Clay Tablets

CLAY TABLETS. In ancient times writing was done on papyrus, parchment, potsherds, and clay tablets. The latter were made of clean-washed, smooth clay. While still wet, the clay had wedge-shaped letters (now called “cuneiform” from Latin cuneus, “wedge”) imprinted on it with a stylus, and then was kiln fired or sun dried. Tablets were made of various shapes—cone-shaped, drum-shaped, and flat. They were often placed in a clay envelope. Vast quantities of these have been excavated in the Near East, of which about a half million are yet to be read. It is estimated that 99 percent of the Babylonian tablets have yet to be dug. The oldest ones go back to 3000 b.c. They are practically imperishable; fire only hardens them more. Personal and business letters, legal documents, books, and communications between rulers are represented. One of the most famous is the Code of Hammurabi, a Babylonian king who lived long before the time of Moses. The tablets reveal intimate details of everyday life in the Near East and shed light on many obscure customs mentioned in the OT. Some tell the story of the Creation, the Fall, and the Flood. They do much to verify the truth of the biblical record.——SB

CLAY TABLETS. Clay tablets, the world’s earliest known writing material, commonly were shaped something like a shredded wheat biscuit. Important historical matter often was inscribed on clay prisms or cylinders. The letters used on the clay tablets were wedge-shaped (cuneiform) and were imprinted in the wet clay with a stylus. The most important tablets were then baked; the others were simply allowed to dry slowly. Although the invention of the alphabet c. 1500 b.c. made available a much better writing technique on papyrus and parchments, the use of clay tablets continued through the Assyrian and Babylonian world empires. See Writing.


E. Chiera, They Wrote on Clay (1938).