As previously noted about Ehrman’s first argument i.e., the Pauline epistles having no consistent unity despite his personal religiolitical influences and connections, there has been another major error that he exposes and that one involves the ‘illiteracy’ of Peter. If Ehrman is correct, we would need to discard 1 and 2 Peter as ‘Forgeries’ simply because the apostle could not read or write in the first century and based on the book of Jude (which is not written by neither Peter nor a Secretary in his favor), the apostle was nothing more than a Jewish Peasant.
While all these claims could be correct i.e. ‘Peter’s illiteracy’, Ehrman seems to be ignoring a couple of things:
- Peter had his own religiolitical influences and connections: Peter knew Paul, Paul knew Peter. If there was anything that Peter needed, there was always the chance that Paul or some other person would have access to attaining whatever was needed including a secretary.
- Peter functioned as a missionary: something which required a lot of travel either by foot, boat, or even mule. Supposing in those circumstances that the apostle traveled widely as an ‘orator’ (preacher), what makes you think no one would take interest in providing assistance to his teaching, especially if Peter was illiterate?
- Peter’s faith was set on trial: there were dozens of people (who actually questioned Christianity) conducted several personal interviews with the apostle to check these things out. If Peter’s faith had an impact on the empire, most people would want to gain an orderly account that came straight from him. Couldn’t one of them have been a secretary?
Even though there is no evidences for either scenarios 2 or 3, it would hard for anyone to imagine Ehrman disregarding the first one, especially when the early followers of Christianity looked to Peter for leadership. If that would be the case, that would also mean that apostle had to have acquired some form of education to be an excellent orator and communicator, especially when you travel to other parts of the Empire and Greek is NOT your first language.
This brings me to another point of Ehrman’s fallacy: faulty generalization, more specifically ‘Cherry Picking’. Although Peter could have been illiterate, the major problem about the Scholar’s argument ignores several factors concerning culture, specifically the Jewish Culture. First, let’s look at Roman technology that existed within the empire. Such developments were include but not limited to things such as:
- High competency for public hygiene.
- Complex medical procedures such as cataract Surgery
- Construction of complex structures like highways and aqueducts.
- The invention of cement and concrete.
- Tons of Roman Inscriptions.
- Existence of Roman law ideals such as lawsuits and a right to vote.
- Selling of Fire Insurance
- Political Advertisements and Graffiti
- The creation of sawmills, ship mills, grain mills, etc.
- The knowledge of steam engine technology.
In such a highly developed culture, one should probably be pressed to even think that a population could have <1% of literacy. If the governmental concerns included a welfare type of system for public hygiene were instituted, what makes you think these needs would not extend to goal of spreading general literacy? The massive amount of inscriptions found all over the empire suggests that there were a lot more people who had the capacity of reading than what Ehrman argues.
Suppose that there were a cultural deficiency in the matter of literacy and that the rate of literacy was not the norm for the Empire, does this include the (back then) Jewish dominated region of Palestine?
And let me explain why.
1. The Jews were no friends of Rome– They hated everything Roman: their religion, their politics, their togas, their ways of living, and more importantly their Hellenist influences. If this culture had one particular set of ideals, the Jews were guaranteed to do the opposite. If the Romans were illiterate citizens, the Jews sought to be literate citizens.
2. The Jews were a people of the book– Nearly every sacred ritual, belief, saying, or ideal came from a prescribed series of books that included the Law and the Prophets. If these beliefs were contained in the Holy Writings, and they highly esteemed these books, don’t you think these people would strive to preserve these works especially if they considered them sacred?
3. The Jews valued the bi-vocational lifestyle– If anything had to be said of the Jews, it would be that theology and trade ran akin to each other. It was commonly expected for Jewish men to not only study theology, but to also work by trades as well.
Apart from revealing these major issues, let’s discuss the one thing that the Jews had which the Romans didn’t: ecclesiastical enforcement. Because first century Palestine was dominated by ultraconservative figures back in the day (i.e., Pharisees and Sanhedrin), the Jews sought out to do whatever was pleasing by these men. If these men thought one thing, a Jew ought to obey if he knew what was best for him. Since in those days, the Sanhedrin were interested in preserving their culture, they would make sure that education was spread among everyone: rich, poor, bond, free, man, woman, old, young etc.
The upbringing for every Jewish home required these children to receive an education as early as 6 or 7 years age (see Alfred Edersheim’s book, Sketches of Jewish Social Life). This form of education included the need to read, learn, and comprehend the concept of the Hebrew alphabet and the recitation of Jewish scripture, something which you would find today for those who celebrated a Bar Mitsvah.
If this is what was expected for the common Jew, then one would have to adjust his or her understanding of Cultural literacy and be willing to make Palestine the genuine exception.