“i didn’t know how to write,” claims jesus christ
RACHEL We now continue our interviews with Jesus Christ during his second coming to our world. We find ourselves in Nazareth, his birthplace, next to the town’s old synagogue, where he studied – because I imagine you did study here, Jesus,…
JESUS Study,… well, you might call it study. The rabbi taught us a few things from the Law. But since we were rascals …
RACHEL And where did you do your university studies?
JESUS University studies?
RACHEL I mean philosophy, theology… Perhaps you got a scholarship to study in Qumran, that monastery on the shores of the Dead Sea that was so famous in your time?
JESUS Qumran? That’s far away from here. Besides, as far as I know, only the sons of Jerusalem families went there to study. I know John the Baptist went there, but I never got to know that part of the desert.
RACHEL And so where did you study, Jesus?
JESUS Nowhere really. I was never able to study. My parents were very poor.
RACHEL Well, at least they taught you the basics in the synagogue, right?
JESUS In the synagogue they taught us the Law, but the Law was written in Hebrew, and we spoke Aramaic. So the rabbi used to translate it for us, and he made us repeat it.
RACHEL But did you know how to read?
JESUS As you said the basics.
RACHEL But wasn’t it here in this same synagogue of Nazareth where you stood up to read a text of a prophet, I think it was Isaiah?
JESUS Want me to tell you a secret? That text was one I knew by heart. It’s my favorite prophecy. And so I stepped forward, unrolled the scroll and began “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me. He sends me to the poor to announce to them Good News.”
RACHEL Let me tell you something, Jesus our audience must really be confused – because if you didn’t know how to read, then how could you write?
JESUS I didn’t know how to write. The priests and the scribes were the ones who controlled all the books.
RACHEL But don’t you remember the case of the woman caught in adultery, when you stooped down to write on the ground and …
JESUS I was just drawing figures, the way prisoners do. I was whiling away my time until those old hypocrites left the scene.
RACHEL Then, Mr. Christ, and pardon me if what I say is offensive, but are you for all practical purposes illiterate?
JESUS I’m not offended at all, Rachel, because none of the peasants in my time were ever able to read or write, especially not the women. My mother wouldn’t recognize a curl on the letter Aleph.
RACHEL The Virgin Mary, I mean, Mary not so virgin, was illiterate also?
JESUS Yes she was, Rachel. I am really amazed myself these days when I see all these very small children, even girls, reading and writing. So much has changed in the world in these years, really!
YOUTH Wait, hold on! … Are you Rachel Perez of Emisoras Latinas?
RACHEL Are you a reporter from the other media?
YOUTH No, I’m a fan of these programs of yours. I love the way Jesus Christ talks. Tough! Keep telling it like it is, don’t let up, Jesus! Would you please give me your autograph?
JESUS What’s this young fellow asking me for, Rachel?
RACHEL He wants you to sign his notebook.
JESUS Sign it?
RACHEL Yes, he wants you to write your name there.
JESUS Ah, well, that’s something I know how to write.
RACHEL Here, take this pen.
JESUS My father Joseph taught me those four letters. Let me see now, wait…
YOUTH Thank a lot, Jesus Christ, my pal! I’ll keep this as a treasure!
RACHEL How about you, friends in our listening audience? Do you also want Jesus’ autograph? All you have to do is call us at 714-4000, seven-one-four four thousand. We’ll continue after a short break. This is Emisoras Latinas, Rachel Perez reporting from Nazareth.
ANNOUNCER Another God is Possible. Exclusive interviews with Jesus Christ in his second coming to Earth. A production of María and José Ignacio López Vigil, with the support of the Syd Forum and Christian Aid.
*More information about this polemical topic…*
Literacy: a recently recognized right
The art of writing was born in Mesopotamia about four thousand years ago. During most of human history the privilege of learning how to read and write was reserved for minorities such as the priestly caste and certain merchants. While there were always more readers than writers, even reading was not a skill taught to most people until relatively recently in most of the world. Until the invention of the printing press, books were expensive and rare. Starting from the 15th century, the publication of printed books in Europe made reading more widespread, but it is only since the 18th century that books were sought out and appreciated by the educated minorities in society.
As with so many other advances in human culture, the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church went on the defensive in the face of the great increase in the reading public that resulted from the invention of the press. In 1559 the Inquisition created the Index of Prohibited Books, a list of authors and works which people were forbidden to read under pain of excommunication; in the case of books that were only partially censured, a list of the permissible chapters was given. The last Index was published in 1790 and included a large number of scientific works that were not recommended for good Catholics. Incredible as it may seem, the Index was not finally abolished until 1966. If these interviews with Jesus Christ had been published a few decades ago, they certainly would have been listed on the Index of Prohibited Books!
The rise of the nation-states starting in the 16th century brought about the need to unify the populations living in a given territory, and the process of mass education was begun to help bring that about, although even today in many places the education of the masses is severely deficient. UNESCO, the U.N. organization for education, science and culture, calculates that if present tendencies continue – impoverishment of the majority of people and concentration of wealth and knowledge in a minority – then in the year 2010 there will still be 830 million adults in the world who are illiterate. A much larger number of persons will be functional illiterates, that is, they will know elementary reading and writing, but they will not have the basic skills needed for productive employment.
To be a Jew is to be a reader
Jesus certainly received some literacy instruction, though it was probably very basic, given the time in which he lived and especially his situation of living in a rural part of Galilee. We should keep in mind that by the time of Jesus the people of Israel formed a nation that was highly organized around a book, called the Torah. To cite rabbi and philosopher Marc-Alain Ouaknin: Reading is the essential activity of Jews; being a reader, from childhood on, is a way of being Jewish; that explains why there are no illiterate Jews.
Only male children
Even in the time of Jesus, all the boys had to attend school from the age of five. The classes were conducted in the synagogue, the place where community came together every Saturday to pray and hear the Scriptures read, and where during the week the rabbis taught the boys to read, but not to write. Writing was controlled by the scribes.
The girls did not go to school, since it was thought they did not need any education for their one and only occupation as adults: taking care of the house and the children. Only the girls from better-off families in the capital received some instruction. For that reason, those images we see of Mary in paintings, where she is pictured as reading a book, are quite a stretch of the imagination. It could be that Jesus knew something about letters, but Mary would have been completely illiterate.
To read the scriptures
The boys used to learn to read passages from the scriptures, especially from the Torah, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, which Moses was thought to have written. General education usually ended at twelve years of age, when the boy reached puberty and legally became an adult. Such an education was not considered to be primarily a training in letters and words, which would later allow the student to read other things and increase his knowledge; rather, it was aimed at familiarizing the student with the sacred scriptures, which contained the history, the traditions and the laws of the people – and which, besides, were practically the only written texts available. The hope was that the young man, when he finished his basic schooling, would know by heart a good portion of the scriptures.
The sacred scriptures were controlled by the scribes. The figure of the scribe was a common one in many ancient cultures. They were educated men who knew how to read and write, and their main work consisted in writing texts dictated to them, putting commercial transactions into writing, and recording historical documents. In Israel they copied the scriptures, interpreted the Law and even made sure that people complied with the Law’s many stipulations. As a result they possessed great authority as teachers and theologians. In the time of Jesus there were closely identified with the Pharisees, and for that reason they appear often in the gospel narratives.
Written in Hebrew
Jesus spoke the Aramaic language, but the Torah and the other scriptures were written in Hebrew. Hebrew has an alphabet of 22 letters, and it a language that is written and read from right to left, which is the opposite direction from what we use in European languages. In Hebrew the only letters written are the consonants, not the vowels. In this interview, Jesus refers to the day when he read in the synagogue of Nazareth a passage from the prophet Isaiah (Matthew 13,53-58; Mark 6,1-6; Luke 4,16-28), which naturally was written in Hebrew.
The Essenes and the Dead Sea Scrolls
The Essenes were a religious group that began to form in Judea about 200 years before the birth of Jesus. They were highly critical of the religious practices of the Jerusalem Temple, and to express their repudiation they went out into the desert to live a sort of monastic existence in the Qumran community, on the shores of the Dead Sea. There they used to receive young men to be their disciples. One of their jobs was making copies of the sacred scriptures.
When in 70 A.D. the Romans destroyed Jerusalem, the Essenes fled from the monastery, but before fleeing they left buried in nearby caves some clay urns filled with their manuscripts. These so-called “Dead Sea Scrolls”, mostly written on animal hides and one on a copper sheet, were finally discovered between 1947 and 1956. They are the most ancient manuscripts known of some of the Old Testament books. The manuscripts are written mostly in Hebrew, but many are in Aramaic and a few in Greek.