A Book Report: Communal Reading in the time of Jesus.
An Endorsement by D.A. Carson, Research prof. of New Testament, trinity Evangelical Divinity school:
The last few decades have witnessed a substantial move away from picturing the early church studying texts to assuming that most Christians could not read: orality trumped written text. Various efforts to balance the evidence have collided with one another. Enter this groundbreaking work by Brian j Wright, who demonstrates how common ‘communal reading events’ where in both Jewish and Greco–Roman Contexts. Reading and hearing are suddenly not so far removed from each other as some have thought. Wright’s richly supplied evidence from primary sources is convincing; one wonders why these things have not been brought to light before. These results are important, indeed seminal, not only to those who working this field, but to our knowledge of early Christians who give every sign of being book-driven believers. —End Endorsement
I’ve pulled some thoughts together to highlight a book I’d love to have you read, reflect upon and then share… (Dave)
FollowingThM Studies at DTS–years later when I began my PhD program at Ridley College in Melbourne, Australia, I remember starting with a host of assumptions related to this volume. For example:
- I would’ve told you that reading in the ancient world was largely an elitist phenomenon;
- That text played more of the symbolic role than utilitarian;
- That around 90% of the population in antiquity was illiterate;
- That a “professional” scribe was behind every document, unless proven otherwise;
- That writing materials were expensive and in short supply;
- and more…
My views on all of these and a number of others, however, change during my PhD studies and are still developing today.
Consider this sampling of New Testament PASSAGES that call us to communal reading:
1 Timothy 4:13 NLT Until I get there, focus on reading the Scriptures to the church (devote yourself to the public/communal reading of Scripture—esv), encouraging the believers, and teaching them.
1 Thessalonians 5:27 NLT I command you (put you under oath—esv) in the name of the Lord to read this letter to all the brothers and sisters.
Colossians 4:16 After this letter has been read aloud to you all, make sure that you read communally in the church of the Laodiceans. Make sure you also read communally the letter from Laodicea.
A JESUS EXAMPLE: Luke 4:14-30 NIV
Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him. He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
A glimpse into the historic importance of reading aloud together:
Justin Martyr (an early church father) refers to the communal reading of the apostolic memoirs and the writings of the the Lord’s Day: “on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles we’re the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits.” (1 Apol. 1:67)
William Johnson, professor of classical studies, concludes ”Reading in this society was essential in the construction of the community. Group reading and serious conversation devolving from reading [Dave note, havering] are twin axes around which much of the elite man’s community turns.
…According to Augustine, there was one word in Jerome’s Latin translation (the Vulgate) of Jonah 4:6 that differed from what they had been hearing read communally for generations, and it caused an uproar in his congregation.
Insights gained about communal reading events the time of Jesus:
1. No historic doubt exists that communal reading events we’re part of the first Century Greco-Roman socio-historical milieu.
2. “Before launching further into this study, then, these details need to be addressed. Similarly, it should be said from the outset that the more common “public reading” which is used in most modern translations and academic works, Will be avoided because of the confusion that often comes (or may come) from the word public.“ The word communal is preferred because it both highlights the social aspect of reading and defines the reading event as one in which two or more persons are involved. In other words,” communal reading” can be public or private, but not individualistic.
3. The gospel was launched into a season of history where sharing ideas publically (after first having them written down) was more of a norm than a rarity. Also it was a season of great mobility where travel was easier than in previous generations. [The soil of culture was ripe for Jesus House of peace strategy — sending friendship pairs to find others who would welcome them and consider their truths]
4. French historian Jerome Carsopino wrote one of the classic texts on ancient Roman life, with an entire section devoted to communal reading and recitation events. He observes that communal events crossed social boundaries: Examining the contemporary literature, you soon get the impression that everyone was reading something, no matter what, aloud in public all the time, morning and evening, winter and summer.
5. Writing down original or learned thoughts, poems, lyrics or perspectives and then reading them aloud (to be heard and also discussed) WAS THE FACEBOOK, INSTAGRAM or SNAPCHAT of the FIRST CENTURY! During 10 to 100 AD we were out social media’d by a pre-technology culture.
a. Some people wrote their ideas and shared them, some even wrote their ideas on the spot so they could then immediately share them, others took a great season and depth to write their thoughts and story before communally sharing them. Others mocked the communal reading (if they didn’t agree or weren’t interested) while others took notes as they listened to what others were reading to later reflect and re-share them with friends.
b. Bookstores and libraries existed as well as publishers.
c. Some wrote thoughts as pamphlets that would be shared as they spoke—the ancient equivalent of keynote or PowerPoint to go along with their “presentation of the text.”
But there is no mistaking the profound social impact and desire to share written documents for others to interact with in the process of shaping thought ideas and connections.
6. Where did communal reading events take place: History reveals that it was common to encounter people sharing communal reading (with 2-3 friends or a small crowd) in the village market place, assembly Halls, at receptions, at synagogues, in a theater, in the houses of both poor and elite, in urban settings including crowded tenement buildings or out in an open space between villages.”
They were both:
- indoor and outdoor settings…
- sacred and secular events…
- Both Christian and non-Christian…
7. The observation is made for the Christian context that, “while church elders had substantial discretion about “how” to do it, they had no discretion about “whether” scripture was read aloud.”
- 1 Timothy 4:13 “Until I arrive, give attention to the public reading of scripture, to exhorting, to teaching.”
- In 1 Thessalonians 5:27 we are given the directive, “I put you under oath before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers,”
- In Colossians it’s taken for granted that they practice communal reading, “And when this letter has been read among you, have it read also in the church the Laodiceans; and see that you read also the letter from Laodicean.”
8. Study showed the pattern that Communal reading started at home and was essential in the education process of the day…
9. The Old Testament has frequent communal reading events starting with Exodus 17:14-16 Where Moses is told to write down the events that just occurred, and then read the written account to Joshua.
10. Synagogues practiced communal reading as an essential component of their community and role.
- Communal reading events were widespread and to systematic to be accidental in Greek, Roman, Jewish and Christian contexts.
- Readers included: clerks, emperors, students, Young boys, politicians, scribes, … fathers, old men and women.
- Hearers included: emperors, children, man, Women, slaves, assemblies, … soldiers, invited guests and crowds.
- People heard these readings while: standing, sitting, running, bathing, eating, and swimming. (Think of how we encounter the modern podcast or YouVersion Scripture reading wearing our AirPods while we sip coffee, workout or relax.)
- The New Testamentt valued what had been written before: In over 300 passages, the New Testament includes 317 direct quotes of the Old Testament. Add in illusions and parallels and there are 2,310 Old Testament references.
My modern applications include:
- Starting with my family but then extended to friends and neighbors we are invited to embrace what I refer to as a Scripture Saturated life that we drip out as we life life together. It so increases the collection of truth lego’s (resources, building blocks, truths, insights into who God is and how he works) that the Holy Spirit can call to mind, heart at the moments they are needed. i.e. The more Scripture in our minds and hearts the more greater potential I have for an aligned life, “I’ve hidden thy word in my heart that I might not sin against thee.” —Psalm 119:11
- We should encourage each other to more frequently write and share our God stories (testimonies), journal, express artistically, write song lyrics and songs, write creative stories to share and to copy down word-for-word sections of Scripture as to later READ ALOUD what we’ve written with family, friends and others who are interested (Remember Jesus House of Peace Strategy).
- Join in with YouVersion or ReadScripture.org to commit to daily reading scripture (even have it read aloud to you and your spouse, kids or friends. Commit and embrace to reading Scripture every day (ever consider like they did in the first century reading more than once per day — See the first chapter of the printed or digital Getaway Like Jesus, by Dave & Rennie Garda to learn more.)
Why not practice right now by reading aloud (to help Word saturate yourself to give the Holy Spirit truth to knead into your life today. How about starting with Psalm 78:1-8:
My people, listen to my instructions. Open your ears to what I am saying, for I will speak to you in a parable. I will teach you hidden lessons from our past— stories we have heard and known, stories our ancestors handed down to us. We will not hide these truths from our children; we will tell the next generation about the glorious deeds of the Lord, about his power and his mighty wonders. For he issued his laws to Jacob; he gave his instructions to Israel. He commanded our ancestors to teach them to their children, so the next generation might know them— even the children not yet born— and they in turn will teach their own children. So each generation should set its hope anew on God, not forgetting his glorious miracles and obeying his commands. Then they will not be like their ancestors— stubborn, rebellious, and unfaithful, refusing to give their hearts to God.