David M. Carr in Writing on the Tablet of the Heart seemed to me to get repetitious toward the end of his section on textuality and education in Ancient Israel. So I will just state what I take to be his point. In Israel scribes were like those in Mesopotamia and Egypt in that they memorized the great literary works of their cultures. But, when their education reached a certain level, they were free to renew those works by adding, combining and rephrasing. Texts were not an end in themselves, but were in the service of the oral presentation of the material.
Carr moves on to talk about Israel after the exile, especially in the Hellenistic period (the time after Alexander the Great’s conquest of the Near East). I will blog through this more quickly.
He delves into examples of Hellenistic scribal activity outside of Israel. He brings up what he calls “hybridity”. During the Hellenistic period education often crossed cultural lines. His major example of this is how Greek culture dominated in Egypt giving rise to a special kind of Alexandrian education. A new feature of this period was that scribes often developed collections of older writings while adding new works of their own, which they commonly attributed to older writers.
In Israel scribal education came from the priesthood. Sirach 51:23 refers to a “house of instruction” where students lodged. These houses of instruction probably were “priest-centered, small scale, family-oriented” institutions. Carr draws evidence from the traditions of Enoch, Jubilees and the Testament of Levi. These traditions themselves are examples of the Hellenistic practice of collecting texts and adding to them new material attributed to more ancient sources.
These traditions seem to represent factions of the Levitical priesthood with their own educational agendas. In 4 Maccabees a mother tells how her husband, a learned priest, had educated her 7 martyred sons. Josephus boasts of his own priestly education.
After the Maccabean revolt the Temple may have become more important in centralizing education and mitigating priestly factionalism. Outside of Israel, textuality centered in temples was common.
The Temple may have served as a repository for texts. Later rabbinical tradition may be right that, while the common language was no longer Hebrew, Hebrew texts were stored at the Temple where there were scholars who could still read them.
The “hybridity” of the Hellenistic period affected the culture of Israel. Many if the Jewish writings of the period are in Greek. And the cultural influence of Greece pervades them.
An important aspect of this period is the development of a bilingual Jewish diaspora where literacy became more widespread. So the scribes were not the only people who could read or write. But scribal education was still distinct.