Book Notice: Write That They May Read

Daniel I. Block, David C. Deuel, C. John Collins, and Paul J. N. Lawrence, eds. Write That They May Read: Studies in Literacy and Textualization in the Ancient Near East and in the Hebrew Scriptures: Essays in Honour of Professor Alan R. Millard. Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2020. 538 pages. $61.00 (paperback).

Alan R. Millard, Emeritus Rankin Professor of Hebrew and Ancient Semitic Languages at the University of Liverpool, has been a significant voice in the conversation regarding scribal culture and literacy in the ancient world. Write That They May Read is edited by Daniel Block (Gunther H. Knoedler Professor Emeritus of Old Testament at Wheaton College), David C. Deuel (Academic Dean Emeritus of The Master’s Academy International), C. John Collins (Professor of Old Testament at Covenant Theological Seminary), and Paul J. N. Lawrence (translation consultant for SIL International). It represents the second collection of essays in Millard’s honor. Following an introduction by Daniel Block, the twenty-two chapters are divided into five sections: (1) Artifacts and Minimalist Literacy; (2) Artifacts and Official Literacy; (3) The Rise of Literary Literacy; (4) Metaphorical Literacy; and (5) Epilogue.

In addition to biographical material (featured primarily in the Introduction by Block and the final chapter by Edwin Yamauchi), the focus of the book is on writing and reading in the ancient world. The sections range from studies on material objects to questions of literary influence between texts, as well as broader cultural considerations. The volume acknowledges the debate regarding the extent of literacy in the ancient Near East and ancient Israel yet represents a more conservative position (particularly fitting in a tribute to Millard).

The book’s structure is organized somewhat chronologically. The first section, “Minimalist Literacy,” includes studies on the nature of the material evidence available rather than making an ideological statement regarding the extent of literacy in the ancient world. For example, Gerald and Martin Klingbeil assess the function of libation vessels discovered at the site of Khirbet Qeiyafa (chapter 1). Though these vessels do not contain writing, the authors model a cross-disciplinary approach to “artifact literacy” to explore their religious significance.

Other chapters analyze biblical texts against their ancient Near Eastern background. James Hoffmeier, for example, sets the discovery of the Book of the Law in 2 Kings 22 alongside a similar temple discovery from Egypt (chapter 15). Contrary to the critical consensus regarding the late date of Deuteronomy, Hoffmeier concludes that these ANE parallels present Deuteronomy as a more ancient work. Many other suggestive and stimulating chapters could be noted. One of the final chapters, authored by Richard Hess, responds to accusations leveled against himself and Millard of a supposed theological bias in their work. Hess argues that the reverse is actually the case: the charges of bias, based on misrepresentations, are evidence that the critics themselves are not neutral observers.

In summary, this book is a wonderful tribute to an excellent scholar, and a most welcome addition to the ongoing discussion regarding literacy in the ancient world. The chapters vary as to technicality, but most are accessible to non-specialists. The price, however, may deter some from buying the book. Nevertheless, many of the chapters open up fresh areas for further study.

CBS book notices provide brief descriptive summaries and assessments of new publications in biblical studies and biblical theology. CBS book notices are not full academic book reviews. The present book notice was written by Dr. Andrew M. King, Assistant Dean of Spurgeon College and Assistant Professor of Biblical Studies at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Spurgeon College.


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