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God and Literacy:  
Did Accounts of God Begin Only When Humans Learned to Write?

Dr. Orville Boyd Jenkins
In an Internet discussion on concepts of God, one participant commented:
"Before man was able to write, there was no account of any type of god."

In fact, this is not the case, since all peoples have oral traditions recording various accounts or stories of their beliefs in God.  The oral histories of the world have been extensively studies and continue to be collected and studied.  Why would anyone think you have to read and write to know about God?

Oral Records
The Bible and other written books of faith were not the first references to God.  The Old Testament, for instance, is a written collection of extremely older oral traditions.  Job is thought to be the oldest story, or book, in the Bible, and one of the oldest pieces of literature in the world, existing from prehistory as oral literature.

Oral cultures preserve oral histories and other oral literature word for word over hundreds and thousands of years, adding the critical items from each new generation.  For instance the many texts of the Hindu religious culture, which seem to have been written down early in the Christian era, go back to about 5000 BC, according to scholars and historians.  The events they refer to are ancient and the epics were composed and handed down in a vibrant oral tradition.

Literacy is Irrelevant
Literacy is irrelevant to concepts of God, until very recently in human history.  Yet current oral cultures have an extensive body of oral literature.  Oral cultures have extensive oral histories, legends and traditions going back sometimes into prehistoric times.  And oral culture individuals have prodigious memories.

An Oral World
Even today over half the world's population are functionally illiterate.  The International Orality Network reports that 70% of the world's population exists in basically oral cultures, as many literate peoples still have a communication preference of oral communication.  Oral communicators also have a different worldview from literate societies, even if they can read and write.

Orality and Beliefs
In my article Orality and the Post-Literate West I discuss how modern visual media in the west have brought the younger generations back to an oral-visual learning style and approach to knowledge.  Besides that, even the most literate among us like a good story and enjoy watching a good movie!

How much of your knowledge and beliefs actually begin with reading?  How much do TV, radio, films, video games and the Internet affect your concepts and lifestyle?  Rethink the role of writing in your concepts of God!

The story of God did not start with Writing.  Writing simply provided a way to record the ancient story.

See Related articles:
[TXT] Different Literacy -- Different World
[Resource Set] How We Learn Our Worldview
[TXT] Orality and the Post-Literate West
[TXT] Orality in Christian Mission
[TXT] Who Created God?
[Resource Set] See Related articles in Science and Faith


First addressed on an internet discussion group 30 April 2001
Finalized as an article 23 June 2005
Last updated 1 December 2008

Copyright © 2005, 2007 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use.  Other rights reserved.
Email:  orville@jenkins.nu
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