5 real reasons why writers write (ancient and modern)

Posted by PeteEnns on December 28, 2015 in Old Testament writing and publishing 5 Comments

writer-smoking-pipeI just finished reading Christopher Rollston’s latest book, Writing and Literacy in the World of Ancient Israel, wherein he makes the case (among several related cases) that literacy in ancient Israel was almost exclusively confined to an elite, educated class, and not something that your average Jacob and Rachel Israelite could handle. It’s a wonderfully informative book, but—although non-technical—still presumes of its readers that they’ve done some graduate-level work in epigraphy.

At any rate, Rollston collects some quotes (pp. 85-88) from ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia lauding the scribal profession, and they show that the writer’s mentality hasn’t changed much in the last 4000 years.

Writers want to:

make money,

[S]trive to (master) the scribal art and it will enrich you, be industrious in the scribal art and it will provide you with wealth and abundance.

rub elbows with the rich and famous,

[The scribe] makes friends with those greater than he. . . . You will be advanced by your superiors. You will sent onRollston a mission.

. . . you may become one whom the king trusts; to make you gain entrance to treasury and granary. . . . To make you issue the offerings on feast days.

work without supervision,

There’s no profession without a boss, except for a scribe. Hence if you know writing, it will do you better than those professions I’ve set before you [smith, jewel-maker, potter, farmer], each more wretched than the other.

get out of doing manual labor,

I have seen many beatings; set your heart on books! I have watched those seized for labor; there’s nothing better than books!

Be a scribe. It saves you from toil and protects you from all manner of work.

and life forever.

Man decays, his corpse is dust, all his kind have perished; but a book makes him remembered. . . . Better is a book than a well-built house, than tomb-chapels in the west.

It’s like these ancient texts are looking deep into my own soul and telling me what they see there.

But hey, at least I have goals.

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  • http://christopherhopper.com Christopher Hopper

    I feel so vindicated, and yet so betrayed. This is fabulous.

    • Pete E.

      To write IS to be betrayed. :-)

  • Sam

    Hmmm – I always thought writers write to 1) Advance their political or religious agenda (Wait a minute! Aren’t those the same thing?) or 2) Warn everyone of impending doom unless they convert to the writer’s political and religious beliefs. Who knows anyone who makes enough money to make a living writing? Those who appear to make a living writing really have an inheritance they’ve not revealed or a working spouse with good job.

  • Jim Moore

    I think these are so homey and accurate in their portrayal of why people write. But for myself these explain even more why I don’t write. I think in a real sense writing (among other things) is an exercise in practical eschatology. People have asked me to write books for years now and I don’t because I truly want the people I’m talking to to know they are my only focus. They are my legacy not my words. I have no doubt that some of what I’m telling people will be lost. But I trust that what matters will survive and at this stage in our culture anything I say will merely be better said by others somewhere else.

    And anyway, as Pete says below, to write is to be betrayed. Even at this late stage in life I’m not healed enough to say anything truly honest and thus betray myself even moreso.

  • Steve Schaffner

    Martin Perl’s list of reasons why physicists do experiments, with his commentary):
    1) To test a theory. (We say that a lot, but it’s hardly ever true.)
    2) It’s a really sweet experiment and I can see how to do it. (True from time to time.)
    3) It’s what we do. (True most of the time.)