Monday, October 30, 2006

Technological Effects on Thinking: Then and Now

In pages 16-18 of his Pulitzer Prize-winning book God: A Biography, literary critic Jack Miles contends that Christians thought of their biblical canon differently because they used a different (at the time newer) technological form: the codex, or bound book, instead of the scroll.

He claims that Christians were more likely to think of their biblical canon, as they compiled it, as being small chapters of a larger work because of the package they were using to put it into, while the Jews, still using individual scrolls, were more likely to think of, say, "Genesis," as an individual book as well as part of the overall Scriptural canon. The difference, he thinks, is the technological container--one which the Hebrews moved to later, but stayed away from for longer.

This contention is a fascinating one. Because of its implications for the Hebrew and Christian understandings of books and Books. And because of its implications for the thoughts it spurs about how new written media "containers" newly available to us--e.g., the Internet, the word processing program, instant messaging, email, etc.--may be changing our thinking about how to put together written works today. My thoughts on the present-day changes are as yet amorphous, but it's a fascinating comparison.

By the way, this book (God: A Biography) looks like a fascinating one so far: it looks at the character of God in the Hebrew Bible from, not a theological or historical perspective, but from a literary "close reading" perspective. Miles studies God as a complicated character in a literary work who many, many people in the Western world have sought to emulate over the last couple thousand years.

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