Church Write-Up: Light, Ancient Book Production

Here are some items on church Sunday morning. I went to the LCMS church.

A. It was Epiphany, so the theme was the magi and light. In the children’s part of the service, the pastor talked about how the magi were Gentiles, and thus were not part of God’s chosen people Israel. They had no business seeing the Messiah, but God brought them to see him anyway. The pastor also talked with the kids about how they could be lights: by helping a person who lost her shoes to find them, etc. In the sermon, one point that the pastor made was that God does God’s best work in the midst of darkness, and that should encourage us as we cope with our own spiritual darkness: our desire, like Herod, to be in charge. The magi went to see the Christ child at night, which was a dangerous time on account of the highwaymen.

B. The church started a six-week Sunday school class, taught by the professor who has taught classes there before. This class is about the Bible: the production of books in antiquity, the canon, infallibility, issues like that.

The teacher referred to Martial, a Roman poet in the first century CE, who said that his poems were being written on a codex, which was handy for people who wanted to carry his book of poems around with them. Before that point, the codex was largely for note-taking, not for literature. Christians would begin using the codex instead of the costly, heavy scrolls, and the codex largely supplanted scrolls in the fourth century C.E., when Christians gained political power. A question the teacher raised was why Christians gravitated towards the codex. Some of the conventional answers—that it is cheaper to replace a mistake in a codex than in a scroll—are inaccurate, because it is actually simpler and cheaper to correct an error in a scroll. The teacher also gave a run-down on scrolls. The Pentateuch is on one scroll. The Twelve Prophets are on another. But most scrolls were not that big: they were about three yards. The teacher also said that the literacy rate was low, and most reading was done aloud: the TV shows in which a slave reads a letter aloud to a Roman general are more accurate than ones in which the Roman general reads the letter to himself. Private reading still occurred among the elites, and silent reading was not completely unheard of, though it was rare enough that it puzzled someone when Augustine did it. The teacher also talked about how there was no copyright back then: people could copy things any way they wished; that is why books threatened people, with divine penalty, not to alter the book. Books were also copied by hand. The teacher said that the need for a canon related to theology, on some level, but it also had to do with economics, as Christians could only spend so many resources on the production of books.

That is somewhat of a run-on paragraph, I know. I am also aware that some scholars have maintained that there was more literacy in antiquity than has been conventionally thought. I have not read that literature in depth. The questions would be “How literate?”, “How widespread?” Scrolls were costly to produce, and, when they were the primary game in town when it came to books, that probably meant that few people read literature.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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