Evidence For Ancient Literacy

15 Feb

Years ago I bought the 4 volume set Civilizations of the Ancient World, edited by Jack Sasson because those volumes contained a wealth of information concerning those societies. it was the different articles on education, inscriptions and other writings that helped me form my opinion that the ancient world was not illiterate.

As I was preparing for this article I came across one particular one, (Hittite & Hurrian Literatures: An Overview by Alfonso Archi), that mentions the scribal school format modern archaeologists claim was in full swing back in the day.. As I was thinking about these schools God cleared my thinking and led me to conclude that those institutions were actual real schools. It is possible that they may have been private academies for elite people but that remains to be seen.

What actual form beyond reading and writing those schools took is anyone’s guess but knowing that dictators educate their people, some form of broad education took place. Many dictators, like Hitler and the Kims of North Korea, use education to brainwash their people as it is one way to control the masses. So I will vehemently disagree with scholars & archaeologists over the literary issue. Here’s why:

There are just too many literary remains uncovered from archaeological digs throughout the Holy Land.  These digs expose the vast variety of literature & other written records left behind by the many different civilizations. We do not have literary remains from all societies, due to the various mitigating factors that take place over time, but that lack does not mean those people were illiterate or incapable of reaching some level of reading and writing beyond an ‘x’ for a signature.

What follows is a list of different kinds of literature, their genre, that has been uncovered over the centuries of archaeological work. The list just serves to inform you that it would be impossible for small groups of elite scribes to handle the burden. The items are in no specific order.

Documents, Manuscripts, & Literature Discoveries:

economic, distribution, purchasing, shipping, trade, politics, government, myth, historical, mystery, religious, hymns, funerary rites, tomb writings, magical & witchcraft spells and incantations, oracles, prayers, lamentations, letters, guidebooks, math, science, astronomy, medical works, instructional, satire, folklore, allegorical, biographical, narratives, autobiographies, short stories, fables, translation work, technical manuals, humor, caricature, irony, sarcasm, ethnic, simple stories, love stories & letters, erotica.

To name but a few and this list doe snot include the bragging by a king or high-ranking official about their achievements. Whether the ancients wrote according to modern rules is immaterial and it is highly naive, presumptuous, and arrogant, to judge the ancient works by standards they never heard of or imagined would come into existence. For all we know they similar regulations and we just haven’t found the text spelling out those similar rules. It is not a stretch of the imagination to conclude that each ancient society had their own rules for what would determine what was good writing and was unacceptable.

Now according to a few or more than a few, scholars and archaeologists, the ancient sculptors , the people who preserved many texts in stone and other monuments, were all illiterate & only copied what was handed to them.  That is also a naive assumption for if the sculptor was illiterate he would be too slow, make many mistakes as confidence in his writing ability would not be present and wasted materials would be innumerable.

We would not see the perfection we do in such remains. A person who doesn’t know a language takes their time in copying, is unsure of how they should make the correct mark and they are sloppy. I have seen this in many students who only use a pen and pencil. The white out or eraser comes out quite often as they strive to complete their assignment but do not have the confidence to write better.

Since sculptors work with materials that cannot be easily corrected when a mistake happens, the wasted pieces of stone , marble or whatever,  would pile up and the sculptors’ bosses or government officials would not be happy. They would cringe at the extra expense just trying to complete one good inscription. If these ancient sculptors were illiterate we would find mountains of discarded first, second, third and fourth attempts but we don’t. We only find 1 perfect finished copy.

No it just doesn’t make sense to have the sculptor who is preserving very important information for the people and posterity to be illiterate.  No one would trust them with their important work Stone inscribing probably was not cheap either thus you would want the man who could read to do the work. The same goes for writing on papyrus, paper, clay and so on. If what archaeologists & scholars claim is true, that writing materials were expensive, then no one would want some illiterate wasting material because they kept making mistakes. The would not want the costs to continue to pile up.

Bosses would have more than a few things to say to someone who kept making a mess of the their work. The argument against literacy is not logical nor rational and they cannot be supported by any real evidence.The lack of massive, mistake filled remains undermine the scholars’ & archaeologists’ illiteracy claims.

Now what does this mean for believers? Well for one thing God’s teachings on not listening to the ungodly applies to all subjects and topics. The unbeliever is not deceived in religious issues alone.  They will not see or will have difficulty in seeing the truth in basically every subject under the sun. Christian students need to learn how to learn the material for their exams and grades but not let that faulty material influence their personal beliefs.

They should use it as a means to figure out how to find the truth, how to refute those faulty teachings and follow the HS throughout their studies so that they can be approved unto God. Simply getting approval from the school is not necessarily getting approval from God. We need to understand how to handle such information that will reflect well upon Jesus and Christianity.

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Posted by on February 15, 2015 in academics, archaeology, Bible, church, faith, history


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