The desire to communicate and record, in different forms, has been around for as long as man has walked this earth. It is an urge embedded within us from our first frantic bellow at birth, to our last gasp at death.
Long ago it started with Pre-Historic art, featuring humans, animals and abstract drawings. Probably the best-known site is Lascaux in south-western France. It consists of a network of caves which were discovered when a teenager’s dog fell in a hole. He returned with 3 friends and they entered through a deep shaft. The cave walls were filled with nearly 6000 paintings of humans, animals, and abstract drawings. The caves are now closed to the public to prevent further deterioration. It was proclaimed a UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITE in 1979.
Ancient Egypt began using hieroglyphs about 32 centuries BC to write their language using 1,000 characters. These were finally deciphered in the 1820s. Hieroglyphs were written on papyrus, a tough paper-like material made from a river plant of the same name and carved in stone on temple or tomb walls. It was a very decorative, pictorial depiction of scenes and people and activities. Because it was so time-consuming, they invented Hieratic writing which was a cursive form of hieroglyphs and was used alongside of it.
Cuneiform writing, used by about 15 languages in the Ancient Near East including Sumerian, Akkadian, and Hittite, was created around 3,200 BC and written on clay tablets using distinctive wedge-shaped marks.
As this is a mere blog and not a history of communication, I am going to mention a few points in the process that I find interesting. The first is that charismatic, tall, handsome and in many ways notorious, King Henry V111 of England, 1491-1547. He married 6 wives and changed from a slim athletic young man to one addicted to food and grossly overweight. Henry wanted to divorce his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. She was lucky, two later wives were beheaded. Unfortunately, Pope Clement V11 objected. Henry simply formed the Church of England and made himself its Supreme Head, separating it from papal authority thus beginning the English Reformation. He asked Miles Coverdale to oversee the translation of THE GREAT BIBLE. It used William Tyndale’s work. Henry ordered that a copy be placed in every church in England so that everybody could read it and it was no longer the preserve of the Catholic priesthood.
The Old Testament is written in Biblical Hebrew which flourished about the 6th c BC during the Babylonian captivity. Greek has been written using the Greek alphabet since the 10th c BC. The New Testament was written in Greek, but an Aramaic source was used for portions off it, especially the Gospels. Every night I read a passage from J.B Phillips’ THE NEW TESTAMENT IN MODERN ENGLISH REVISED EDITION. It is simply amazing how alive, vibrant, and outspoken Jesus was. He gets to the heart of the issue. No wonder the Jewish leaders crucified him out of, as Pilate said, “sheer malice.” It is estimated that there are 7,000 languages in the world. The Bible Society says the Bible is now available in languages spoken by 80% of the world’s population – over 5.7 billion people. This is a very interesting fact in view of what Jesus said when asked by his disciples when the end times would begin, and he replied, “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness to all nations; and then shall the end come.” (Matthew 24:14 KJV).
I have always loved stained glass in churches. The church in which I grew up had some stained glass: a huge circular face of Christ and a cross was at the end of the choir stalls, another that I loved was Christ as a Sower of Seeds. The people who built the Gothic cathedrals in Europe used stained glass in huge windows in the nave and in the apse. There were also circular, rose windows. These told Bible stories from Creation to Christ’s return in glory. The masses were unable to read, and this was the way of communicating to them what the Bible said. Two great examples are Notre Dame and Saint Chapelle on an island in the River Seine in central Paris. I have visited both. If you are in Paris, Saint Chapelle is not to be missed. When I was there, there were huge queues in front of Notre Dame. It was free but people were hurried through. Saint Chapelle, on the other hand has an entrance fee and the stained glass windows are spectacular.
Notre Dame, begun in 1153 and completed in 1250, has stained glass windows covering 2,600 square metres and divided into 172 bays depicting Biblical scenes, the lives of saints and some trade guilds. They are noted for their brilliant colours, especially cobalt blue. The bays 49-51 are devoted to Christ’s life from the Old Testament to his life, passion, sacrifice, and redemption for those who believe I him. They culminate in the west Rose window showing the Last Judgement. The devastating fire of 2019 that destroyed the roof did not destroy the stained glass windows because the fire fighters knew they would explode if they got wet so they did not spray them. Restoration of them is underway.
Saint Chappelle is a royal chapel begun around 1238 and completed in 7 years. It has one of the most extensive stained glass collections in the world. It has been secularized and, unlike Notre Dame, is no longer a church but a National Monument. It has two levels of equal size: the lower one for courtiers, servants and soldiers of the Palace, and the upper level reserved for the royal family and their guests. To get to it one climbs up a narrow, spiral staircase to come out into a blaze of magnificent colour covering all the walls except the back where one sits and gasps at its splendour. There are 15 windows, each 15 metres high. They contain 1,113 scenes from the Old and New Testaments as well as some showing how the holy relics reached Paris.
Mass communication began with the printing press, developed in Germany in 1440 by Johannes Gutenberg, a goldsmith, and the world has never been the same since! Printing has never looked back. Today, with all its mind-boggling technology we have to be wide-awake. One can be assailed by evil on every side. Of the billions of blogs etc pouring out, we do not know anything about some writers. I have a friend, who while a student and unmarried had three popular blogs: in one she said she was a married woman…
Believe it or not, God himself, in whose image humans are created, also communicates with us. He did it through the Old and New Testaments, written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. They tell of his wish to give fallen humanity a second chance of life eternal, starting from the Fall to the creation of the New Heaven and New Earth. Of course, we are not given all the details, much as we would like to know, but we are given enough to choose whether we will accept or refuse God’s offer of salvation.
Then, too, God communicated with us in a concrete way. He sent his only, beloved Son to walk this earth, to be despised, misunderstood, and rejected. Truly, a “man of sorrows, acquainted with grief,” to be crucified and cut off from his Father for us- but to rise victorious having conquered Satan and death.