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HTS Theological Studies

On-line version ISSN 2072-8050
Print version ISSN 0259-9422


DE VILLIERS, Gerda. 'The pen is mightier than the sword': Literacy and scribes in Israel during the Second Temple period. Herv. teol. stud. [online]. 2013, vol.69, n.1, pp.1-9. ISSN 2072-8050.

This article is divided in two parts. Part one examines scribal education and scribes in the ancient Near East and Israel. Although no real evidence exists for scribal schools and education in Israel, it is argued that some form of institutionalised training must have taken place in order to produce literary texts of such a high quality as are found in the Hebrew Bible. Comparative material from Mesopotamia serves to trace the education of scribes in general. Part two focuses on the Second Temple period in ancient Israel. Ezra the scribe emerges as a typical scribe from that era. Post-exilic Israel was grappling with its identity, and sought guidance from כַּכָּת֖וּב בַּתּוֹרָה [as was written in the Torah]. However, it appears that there were different interpretations of the written Law during this period. Scribes of the Ezra circle advocated a radical policy of exclusivity on the basis of what was written in the Law; others who wrote the texts of Trito-Isaiah and Ruth pleaded for a more inclusive attitude towards foreigners. The conclusion is that the battle was fought not with the sword, but with the pen, therefore: 'The pen is mightier than the sword.'

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