[b-hebrew] Literature and literacy contemporary to the Torah.

Karl Randolph kwrandolph at email.com
Sun Jul 11 23:08:37 EDT 2004


----- Original Message -----
From: "Jack Kilmon" <jkilmon at historian.net>

> ----- Original Message ----- 
> From: "Karl Randolph" <kwrandolph at email.com>
> 
> 
> >
> > ----- Original Message -----
> > From: "Jack Kilmon" <jkilmon at historian.net>
> >
> > >
> > > ----- Original Message ----- 
> > > From: "Christopher V. Kimball" <kimball at ntplx.net>
> > >
> > >
> > >
> > > >
> > > > Again focusing on the 5-6 th century BCE, how many people (of a
> population
> > > > of how many) could read the Torah, if they had a copy?
> > > >
> > > > Chris Kimball
> > >
> > > About 3% according to:
> > >
> > > Bar-Ilan, M., 'From Scroll to Codex and its Effect on Reading the
> Torah',
> > > Sinai, 107 (1991), pp. 242-254 (Hebrew).
> > > Bar-Ilan, M., 'Illiteracy in the Land of Israel in the First Centuries
> > > C.E.', S. Fishbane, S. Schoenfeld and A. Goldschlaeger (eds.), Essays in
> the
> > > Social Scientific Study of Judaism and Jewish Society, II, New York:
> Ktav,
> > > 1992, pp. 46-61. http://faculty.biu.ac.il/~barilm/illitera.html
> > > Bar-Ilan, M., 'The Literate Woman in Antiquity', a chapter in the book
> by:
> > > idem. Some Jewish Women in Antiquity, Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press (Brown
> > > Judaic Studies 317), 1998 (Abstract).
> > >
> > > Jack Kilmon
> >
> > This study omits a very important aspect that relates to literacy-the
> value a people puts on literacy and the expectation that individuals be
> literate. At least functionally literate.
> >
> >
> > So what was the general literacy rate among ancient Jews from before Galut
> Babel? There is no way that I know of to tell. But the study cited is flawed
> in that leaves out the value put on general literacy by a people, which can
> override other cultural factors such as the percentage of peasants vs.
> townspeople.
> 
> I don't find Bar-Ilan's work flawed, Karl, and I don't know what value to
> put on an "appreciation of literacy" as a tool.   I will concede that some
> studies appear to discuss two classes..the literate and the
> illiterate..while leaving open what I would call the "quasi-literate" class
> whose poor writing, grammar and spelling we often find on ostraca.
> 
> Jack
> 
Jack: that’s exactly the group I’m talking about, who were literate enough to read the Bible, Shakespeare and the newspaper (to use a common 19th century frontier example), understanding what they read, but when it came time to write themselves, their writing had spelling, grammar and other errors, but still good enough so that others can read and, for the most part, understand what was written. Functional literacy.

In almost all societies, the highly literate make up only a small percentage of the population. Some societies have such a high value of literacy that they try to make everyone at least functionally literate, others limit literacy to those who need it. For the most part, in traditional societies, farmers (peasants) don’t need literacy whereas townspeople needed it more. Hence the different rates of literacy. It is the value placed on literacy that Bar-Ilan omitted, an omission that could invalidate his results.

Karl W. Randolph.

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