Reading culture

This post is in the series Rite Reading.

I’m never quite sure whether to be astonished at how much of value survives from the ancient world, or regretful that there are so many things we don’t know. But all our descriptions of the ancient world, including the world(s) of the early Christians, are a mix of things we know, and our best (often very well educated) guesses. But there’s also an awful lot of knowledge that, frankly, is simply missing.

A lot of that has to do with culture. It’s a slippery word and people write books trying to describe it, but one way to think of culture is “the things everyone knows but no-one bothers to explain”.

Culture: the things everyone knows but no-one bothers to explain
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Writing and reading

This post is in the series Rite Reading.

The books that go to make up the bible were written for reading aloud. This is generally true of books in the ancient world. There’s a story from St Augustine that underlines this point. He was a North African bishop in the late fourth and early fifth century, who was also one of the cleverest and well-educated men of his day. In his Confessions he thinks it worthy of comment that, Ambrose, bishop of Milan, always read silently. Reading aloud was the norm, even for the highly educated who read on their own.1

For most people, in a society where the majority could not read, the only way they encountered books at all, was through other people reading to them or for them. There are places where, in different ways, that practice shows through in the pages of the bible.

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