A Mathematical Approach to Study Literacy in The Ancient Kingdoms of Israel and Judah

Barak Sober, Duke
Event time: 
Monday, November 23, 2020 - 2:30pm
https://yale.zoom.us/j/93776687491 See map
Event description: 

Abstract:  Understanding literacy rates in the kingdoms of Israel and Judah of the First Temple Period has wide implications on the dating of biblical prose. That is, many biblical scholars agree that sophisticated literary activity can occur only when a sufficient number of people are literate. This way, there are bigger chances for talented scholars to grow, and, there is an audience that will appreciate such artworks. In this talk, I will describe a computational mathematic approach to model handwriting evolution and then use it to infer a lower bound and a Maximum Likelihood Estimate of the number of different “hands” in a given corpus of inscriptions. These estimates are derived through a series of hypothesis tests designed to work in cases where the sample size is very small. We then show how by using this methodology we get empirical evidence of high literacy rates in the kingdom of Judah at 600 BCE as well as a bureaucratic centralization in the kingdom of Israel at 780 BCE. Finally, we show how one can use similar approaches to study the evolution of primates’ teeth.

Event Type: 
Applied Mathematics