BAR 36:01, Jan/Feb 2010
Scribal Culture and the Making of the Hebrew Bible
by Karel van der Toorn
(Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 2007), 401 pp., $18.95 (paperback)
“There were no books in ancient Israel,” declares the author. Reading was rare, limited to scribes, who worked in a mainly oral society. Writing books developed only in the Hellenistic period, after Alexander the Great. Consequently, the composition of the Hebrew Bible and many of the books in it took place in the time of the Babylonian Exile and afterward. Ezra compiled the Torah from older strands; references to Greece make it “clear that the publication of the Prophets cannot have preceded the Hellenistic era” (p. 255) and Psalms and Proverbs were also edited at this time.