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A Return to the Historical Jesus

One of the most interesting developments within New Testament studies happened in the 1950s.  To set the development in context, I need to remind you that the long “quest” of the historical Jesus – trying to determined what Jesus said and did historically – was evidently put to rest by the work of Wrede and Schweitzer fifty years earlier, and not a whole lot was being done in that field, as scholars *either* thought that our sources were basically reliable and so should be simply be accepted for what they said, *or* realized that our sources were so highly problematic that we couldn’t actually say much about what had happened in Jesus’ life historically.

And so scholars turned their attention to other things, first in examining the oral traditions about Jesus through form criticism, and then starting in the 50’s focusing on the distinctive *portrayals* of Jesus in the Gospels using redaction criticism.  (I’m simplifying things here, of course, since there were lots of scholars doing lots of different things at the time).

In the 50s as well, scholars came to realize that aspects of both form and redaction criticism could be combined to get back again to the original question of what Jesus said and did.  Redaction criticism showed that people changed stories about Jesus in light of what they themselves wanted to say about him.  And then it occurred to some scholars in a bigger way than ever before: since that …

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Do Any Ancient Jewish Sources Mention Jesus? Weekly Mailbag
The Gospel Writers as Editors Rather than Authors

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    SuzeAmbs  February 27, 2019

    Hi Bart, since the criteria are assumption based, can we really say they are a useful means for establishing what happened in the past? I understand that the best we have is working in terms of probability, but can we go so far as to say that through this we can know what happened? Through this we can guess what is likely but it doesn’t at all mean it was so. And are these criteria more useful than examining the various beliefs of early Christianities as in your book and how they may have dictated Bible content – and examining the nature of legend building itself?

    I was also thinking that how the Bible portrays Jesus’ disciples may be very telling about what the historical Jesus did and didn’t teach. The end of Matthew has the great commission, Jesus telling them to preach to all the nations. But as we find the disciples in Acts (and in Paul’s letters) they are totally unaware and dubious of preaching to the non-circumcised – until Paul comes along. Since I would consider Paul’s letters in particular more credible primary sources than the books written in fictional style, could we guess that Jesus never gave ‘the great commission’ and instead only preached the Bible parts that are much more Jewish, like that one must keep the law? This seems to be what Peter was most comfortable with, who never did preach to the uncircumcised (Paul says). The disciples are so confused and depressed about Jesus’ death even though Jesus apparently told them numerous times he would die and rise. Perhaps the simple answer is that he didn’t prophesy this? I would perhaps therefore guess that anything that is more in keeping with Pauline doctrine were the parts that were legend building into Jesus’ original teachings?
    I’d love to know your thoughts.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 1, 2019

      I’m not sure what you mean by assumption based? It seems to me that all human knowledge is based, in one way or another, on assumption, no? (Even scientific knowledge.) Maybe the problem is that people assume (!) that assumptions are just kind of like guesses or opinions, as opposed to reasoned judgments based on careful analysis?

      As to Acts: note that Peter is the first to come up with the idea! But I think that’s part of the fiction, and yes, I think the Great Commission is as well. It is trying to show that Jesus foresaw it all…

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      • Avatar
        SuzeAmbs  March 2, 2019

        Thanks for taking the time to get back to me. I suppose by assumption based I mean, based on the assumption that independent sources had no way of knowing what the other had written, and the assumption that things that don’t ‘fit’ with what we *assume* the people of the day would or wouldn’t want to say about Jesus. Assuming also that we know the full extent of the authors’ agendas and influencers from every angle. If that makes any sense? I understand these are based on probability based on careful analysis, and so hopefully the analysis is correct so the probability is correct, so that means they are the closest we can get to the correct answer.

        Re Acts – when you say Peter is the first to come up with the idea, do you mean in Acts 10 with Cornelius? Acts 9 has the first account of Paul’s conversion (I know it doesn’t really say it in this account) but isn’t this supposed to have been when he was told to preach to Gentiles? So I was thinking that was Paul’s idea first, because Acts 9 comes before Acts 10. Paul says that Peter did not preach to the Gentiles (Galatians 2:9) and we have reasons to believe Jesus’ disciples remained quite Jewish, so my guess was that it’s hard to separate the truth from the fiction here.

        • Bart
          Bart  March 3, 2019

          I’d say the first is not an assumption, but a matter of definition. If the sources are “independent” then that means they have not read each other or heard of each other. The assumption about what people would or would not have wanted to say is really based on what we know about what they did want to say, but yes, there are assumptions there, sometimes big ones. The whole point I guess is that doing history — all history, not simply the history of Jesus — is a matter of waying probabilities, not establishing certainties, since, technically speaking there are no cetainties. As to Acts, yes Paul converts in ch. 9. But he does not have the idea of preaching to gentiles yet. He preaches firs tin the synagogues. Only after Peter’s vision does Paul turn to gentiles. And yes, that is different from what Paul himself says in Galatians.

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  2. Avatar
    william.thomas.cox  February 27, 2019

    At the end you make a comment about using the criteria for anyone in the remote past. Are they used for anyone other than Jesus? How much are methods shared across different areas of study? I know back when I did computer simulations, the methods used would often be considered quite primitive by mathematicians or computer scientists (why was Numerical Recipes in Fortran still a thing?).

    Also, blog idea if someone has the time: apply these criteria to CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News (maybe BBC and Al Jazeera, too?). See how the criteria and the news hold up!

    • Bart
      Bart  March 1, 2019

      They may not be articulated explicitly in other fields of historical research, but yes, they are basically the principles everyone uses — even in deciding between what they hear on MSNBC and FOX!

  3. Avatar
    jmmarine1  February 27, 2019

    Textual criticism has reconstructed, essentially, the best wording of the NT we could hope to have (based on the available mss, and the current scientific method(s)). The various critical approaches you have outlined have help re-create various ‘sitz im leben’, the oral traditions behind the gospels, and scholars are now able to see how Mt/Lk used their primary source, Mk. Up until about a generation ago, the parables were seen as authentic words/teaching(s) of Jesus—now, not so much. How confident are you, using historical methods currently at hand, that a true ‘red letter’ edition of the sayings of the historical Jesus could ever be produced? If the theology and writing styles of the various authors who make up the NT can be identified, characterized and isolated, can the same be true for the words, style, theology of the historical Jesus?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 1, 2019

      Not extremely confident. Or rather, I’m confident I could produce one that would be relatively satisfying to me and completely unsatisfying to other scholrars. And vice versa!

  4. Avatar
    AstaKask  February 27, 2019

    I would recommend Philip Tetlock’s book “Superforecasters” for anyone who wants to become better at judging evidence. He talks about it specifically in the context of predicting the future (three to six months along, not longer – it’s not the gift of prophecy), but it would apply to anything.

  5. Avatar
    fishician  February 27, 2019

    Regarding dissimilarity: most people today see Jesus as an all-inclusive savior. In Matthew 10 he tells his disciples to go only to the people of Israel, and specifically not to the gentiles or Samaritans; seems rather exclusive. But there are other stories, like a little later in Matthew 15 when the Canaanite (in Mark, Greek) woman asks for her daughter’s healing, and after initially brushing her off Jesus ends up commending her great faith; as with the Roman centurion in Matt. 8. You’d expect gentile writers to portray Jesus as commending faith-filled gentiles, but not as someone who was only concerned with Israel. Do you think Jesus as savior of all people was an editorial change by gentile Christians even though Jesus saw himself as a prophet to Israel? Or not enough information to say? (Granted, Jewish Paul clearly included the Gentiles, but the original disciples like Peter maybe not so much, per Galatians).

    • Bart
      Bart  March 1, 2019

      Yes, I think that’s a later editorializing. My sense is that Jesus did not think in big world-wide terms when it came to his own ministry.

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  6. Avatar
    rivercrowman  February 27, 2019

    Off topic Bart: Concerning 1 Thess. 4:16-17. Based on my reading of your books, you believe that Paul thought the events described were literal, and Paul thought he himself would be alive when judgment day arrived. I have no problems with that, but then I pick up a book by a modern theologian who says concerning these verses “the language is the language of metaphor, but the hope it expresses is based on what has already taken place.” … How can you or me respond (briefly) to those who label Bible difficulties “metaphors” to avoid confronting genuine difficulties with what the text is saying? … Thanks so much!

    • Bart
      Bart  March 1, 2019

      I”m not sure what to recommend. Most modern Christian theologians don’t want Paul to be speaking literally, becauase if he was he was obviously wrong, and for them he could not have been wrong. And so he must not have meant it literally. In my judgment that’s not the way to know if something is meant literally or not. People tend to speak literally, unless they give some kinds of indication (e.g. by using simile or metaphor; giving parables; etc.) that they are not. (When Paul says that Sarah and Hagar represent an “allegory” in Galatians 4:24 then you know he’s not speaking literally)

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      • Avatar
        rivercrowman  March 1, 2019

        Thanks for your reply. Just made a modest donation to your Foundation.

    • Avatar
      scissors  March 3, 2019

      Rivercrowman

      Perhaps you should ask how exactly one distinguishes
      The language of metaphor from, well, the non metaphorical langugage. It often seems that anything
      inconvenient can be saved by calling it a metaphor , allegory and what have you.

  7. Avatar
    mikezamjara  February 27, 2019

    Hi Dr Ehrman You said that some scholars argue that the Pauls letters were not circulated individually but as a collecition and that all the Paull’s letters in the bible come from that collection. Do you have any reference for learning more of that theory.

    1
    • Bart
      Bart  March 1, 2019

      I’d suggest Harry Gamble’s helpful study, Books and Reading in the Early Church.

      1
  8. Avatar
    brenmcg  February 27, 2019

    The betrayal by Judas doesn’t seem to amount to much in the gospels – just pointing out which one Jesus was, which was probably publicly known already.

    Do you think if the betrayal was historical it was probably something different to what’s in the gospels?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 1, 2019

      Yes, I’ve posted on this at length on the blog. Search for Judas or Betrayal.

      • fefferdan
        fefferdan  March 9, 2019

        In Luke 22, just before the Gethsemane scene, Jesus orders his disciples to buy swords. They show him that they have two swords already. “It is enough” he says. If this scene is historical, it shows that Jesus may have been concerned that he be protected from arrest, especially in the context of his earlier public violence against the Temple moneychangers [not to mention what he may have known or suspected about Judas’ betrayal]. This makes the failure of the disciples to stay awake in Gethsemane particularly significant. It didn’t just show a lack of faith, led directly to his arrest. Most Christians ignore this because they tend to think this all happened just as God planned it.

  9. Avatar
    Cliffschilke  February 27, 2019

    I wonder why as a historian you do not include other more general criterion for deciding whether or not material regarding Jesus is historical reliable: Specifically, whether or not the material appears to violate the accepted principles or laws of the physical universe . For example the elevation of the physical body up into the atmosphere until it disappears from view, the feeding of 5000 people from a few loaves of bread and pieces of fish, and perhaps some but may be not all of the stories of physical healing attributed to Jesus’s touch or presence.

    Cliffschilke

    1
    • Bart
      Bart  March 1, 2019

      I do indeed. I was simply talking here about two of the criteria that came to be important in the 1950s.

  10. Avatar
    inghirami  February 27, 2019

    Dear Prof. Ehrman,
    what do you think about the attempt by some scholars to reconstruct the “original” Aramaic sources of the Gospels (assuming that they really existed)?
    I read some of your books and many posts in the blog in which you present convincing evidences that the Gospels were written in Greek. Moreover, I find your general views very convincing (each author presented his own perspective of Jesus), coherent and well supported by evidences. Nevertheless, I guess that we cannot exclude that the authors of the currently known Gospels might have used also a few Aramaic or Hebrew sources that they mistranslated. Despite the vast majority of illiterate people living in the area in the middle of the 1st century and the complete lack of direct evidences (fragments of manuscripts, verbatim citations), the hypothesis in itself sounds reasonable.
    However, the scholars who claim to have reconstructed the original Aramaic substrate of the Gospels seem to be driven by strong theological motivations. For example, I read somewhere that the School of Biblical Exegesis of Madrid (Garcia, Franco) claims to be able to explain the discrepancies in the discovery of the empty tomb (due to the mistranslation and the splitting of one former consistent original story with two groups of women visiting the tomb at different times) or some weird and difficult passages (e.g. Mark 3,21, with the relatives of Jesus coming to bring him food because he was very tired).
    These reconstructions seem to me very stretched and speculative. Moreover, we have a hint by Papias about the possible existence of Hebrew sources, but actually we don’t have any real, usable trace of Hebrew or Aramaic Gospel sources and I am wondering how many other 1st century Aramaic documents of whatever kind we have in total, so to be sufficiently trained to correctly translate back in Aramaic a document written in Koine Greek…
    I am an absolute layman in this field, but it seems to me a quite difficult and unreliable task, leading to inaccurate and strongly biased results.
    What is your opinion as an expert?
    Thank you!

    • Bart
      Bart  March 1, 2019

      I think there definitely is an Aramaic substratum for many of the sayings of Jesus and many of the narratives about him. Many (most?) of the oral traditions started out in Palestine, and therefore principally in Aramaic. But that doesn’t mean that the Gospels we have were written in Aramaic. There are compelling reasons for thinking otherwise. Most of the passages of the Gospels are clearly Greek compositions, not translations from a semitic language. We do have Aramaic texts (e.g. among the Dead Sea Scrolls), and experts in Aramaic. But the idea that you can take the Greek Gospels, produce a translation in Aramaic, and therefore get back to the “original” is not one held by any experts that I’m aware of. I’m afraid I’m not providing you with much help here!

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      • Avatar
        inghirami  March 1, 2019

        When I wrote the post I had in mind the book „La vita di Gesù nel testo aramaico dei Vangeli“, written by José Miguel García (Spanish) and translated in Italian (unfortunately and strangely, I did not find any edition in other languages, not even Spanish…). I read several reviews about the book and a few excerpts, but actually I did not read the book itself, so I don‘t know exactly how García used the mentioned back-translation technique and neither to which extent. The book has been appreciated a lot by some conservative Catholic groups, but it has also received disapproval. I was wondering how solid is the expertise of the author and how reliable his method. Your authoritative answer confirmed my suspects, i. e. that the author is not considered a well known expert in the field and his approach is not really trustworthy. So, thank you very much for your kind and helpful reply!

      • Avatar
        Hngerhman  April 30, 2019

        Dr Ehrman –

        Is there a good source/collection/catalogue of things scholars believe to be part of the Aramaic substratum / semitisms in the NT? Your example of “spirit of holiness” set me down this path…

        Thanks much!

        • Bart
          Bart  May 2, 2019

          I don’t know of anything offhand. That kind of thing is usually done by trained linguists who don’t have to explain that Greek and Aramaic have different ways of modifying nouns, etc. But maybe someone else on the blog knows of a handy tool?

          • Avatar
            Hngerhman  May 2, 2019

            Ok, thanks!

  11. Avatar
    paulfchristus  February 27, 2019

    Thank you for the follow-up on this thread the Historical Jesus.
    Very Informative.

  12. Avatar
    Hon Wai  February 27, 2019

    The criteria of authenticity are methods to confirm historicity of an account. But failure to pass any of these criteria is not evidence that the account is invented by the early church. So what are some of the criteria of inauthenticity that can be used to show an account is invented by the early church?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 1, 2019

      The only real one if “contextual credibility.” If a saying or deed of Jesus cannot be plausibly situated in a first-century Palestinian Jewish context, then it probably is not authentic. See my discussion in Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium.

      • Avatar
        Nexus  March 1, 2019

        I think another criteria of inauthenticity would also be when scripture gets fulfilled or repeated too well. One example would be much of the crucifixion narrative where Roman soldiers encircle jesus and later draw lots for Jesus’ clothes, and onlookers mock him. Without knowing that this is written in scripture (Psalms 22), this sounds like a reasonable narrative of 1st century Palestine.

        • Avatar
          scissors  March 3, 2019

          Rivercrowman

          Perhaps you should ask how exactly one distinguishes
          The language of metaphor from, well, the non metaphorical langugage. It often seems that anything
          inconvenient can be saved by calling it a metaphor , allegory and what have you.

  13. Avatar
    forthfading  February 27, 2019

    Dr Ehrman,

    On the topic of what is being attacked in historical circles at the moment, it seems to me that there is a rise in scholars devoted to the mythicist cause. There was a point where most scholars of the ancient world teaching in major universities did not take the Jesus myth seriously, but I am noticing a change. There are respected scholars teaching at respected institutions of higher learning. Hector Avalos at Iowa State, Thomas L. Thompson at the University of Copenhagen, and Thomas Brodie. Not to mention famous scholars such as Richard Carrier and Robert Price. Do you think the tide is changing and new scholarship will take these Jesus myth more seriously?

    Thanks, Jay

    1
    • Bart
      Bart  March 1, 2019

      Not really. Brodie is a strange case, but neither Avalos or Thompson is a New Testament scholar. Carrier and Price are not “famous” in New Testament scholarly circles. Carrier has not training in the field at all. The same metric applies today that I stated years ago, among the many thousands of scholars teaching NT/Early Christianity/Classics/early Judaism at accredited colleges and universities in North America, not one of them, to my knowledge, argues that Jesus is a myth. Maybe there are a couple of exceptions? If so, someone will certainly tell me.

      1
  14. Avatar
    dennislk1  February 27, 2019

    Dr. Ehrman,

    Is there a book, or have you written a book, that lists the stories of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in order of scholarly determined authenticity; beginning with those determined to be most authentic and ending with those determined to be least authentic? Or perhaps a book containing the four books of the gospel (as they are written) which footnotes the scholarly authenticity rank of the stories? Such a book of the complete New Testament would be equally interesting.

    Dennis Keister

    • Bart
      Bart  March 1, 2019

      No, I haven’t done it that way. You might look at the Five Gospels by the Jesus seminar, which attempts this. I disagree with a large number of their conclusiions.

      1
      • Avatar
        Morphinius  March 2, 2019

        While I, too, disagree with their conclusions, the Five Gospels is a great resource. They provide a wealth of critical information about the New Testament. They are biased against the idea that Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet, but one can still learn from their methodologies even if you disagree with this underlying premise about Jesus. Their conclusion that the Gospel of John does not contain the sayings of the historical Jesus is one assertion that I expect most critical scholars would agree upon. The Gospel of Thomas has more sayings of the historical Jesus than John does.

  15. Avatar
    Manuel  February 27, 2019

    We know, Dan Brown not withstanding, that the historical Jesus had no children…but did he have any nieces or nephews? Did he have uncles and aunts? Genealogies seem to be important in two of the gospels, so why for example wasn’t a genealogy of the descendants of the brothers or sisters of Jesus developed by his followers? Within 20 to 40 years of his death, Paul was writing about Jesus all over the middle east and at least a couple of the gospels had been written (so oral stories were circulating even earlier) and it seems to me that the notion of “Hey, that Jesus people are talking about was my uncle, my cousin, etc.” is something that would be pass down generation to generation so why wasn’t it?

    1
    • Bart
      Bart  March 1, 2019

      YEs, he almost certainly had nieces and nephes, aunts and uncles. Some of his relatives are mentioned in teh church historian Eusebius.

      2
    • Avatar
      godspell  March 1, 2019

      The genealogies in the gospels are almost certainly created to substantiate the claim that Jesus was descended from David (as Bart has pointed out, there would have been many descendants of David alive at that time, but few if any of them could have proven it). They are, if you will, symbolic genealogies–like when American immigrant families order things with a Family Crest, relating to some noble family that shares their name–while they themselves, like my Irish family, were descended from generations of peasant farmers.

      There was no ancestry.com back then, and it was quite impossible for most people to trace their ancestry very far back, all the more since most were illiterate. Perhaps you’ve heard that in medieval and Renaissance Europe, it was common for people who had come into some money to pretend to be of noble blood–and they often got away with it. Just relocate to where nobody knows you,act as aristocrats act, dress the way they dress, speak the way they speak–few will dare question you.

      Mary had other children. She and Joseph had siblings, most likely, who also had children. We know Jesus’ brother James was a leader of the early church in Jerusalem, and was apparently murdered for his involvement in it. Most of Jesus’ family probably remained poor country folk, and there would have been times they talked of their connection to him–and other times it was safer to keep quiet about it. A few generations pass, memories fade. Just as people who were genuinely descended from King David would mainly not have known, and wouldn’t have been able to prove it if they did.

      How many generations back can you go? With all the information resources available now, even DNA testing?

      I’m sure everyone here is, one way or another, connected by blood to some famous person of the distant past.

      And what of it?

      We probably don’t want to know how many infamous people we’re descended from as well.)

  16. Avatar
    crt112@gmail.com  February 28, 2019

    Doesnt the dissimilarity criteria have another problem – in that any time Jesus says or does anything strange it increases in ‘reliability’. So if we only apply that criteria we downplay all the ‘good news’ stories about loving your neighbour, forgiveness, etc while endorsing strange events like cursing the fig tree as more reliable.
    I’m pretty sure thats a standard fundamentalist argument against that criteria and it seems to carry some weight.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 3, 2019

      Dissimilarity does not show what Jesus did *not* do or say. It provides a core of material that he almost certainly *did*. Other traditions that do not pass the criterion may be historical as well, but that needs to be demonstrated on the basis of other critieria.

  17. Avatar
    Matt2239  February 28, 2019

    In law, admissions against interest are self-proving. So if a person confesses to a crime, then that’s all that’s needed. As a historical standard, information in the record that is not what Christians would have wanted is also considered self-proving. The problem is that while the legal standard makes prosecution of crime easier, when it comes to the truth, as you have noted, it’s not a fool-proof method. On that point, the legal standard isn’t fool-proof, literally. If a fool confesses to a crime he didn’t commit, the confession can be accepted and the case closed, without getting to the truth.

    1
  18. Robert
    Robert  February 28, 2019

    Some people distinguish between a 2nd (1950s, specific historical criteria) and a more recent 3rd Quest for the historical Jesus. Do you think this is a helpful distinction? If so, how would you characterize this 3rd quest? More explicit focus on the ‘Jewishness’ of Jesus, perhaps? I seem to recall some of the earlier 2nd questors used a criterion not just of dissimilarity but dual dissimilarity. In other words, the historical Jesus was presumed to be both dissimilar to later Christian beliefs but one also had to account for how Jesus was unique and different from the Judaism of this era, and this second dissimilarity sometimes seemed to presume a negative judgment of Judaism. Is this how you would characterize the work of Bultmann’s students Ernst Käsemann, Günther Bornkamm?

    Maybe rather than a 3rd quest, it represents more of a shift from more academic discussion becoming very popular with a general audience in addition to scholars. Certainly more Jewish scholars devoted attention to reconstructing a Jewish Jesus, eg, Geza Vermes, Pinchas Lapide, David Flusser, etc. At the same time, a greater awareness of the diversity within Judaism at the time of Jesus had been discovered with the finding and slow analysis of the Dead Sea Scrolls, a diversity within which it was easier to find elements suggestive of an historical portrait of Jesus.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 3, 2019

      I”ve never found it *particularly* helpful, more like an attempt by later scholars to stress they are doing something new and different. 3 Quest emphases were different to some extent, of course, in emphasizeing the Jewish context of Jesus and his own Jewishness, and that did indeed compromise the older way of understanding dissimilarity as (unnecessarily) eliminating from consideration sayings that could be found to have Jewish parallels. (I’ve always thought double dissimilarity to run counter to the logic of the criterion *itself*, since it is focused on what Xn story tellers would havewnated to say about Jesus).

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  19. Avatar
    doug  February 28, 2019

    I like your distinction between “a theological rather than a historical approach to the Bible”. And I imagine there are writers who have some degree of each of these approaches. But some seem to begin with a theological agenda, while others do their best to follow the evidence, history, and logic. And none of us humans is omniscient or totally unbiased.

  20. Avatar
    seahawk41  February 28, 2019

    Here is another question not directly related to this post. You have commented many times on the low level of literacy in Roman times, and what you have said is based on data and so very believable. My problem is that I have trouble fitting graffiti into that picture. There are lots of graffiti in Pompei, and here is a reference to graffiti on Hadrian’s wall in Britain: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/graffiti-left-roman-soldiers-repairing-hadrians-wall-will-be-immortalized-3-d-180971596/?utm_source=smithsoniandaily&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20190228-daily-responsive&spMailingID=39016561&spUserID=NzQwNDU4Nzc4NTMS1&spJobID=1480011389&spReportId=MTQ4MDAxMTM4OQS2 These were written (carved!) by Roman soldiers, whom one would not expect to be among the upper class literate minority. It is easy to think of such as analogous to the graffiti in modern cities. Of course, it is *very* dangerous to think of ancient stuff in terms of modern “analogies”, but very tempting in this case.

    What is your take on this issue?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 3, 2019

      I don’t think the existence of graffiti shows that the writers expected anyone passing by to be able to read them, any more than the existence of books shows that the authors expected everyone to be able to read them. The graffiti were written by anonymous persons who had enough literacy to scratch out some words, but since we don’t know who they were,it’s hard to make any case on them. Think, Life of Brian. Romans go home!!

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