The plaster texts from Kuntillet ʻAjrud and Deir ʻAlla : an inductive approach to the emergence of northwest Semitic literary texts in the first millennium B.C.E.
thesisposted on 28.03.2022, 15:37 authored by Gareth James Wearne
This study examines the emergence of literary texts from the primarily oral milieux of the southern Levant during the first millennium B.C.E. The question of textualisation has received considerable attention in the last two decades, with particular emphasis given to the origins of the Hebrew Bible. But whereas earlier studies have tended to work heuristically––beginning at the level of the received biblical text and attempting to develop explanatory models––, the present study proceeds inductively––beginning with a particular instantiation of the phenomenon of literary text production, namely plaster wall inscriptions, and extrapolating conclusions based on these specific examples. Working within the paradigm of an oral-literate continuum, the research focusses on two roughly contemporary case studies: the 8th century B.C.E. plaster texts from Kuntillet ʿAjrud and Deir ʿAlla. For both case studies detailed epigraphic and archaeological analyses are used to assess three core questions: What was written? Who was writing? And how were the texts experienced by their audiences? It is concluded that in the physical context of the plaster inscriptions writing served both symbolic and memorialising functions, communicating specific information to posterity and serving as a form of communal self identification and expression. Possible numinous associations of writing are also considered along the way. The final section includes a discussion of implications for the origins of the biblical text. It is argued that by the end of the 8th century B.C.E. there is evidence for the textualisation of stories and songs comparable to those found in the Hebrew Bible, and that the impulse toward literary text production was shaped within a larger pool of folk-traditions.