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Did the writing of the Bible begin as far back as the 10th century B.C.E., during the time of King David? That is four centuries earlier than Biblical scholars currently believe - but an inscription recently deciphered by a scholar at Haifa University indicates that for at least some books of the Bible, the answer may be yes.

The inscription, written in ink on clay, is the earliest yet found in Hebrew. It was discovered about 18 months ago in a dig at Khirbet Qeiyafa, near Emek Ha'ela. While it was quickly dated, its language remained uncertain until Prof. Gershon Galil was able to demonstrate that it was an early form of Hebrew - containing roots commonly found in Hebrew, but which are very rare in other Semitic languages.

The content, Galil said, "which relates to slaves, widows and orphans," is typical of the Biblical text, but reflects ideas virtually unheard of in the surrounding cultures.

Galil said this discovery disproves the current theory, which holds that the Bible could not have been written before the 6th century B.C.E., because Hebrew writing did not exist until then.

Moreover, he added, the inscription was found in what was then a minor, outlying community - so if scribes existed even there, Hebrew writing was probably sufficiently well developed to handle a complex text like the Bible.