stylus. The complexity of the cuneiform script meant that reading was a skill confined to those trained in scribal schools, some of whom may have progressed from the scribal profession to take other offices in temples and royal courts. The New Testament writings follow the traditional patterns. The letters declare their senders' identities, although not always by name, with the exception of Hebrews, and the single prophetic work makes its author clear. The roll of papyrus or leather remained the standard form of book throughout the Hellenistic period and well into Roman times. Jewish tradition required males to be able to read the Torah, and there were schools throughout Palestine from the first century BCE according to rabbinic sources, borne out by Josephus. The early Christian communities similarly included members able to read, as demonstrated by the despatch of letters to them by Paul and others.

Keywords: Old Testament; New Testament; Babylonia; clay tablet; cuneiform

Article.  9942 words. 

Subjects: Religion ; Religious Studies ; Judaism and Jewish Studies ; Christianity

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