Alphabet, Text, and Class
This chapter examines the role that technology may have played in advancing the egalitarian platform. The adoption of the technology of the alphabetic script and its use in creating texts in ancient Israel is a result of a dynamic relationship between technology, on the one hand, and a distinct theological and social mind frame on the other that is unafraid of educating the masses. In Mesopotamia and in Egypt, by contrast, texts were produced, read, memorized, and transmitted by a scribal elite, and composed in scripts that were inherently difficult to master—hieroglyphics and cuneiform. Literacy in ancient Israel was probably always the purview of professional scribes. But passages in Deuteronomy, Exodus and in the prophetic writings of the Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Habakuk suggest that such texts should be produced for the masses, read to them, remembered and transmitted by them. Examining the role of the printing press in the flourishing of 16th century Western Europe sheds insight into how the Bible sought to optimize the newfound technology of the alphabetic script in the southern Levant in an unprecedented manner, by utilizing the power of the alphabetic text and its potential for wide circulation. Whereas in Mesopotamia and in Egypt writing was turned inwards as a guarded source of power, in Israel it was turned outwards and reflected the Bible's egalitarian impulse. The dissemination of such texts through writing and reading to the masses accords with other biblical emphases such as the domestication of national religion, the shift from a cult of objects to a cult of words and ideas, and the rise of a national vernacular literature. An examination of the role and status of writing within Greek thought generally, and the thought of Plato in particular, highlights the special status accorded writing within biblical thought.
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