Providing Help Where Needed

This cartoon reached me via Jim West. It made me laugh, but also caused me to ponder the tendency many of us have to judge those who do not articulate themselves in as polished or grammatically correct a fashion as one might ideally hope.

We don't know how much Jesus had learned of reading and writing. There is a depiction of him reading in the synagogue in Luke, but the story is of doubtful historicity. But Jesus was clearly creative and eloquent by the standards of an oral culture, engaging in word play and creative storytelling.

Who knows? Perhaps one day in the future, texts from our time will seem odd because of these things called apostrophes that were in use back in the 21st century and earlier, but were later judged unnecessarily complicated.

Just something to think about. Your welcome. :-)


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  • Gary

    thxs, ur welcome 2

  • Pseudonym

    We tend to see literacy as an all-or-nothing thing, but people who teach New Testament Greek know better. Ancient history departments tend to produce people who can read ancient languages up to a point, but can’t write or speak it.

    (A colleague of mine who is a Muslim born in Pakistan recently told me this is also true of Muslims who are not native Arab speakers!)

    It’s not implausble that Jesus could read the Torah, but not be able to write, especially if he was a rabbi. I should point out for completeness that in the pericope adulterae, Jesus is depicted as writing in the dust, though that’s of even more dubious provenance than the story of him reading in the synagogue.

    • James F. McGrath

      People who have had a devout Jewish upbringing will also know that it is possible to learn to sound out and thus read aloud the Hebrew Scriptures, without having the faintest clue of what the meaning is.

      Chris Keith was published a very interesting treatment of Jesus’ literacy or lack thereof.

  • Nick Gotts

    Alfred W. Crosby’s The Measure of Reality: Quantification and Western Society, 1250-1600, describes how difficult it was to read and write in late antiquity (and so presumably earlier): cursive scripts, punctuation, word spacing, the upper-case/lower-case distinction, tables of contents, alphabetization, running heads, cross-references and citations were all developed or at least systematized by the late medieval Schoolmen – prompted, Crosby suggests, by the need to deal with the mass of newly-available ancient texts acquired from Muslim and Byzantine sources. Few people before the 14th century could read silently, which is considerably faster. Also, in Jesus’s time, paper was unknown and the main writing material, papyrus, is considerably less easy to use; and scrolls are also less easy to handle than books (“codices”), of which the first known description, by Martial, dates from the first century. So all in all,there were many technical as well as socio-economic reasons why full literacy was probably a rare accomplishment.