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I have been posting about the 1668 novel The Adventures of Simplicius Simplicissimus, by Johann von Grimmelshausen, a wonderful source for understanding the Early Modern period. Oddly, it also has a lot to say about contemporary global Christianity, in the sense that there are some remarkable parallels between the social and cultural worlds of Europe then, and portions of Africa (for instance) today. One striking parallel involves the whole business of literacy and learning to read, and how that affects attitudes to the Bible. Let me describe the seventeenth century novel first, and then point to strictly modern day parallels. I particularly want to stress one key concept, which is that of neo-literacy.
Now when first I saw the hermit read the Bible, I could not conceive with whom he should speak so secretly and, as I thought, so earnestly; for well I saw the moving of his lips, yet no man that spake with him: and though I knew naught of reading or writing, nevertheless I marked by his eyes that he had to do with somewhat in the said book.
Assay - Lit - Chapter - Job - Picture
So I marked where he kept it, and when he had laid it aside I crept thither and opened it, and at the first assay lit upon the first chapter of Job and the picture that stood at the head thereof, which was a fine woodcut and fairly painted: so I began to ask strange questions of the figures, and when they gave me no answer I waxed impatient.
Believing the figures in the illustrated Bible are real people, he speaks to them, and he complains that they don’t speak to him the way they speak to the hermit. He is also worried that the soldiers in the illustration are about to stage a raid, to cause trouble and start a...
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