Communal Reading in the First Century

Dr. Brian Wright, one of my former PhD students, has his thesis soon to be published by Fortress on Communal Reading in the Time of Jesus: A Window into Early Christian Reading Practices, already available for pre-order.

It is a great study of ancient book culture, the surprising extent of literacy in the ancient world, and how reading communities helped preserve the Jesus traditions.

Here’s the blurb.

Much of the contemporary discussion of the Jesus tradition has focused on aspects of oral performance, storytelling, and social memory, on the premise that the practice of communal reading of written texts was a phenomenon documented no earlier than the second century CE. Brian J. Wright overturns that premise by examining evidence that demonstrates communal reading events in the first century. Wright disproves the simplistic notion that only a small segment of society in certain urban areas could have been involved in such communal reading events during the first century; rather, communal reading permeated a complex, multifaceted cultural field in which early Christians, Philo, and many others participated. His study thus pushes the academic conversation back by at least a century and raises important new questions regarding the formation of the Jesus tradition, the contours of book culture in early Christianity, and factors shaping the transmission of the text of the New Testament. These fresh insights have the potential to inform historical reconstructions of the nature of the earliest churches as well as the story of canon formation and textual transmission.

Here are some endorsements:

“Why did early Christians write? When and where did they read? What did reading mean in the social contexts and practices of the first century? Meticulously sifting a wide range of evidence, Wright introduces us to ‘a complex, multifaceted cultural field’ that shaped that reading. His results demand a reconsideration of the whole process by which texts were controlled and, eventually, a canon emerged.”
WAYNE A. MEEKS, Woolsey Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies, Yale University

“This is a thorough study of an important topic. It is thorough in demonstrating that communal reading events were ubiquitous in the first-century world in general and in the early Christian movement in particular. Virtually everybody, it seems, would often hear texts read aloud. There are important implications for the much discussed relationship of the oral and the textual in early Christianity. Texts were more available and more stable than we may have thought.”

RICHARD BAUCKHAM, Professor Emeritus of New Testament Studies at the University of St. Andrews

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