Comparative Biblical History and the Age Before the Printing Press

Comparative Biblical History and the Age Before the Printing Press

by Rev. Dr. D.A. Kjono – Church of Universal Humanism

July 2011

 There has been an ongoing debate, to put it lightly, over the reasons some good folks here believe the Bible is the absolute “Word of God” while others view it merely as one of many religious books written over the centuries. I’ll leave that up to you about how you feel about that and which side of the debate you prefer. There’s also good reason that politics and religion are two subjects that are never to be discussed at social gatherings…I think we all know why. There is also an age old saying “that those who do not remember history are doomed to repeat it” also for very good reasoning,

It has also been said that “history is written by the victor” and these words are very true in context. What we must understand about this fact is that the victor’s account is often just the latest version of a continuing story along the long and arduous path of successive events. Therefore, when it comes to a book that is important to so many people I would think that all of the above rationale would be foremost in their thinking. The history, mythologies, language translations, previous politics, human rights, technology and even paper, printing and copying forms would be important to fully understand why something we have today, may not necessarily be what people had 2,000 years ago.

Recently, while writing a synopsis, I was faced with the need to explain my Spiritual Beliefs. This led me to having to do a comparative analysis of several cultural histories in order to adequately explain my “mixed beliefs”. While researching much of this cultural history I was compelled to read many victorious accounts of historic events and a pattern emerged from one era to the next. Many different cultures seemed to have a shared memory of past accounts of similar events.

This would mean that either people in different lands had very similar events take place in their dissimilar histories or they were all telling the same story from different perspectives. I personally believe that a little of both has occurred at different times and places.

We know that writing, the act of putting “pen to paper”, and assigning symbols of “letters” representing sounds of speech, began in Sumeria approximately 5,500 years ago. Pictoglyphs and hieroglyphs are not an alphabet as these are pictorial representations of words and in some cases entire thoughts or sentences. Therefore, these forms of communication are generally not considered “writing”.

The Sumerian’s used a sharpened wooden stick to press individual letters, forming words and sentences into soft clay tablets, called cuneiform and then let the clay harden. This process was carried over from making pottery and much of our earliest “written record” is from pottery shards and cuneiform tablets. This was pretty much the iPod of their day until some 1,500 years later when papyrus was hammered and pressed out of reeds by the Egyptians.

Papyrus gave way to vellum, the stretched and dried, split and rubbed smooth calf skins and the highest quality vellus was made from the bladders and stomach linings of cow calf, goats and sheep, somewhere around 550BCE. This was the new technological advancement until paper came along around 105CE from China and was later refined in 300CE by the Romans. Paper and fine parchment, also a type of vellum, were some of the last things given us by the mighty Roman Empire which fell a short century or so after its last gift to the world. Is it no wonder we still say the Pen is mightier than the sword?

Numerous variations of these document products have been found in archaeological digs that in many cases help date a site. Clay tablets, to vellum then papyrus and finally paper are all great indicators of time frame snap shots in history. But one thing was common to all these processes until, the 13th century when Mr. Gutenberg came along; copying of any document had to be done by hand. A scribe would have to meticulously copy each letter onto another piece of vellum or paper. Since scribes were human, humans err, ergo scribes made errors. In many ancient documents this is why you’ll find little pictures drawn throughout the text and other forms of artistic embellishment.

Depending on the error, and most importantly when it was caught by editors, it could mean a simple fix or often required ingenious usage of language to cover up the mistake. This might require a scribe to add a sentence or two to hide the error by expanding a thought. When you take into account scribes often worked in early “secretarial pools”, and there could be dozens of them plying their trade to a single document, this could result in many minor variations of the copies. Taking into consideration the expense of either vellum or paper in the early days, it might mean washing the sheet completely for use later or allowing certain freedoms to the scribes. Depending on who had paid for the document copy and how it was going to be used in the end, this could also have great influence on the accuracy and acceptable variations of any document copy.

The higher the price paid, the more accuracy expected. If a bargain was to be made quite often errors and mistakes were value given for value received. Now take this forward in the advancement of any new “world wide” corporation such as the Roman Empire or a new religious movement. Many copies, sometimes hundreds, of the various documents were needed to go out through the land.

These official documents would be used as the basis for any authoritative underling to render their fearless leader’s laws, mandates and orders.

 These official docments would be used as the basis for any authoritative underling to render their fearless leader’s laws, mandates orders

 …oopus amendus! Says the scribe…hmmm…”We’ll just fix that” says the supervisor and after some careful quill work…

 These official parchments would be used as the basis for any authoritative underling to render their fearless leader’s laws, mandates, orders and lunch menus.

…became one copy.

Now this is a rather lighthearted example, but you can see what I mean. And then when this copy gets sent off to the ends of the empire, while no one else has to adhere to the King’s lunch menu, everyone in one small area does … and it snowballs and grows…snowballs and grows…as other scribes making copies make mistakes and changes are made.

 These official parchments would be used as the for any authority underling to their fearless leader’s laws, mandates, orders and lunch menus.

 These official parchments would be used, as therefore, any authoritative underlings, to their fearless leader’s laws, mandates, orders and lunch menus.

 After several dozen mistakes and as this document spreads across the land, some poor sought in the farthest reaches of the kingdom now sits and reads…

 These official parchments should be used, by the authority of underlings, scribes and the Captain, to profess the leader’s laws, mandates and lunch orders, upon everyone, so by decree, we shall therefore all be made to eateth not pork, but fish, on Friday.

 …because that last scribe was a bit power hungry, he really didn’t like pork and preferred fish and who’s brother was Captain of the guard.

I can’t help but make light of the situation as no one could possibly know the lengths of which supervising editors and scribes would go to, not only to cover minor mistakes, but use any opportunity to elevate themselves in importance. These people were human and human’s err and most will use any and every opportunity afforded them to “one up” anything in their favor.

Most of us here on the forum have at minimum been raised in the age of the typewriter and most of us users had some form of “white out” or correction tape. With today’s computers and full text editing there shouldn’t be any mistakes and is why another thread got onto knowing the proper use of language before making short of it. We have all the advanced tools available to us today and it seems we communicate less than people did millenniums ago.

Another consideration few people think of in the early Common Era (CE) was that sea-faring was already an age old trade having it’s roots back to at least 4,000 BCE when small ships were used on the Sea of Galilee, up and down the Nile and all over the Mediterranean Sea to move cargo from one place to another. Seafarers then and now have one common bond, they have, and always will, “chew rope and scuttle butt”….or gossip and trade stories.

One can only imagine the early sailors that came to Egypt in Moses’ time (approx. 1250 BCE) bringing with them the Creation stories of the Sumerians and Mesopotamians who in turn had heard legends and fables from people along the camel trade routes of the far east concerning Helen of Troy, Great Dragons of Asia and so forth. Among these would have been the Middle Eastern stories of The Garden of Eden and The Great Flood and many of the visions and epiphany dreams had by the ancient prophets. From the North, in the age of the Apostle’s, would have come the many sagas of the Norsemen and Germanics with their pantheon of gods and goddesses doing all manner of remarkable things and their many rites and rituals. And, as we all know, as one story is told and retold, embellished, shortened or modified from speaker to the next, the original versus the new story could be difficult to identify as the same oration.

By the time the first century CE Apostle’s began to write down the first epistle’s of Jesus and his disciples doing their healing and raising of the dead, acts of charity and Jesus’ humiliating crucifixion the “Jerusalem Times Best Seller’s List” would have pretty much been dedicated to this one topic. The Apostle’s intent of course was to chronicle the miraculous things an incredible person named Jesus (Yeshua) had accomplished, but the political and common story influences of the day would have surely been interjected into these stories. The crucial message of Caiaphas and how he had wrongly accused the Christ of heresy, but Roman oppression ultimately ordered the killing would have been political and religious Headline News for the new movement. Then, as now, subscriptions were the publisher’s paycheck and literary license would have played an important role in how the story was told.

While the Apostle’s and Disciple’s were creating a new religion, membership en mass was essential to making this concept boom. Keeping people’s attention would be as important then as now. By the time the Council of Nicaea made Christianity the official Holy Roman Empire’s religion under Constantine, there needed to be a single authority over the content of the various versions of the Bible which made Constantine’s understanding and version absolute. By the end of the first millennium CE many pagan, heathen and otherwise non-Christian rites and rituals had already been adopted by the White Christ’s followers. Rites such as Östara, the Spring Equinox festivities being engaged as Easter, with a minor change of dates, Christ’s Mass being given during the Winter Solstice coinciding with with all the trimmings of feasts, gift exchange and of course leaving treats under the Spruce Tree for the new Saint Nicholas, just like the Norsemen had done for the trolls of the forest for ongoing centuries.

By the time King James had declared the official, much edited version of the Bible, Gutenberg’s moveable type printing press was nearly two centuries old. Pagans were becoming converted in many lands and new churches were being built everywhere so the early printing presses were kept extremely busy. There is no question in my mind that many influences were incorporated into what we have been lead to believe is the “Word of God” that may have certainly been inspired by, but was most assuredly not written by God. If we take everything from paper manufacturing and the developing forms of writing and copying, seafaring and the many sources of mythology, miraculous events of a truly gifted healer with a new interpretation of old cultural laws…put that all into a hopper and shake vigorously…the outcome would be what we have today….still the best selling book of all time.

I am not, in any manner trying to take Jesus out of Christianity nor God out of anyone’s heart. I am giving a perspective for things being the way they are… and that is things are not as some would have us believe. Religious authority, of any type, needs the people to be subservient to their cause, the people do not need religious authority to have a cherished and wonderful, awe inspiring walk with God.…the Christ made that very clear when he said: “Where any two are gathered in my name…so there I shall be also.” He told us to pray, or commune with God in the privacy of our closet, and keep our prayers short. He told us several times about charity and being humble being his most cherished attributes of any person. Above all else, we were to be righteous which condensed from the numerous examples given in the Scriptures meant “treat others as you wished to be treated.”

I believe the Book of Revelation is a warning and defining work that the Church Head should be concerned about more-so than the average congregation member. I think it’s given as an omen to those who would take a simple son of a carpenter, elevate him beyond his own intentions and then use that authority to condemn the masses to certain Hell because they refute the dogmatic indoctrination of the Church as Christ’s message. Remember, Christ had never heard of Christianity and the Twelve Disciples were all presumably Jewish.

I still feel confident in saying Christ’s message was to understand the Word of God as “Doing that which is Right”, under any and all circumstances and to enjoy the freedom and benefit that accompanies such an awesome gift. That the individual can indeed have that one on one relationship with All that Is, no interpreter, no guide and no reservations required. Due to this, I have absolutely no problem with those who seek God nor believe wholeheartedly in Jesus. I have my own, odd to many of you, personal relationship with both of those Spiritual Beings.

It is mainly the Church Head and what it has inflicted upon society in the name of God; the Inquisitions, torture and burning of “unfaithful”, hanging of “witches”, physical and spiritual dis-ease infecting of peaceful native people’s in nearly every land and the War Lord over nearly every war since Constantine, that has me a bit on edge. Just who does that type of “Authority” think they are?! The spokesmen of peace and goodwill towards all?? Maybe according to Lucifer because another very old saying is: “Actions speak louder than words!” and I’m assuming both written and spoken words in that saying.

To that end I will also say that there are those among us here in the forum, and elsewhere, that do read the Bible and understand the Christ’s message because it is evident in how they treat people, even though they may even attend one of the numerous churches under many different Christian Beliefs.

Blessings of Peace,

A Partial List of References for anyone interested:

History of Paper making; 105CE – T’sai Lun; http://www.hqpapermaker.com/paper-history/ ; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vellum

Disciples/Apostles writings; 44CE -72CE; http://www.bibleviews.com/authority-2.html ; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apostle_%28Christian%29

Apostolic writings; 65-325CE and forward, but only those writings prior to 325CE were included in the decisions made by the Council of Nicaea; http://www.theopedia.com/Apostolic_Fathers

St. Nicholas; 270-343CE; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Nicholas

Gutenberg; 1440CE; http://inventors.about.com/od/gstartinventors/a/Gutenberg.htm

King James Bible; 1611CE; http://www.christianet.com/onlinebible/historyofthekingjamesbible.htm

 

 

 

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