Date: Tue Oct 08 2002 - 23:44:20 EDT
Paul: < In the ancient Near East in the time of the patriarchs, only about 5%
> population could write. One had to hire a scribe (a lawyer) even to send a
> letter to someone, and at the other end, one had to hire a scribe to read
> letter to you.
Peter: < It probably wouldn't be easy to document such a figure of 5%, even
order of magnitude. I consider it a plain speculation.>
Paul: The figure is based on the indications in the tablets themselves. It
is not based on mere speculation. In her recent book, Daily Life in Ancient
Mesopotamia (2002), Karen Nemet-Nejat, professor at Yale U., says (p. 54),
"Most people were not literate. With approximately six hundred signs with
multiple values, education was confined to the few. Even priests, kings,
governors, and judges were illiterate, with few exceptions." In the most
authoritative up to date source on civilizations in the ancient Near East,
William Whitt writing in CANE, vol 4 p. 2395, says, "The most we can suppose
of craftsmen, merchants, and landowners is that they possessed the skills to
compose and read simple texts, such as accounts or inventories; there is no
reason to believe that very many of them could read difficult literary or
religious texts [which is what Genesis 1-37 is]. Most men in this group would
be considered semiliterate by today's standards. The size of this segment of
the population is difficult to estimate and must have varied from region to
region, but in the Levant it was probably less than 10% of all adult males.
The rest of the men, almost all of the women would be considered illiterate
in the modern sense of the word." Note that when the women are factored in,
you have less than 5% of the population able to read and write, and even that
is only at a semi-literate level.
Paul: > I have never heard of a semi-nomadic tribe carrying around cuneiform
Peter: <You have if you read P.J. Wiseman.>
Paul: I have read P.J. Wiseman, and I have still not seen it.
Paul: >Gen 5 or 11 could have existed, but Gen 12 - 36 is about a private
> semi-nomads with lots of details about their history. There is nothing
> really comparable to that in the thousands of tablets thus far discovered
> translated. I could accept that maybe the genealogies per se were written
> down, though they are kept orally in most tribes, but the idea that Gen 12 -
> 36 was all inscribed on tablets before the author of Genesis got it is
> historically improbable.>
Peter: <Wiseman estimated that (by 1936) 250,000 clay tablets had been found.
mentions some examples of very ordinary, every-day letters. Abraham's
family history contained some very important divine promises for future
generations. There is nothing really comparable to that in the rest of
ancient history. I think the supposition that Abraham's family wouldn't
have inscribed these things on tablets is historically improbable.
Wiseman calls the supposition of a merely oral tradition of the Genesis
material a fiction spun out of thin air.>
Paul: What Wiseman did not say about the ordinary letters is that they are
rare and a scribe probably composed them. In addition, letters are not
comparable to Gen 1-36. Nor is there any objective evidence that Abraham's
family wrote down anything or even that they probably would. As for Wiseman's
opinions about oral tradition, they are out of date and never were supported
by objective evidence. There is objective evidence that nomadic tribes commit
even the genealogies which are the foundation of their political and economic
power to oral tradition (R. R. Wilson, Genealogy and History in the Biblical
World) If they are willing to trust their political and economic power to
oral tradition, then it is probable that they would trust divine promises to
it as well.
Finally, if Gen 1-36 was written down on clay tablets in a series of "books"
beginning with one written by Adam, it was probably done by way of hiring a
scribe. Since there is no truly comparable such literature in the cuneiform
tablets so far discovered and translated, I do not find this probable. In
fact, I find it chronologically impossible. Here's why:
The art of writing before 3000 B.C. and probably somewhat later was a matter
of pictographs without grammar. That is, it was not capable of expressing the
ideas present in Gen 1 ff. The first literary texts that we have are from c.
2600 B.C., but could conceivably have been written somewhat earlier. Wiseman
proposes that Gen 1-5:2 was composed by Adam near the end of his life. Since
Adam would have needed a genuine writing system with grammar to compose such
a book, he must have died no earlier than 3000 B.C.
>From Gen 5:2 to 10:1 Wiseman says two books were written, one by Noah
(5:3-6:9a) and one by the sons of Noah (6:9b to 10:1). This latter book
includes the story of the Tower of Babel, as remembered and told by Noah's
sons according to Wiseman. Since the Tower of Babel must antedate 2200 B.C.
because it is mentioned as being rebuilt by King Sharkalisharri who is dated
c. 2200, you have 800 years at the most (3000 to 2200) between the death of
Adam and the Tower of Babel. So, according to Wiseman's theory, you only have
800 years at most to cover the genealogy of Gen 5. from the death of Adam to
the sons of Noah. But, the genealogy clearly requires more than 800 years, so
Wiseman's theory is chronologically impossible.
There are other inconsistencies in Wiseman's theory that make it improbable,
but the one impossibilbity is decisive against it.
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