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Why do we admire the written word

Updated on July 1, 2017
Chinese Chaos by Thierry Ehrmann
Chinese Chaos by Thierry Ehrmann | Source

The written word

The first known examples of the written word are a few thousand years old, to be a little bit more precise the experts estimate it at 5500 years. However our problem with discovering the first written words is that nobody wrote down they where the first with the idea of writing. So we probably will never know, expect if we discover a way to travel back in time to when the first words were written.

But the written word has something complety different that is strange. Our almost holy admiration for it. As if every written word is so important, that we should treat it as the word of a deity. And off course some texts are important and can be admired. But if you take into account that the first written words we have found were almost all about economics or probably about bookkeeping, you can wonder why we put such a big importance on words.

Words of the bible by Mena Aboud
Words of the bible by Mena Aboud | Source

The first words

ever written

Most scientists who research the birth of writing agree that mankind started writing between 5500 and 5000 years. The first proof is writing by the Harappa who lived in what we now call Pakistan. They wrote on pottery, maybe what was in it or a name of a deity, which could be a written invocation to protect the content.

The next known example of writing is that of Egyptian origin, about 5100 years ago. This writing was even called ‘words of the gods’. Although the actual writing the Egyptians did was in hieratic on papyrus and contained administration and business information. Because hieratic was easier to write. You could compare hieratic and hierogliphs to our everyday handwriting and calligraphy.

The third contender for the first words written are the Sumerians with their claytablet with words in cuneiform. But also the Sumerians started writing to keep track of bookkeeping subjects like how much of what do we have and how much taxes should be payed or were payed.

So the strange thing is that our ancestors who invented writing used it to keep stock of their stock. But we today look at writing as something wholy. And of course keeping a record of what you have in an uncertain world is smart practice to ensure your own survival. Especially if you have so much, that you can not remember all you have.

However that does not explain why we admire the written word as something special and sometimes even with a divine origin.

Holy words - a few examples

Koran by Cristian Bortes
Koran by Cristian Bortes | Source

We all have heard of examples of words that have their origin with a god. The thora talks about the ten commandments given to Moses. The bible, according to a number of christians, is the word of god. The koran was dictated to Mohammed by one of gods angels.

But these books with their words are most of all seen as divine by their believers. However those books are not the only ones that get a divine image or a near divine image. Also laws like international treaties and constitutions are treated like created by a higher power, as if those who wrote those words down on paper where divinely inspired. Because just like you are not allowed to change the words in a holy book because that would be scarilege, changing the words in a constitution is seen as almost sacrilegious. Which could explains why the American constitution has all these amendments.

However not only the treaties and constitutions seem to have an air of divinity, also the accounting books of companies seem to be divine. As they need the seal of approval of a registered accountant, before they can be used as proof for the financial reality of a company. After which you are not allowed to change the content of those books, but can put in amendments.

Divine by Kelly Cookson
Divine by Kelly Cookson | Source

How do words become holy

is it something genetic

Although our ability to speak is a genetic anomaly, that sets us apart from our cousins in the ape family, our ability to write is just a combination of hand eye coordination, pattern recognition, creativity and planning. But how the result of this combination of normal human behavior can have a divine result is probably best declared by the fact that in most cultures in which the written word was and is used, the persons that could read and write were priests and holy men. As these persons had the time and the intelligence to develop the skill to read and write. So, to the “normal” person, it seemed that god spoke to them through the written words, that was read to them by the priest.

But that is probalby not the only reason the written word has become to be thought of as divine. Many cultures came up with the idea that if you want to protect something, you need to give it a divine connection. The Egyptians, the Chinese, the Romans, the Japanese are examples of peoples who made their rulers divine. And if a ruler is divine, he or she can punish you or ask his family of gods to punish you even after you killed him or her. So it was rather smart not to get on the wrong side of your ruler and his familiy and his servants.

But making something divine is not all there is to say about how the written word got to be thought of theistic origin. As many of our early ancestors, especially our stone age and iron age ancestors where superstitious and made many natural phenomena out to be done by gods, it was of course rather logical for them to make the written word something created by the gods. Look for example at the story by the ancient Greeks about how men got hold of fire, thanks to Prometheus. But also look for example at the powers that the North European gods held, all powers that had to do with life and death or stone age men. So it was no more then logical to make the written word divine as it made it possible to register knowledge about nature for future use. For example knowing when it would be spring again and time to sow seeds and thank the gods for surviving the harsh winter.

So the written word had everything in it to become something of a divine gift to men. Which for example is confirmed by the idea that runes, which probably are crude derivatives from old italic alphabets, where used to create charms. So written words where given the power to protect an object, which of course means that those who used the words thought they could invoke a god to protect them.

Another point why writing was made out to be a gift from a god or the gods, was off course the personal needs of those who could write. Because those scribes understood, that if everybody could write they no longer would be necessary to write down important information. Which would off course mean a loss of income and influence.

Words - Written words

Amazon has lots of books with written words. Books that are just human made and divine books according to some people.

Deity by Šarūnas (Sarunas) Burdulis
Deity by Šarūnas (Sarunas) Burdulis | Source

Written words today

still divine

Today almost everybody in the western world can read and write words. Off course there is this percentage of around 10 percent of westerners who are functional illiterate and analphabetics. But if we leave those illiterates out of the equation, everybody who went to school learned to read and write. So you would expect a changed position towards the theistic origin of the written word. Yet there are still people who think that the written word is something that is given to mankind by his god or deities. Eventhough we slowly but surely are discovering that the written word was an invention by mankind to keep track of proof of property or write a love letter, we still think writing is something special. Although it is no more a divine ability than being able to wield a hammer as a carpenter or make beer from some grain with yeast, water and hop. And making beer has also been seen as something of a divine gift to mankind, although today we have left that idea behind us in ancient history.

So has the time come to let go of this idea that written words are something theistic? Most people will say yes, as writing has nothing secretive anymore, following the idea:

If I can write, how can it be something god has made.

But there will be persons who will hold on to the idea that writing is something special, simply because in some places only two to five generations back most people could not write or read. And worldwide there still are around 15% of all humans that can not read or write, but that does not mean that writing is something divine. That just means that not everybody has had the time to learn to read and write, and we have to make an effort to help everybody that lives to learn to read and write in their language.

Question about divine words - What do you think?

Do you think words are divine or heavenly inspiration or just words?

See results
Unreadable by Fred Rockwood
Unreadable by Fred Rockwood | Source

Writing about writing

in history and today

So the first written words were probably from around 3500 before Christ, somewhere in the region we now call Pakistan. The fact that writing has been consired a divine intervention, which created books about how god or gods wanted the world to work, has made mankind think that the written word is special. We still consider writing as something special as we treat constitutions as something special that should only be amended and not changed. And looking at the way we treat writers as somekind of special person with god like powers of creation.

But are written words something special, of course not. Writing is no more a special skill then reparing are car or brewing beer. And if we were able to let go of the idea that making beer is a divine activity, so too we can let go of the idea that the written word is something god or gods made possible. Which also means that anything written and bestowed with a theistic property, only deserves that accolade because it has survived the test of time. Proving itself to be a great story or filled with good advice about how you can make living together with other people a success. But that off course means that you should study such a book well and be critical of anything it says that is strange or out of place. Because you do not know who wrote the book and what his or her intentions were.

So why do we admire the written word, because we were taught to admire it. And we were taught to admire it, because to many people still thought that writing was something special because not everybody could learn to read and write.

What do you think?

Are words holy or - do we just think that?

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