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Why Written Language is important to Religions of the Second Epoch

The second epoch of world history is focused on religion. Its story concerns the rise of the great world religions - Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam - and, indeed, of most religions as we know them today. The technology of writing was indispensable to these religions.

In prehistoric times, religion was a technology for dealing with the spirit world. Hereditary priesthoods performed the required rituals. The knowledge and ability to perform the rituals correctly was passed down from one generation to another. Writing was not necessary because the knowledge of rituals could be remembered. It was perpetuated by word of mouth as one priest told another what he knew.

Alphabetic writing, which began in the Middle East, changed all that. It shifted the focus of religion to ethical ideals. In the case of Jewish religion, we find a clear line of demarcation between the old and new religions in the writings of Amos. Quoting God, he wrote: "I hate, I spur your pilgrim-feasts; I will not delight in your sacred ceremonies ... (instead) ... Let justice roll on like a river and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream ... Hate evil and love good; enthrone justice in the courts." The prophet Micah wrote: "What shall I bring when I approach the Lord? ... Am I to approach him with whole-offerings or yearling calves? Will the Lord accept thousands of rams or ten thousand rivers of oil? God has told you what is good; and what is it that the Lord asks of you? Only to act justly, to love loyalty, to walk wisely before your God."

Written language made history possible. The Hebrew prophets added political commentary to historical writings. In the guise of a revelation from God, they carried the story of past and current histories into the future. Amos, Isaiah, and Jeremiah predicted the immediate downfall of the Jewish nation but predicted that in the end it would be gloriously restored. The idea was that a descendant of King David, the Messiah, would rule over the restored nation. Later prophets (such as Daniel) identified the Messiah with a "Son of Man". This person was a purely supernatural figure who would arrive with the Kingdom of Heaven. He would rule over that Kingdom in God's stead.

What makes the story of Jesus so unusual is that his earthly actions were in response to a body of written prophecies. Jesus was following a kind of dramatic script. The Old Testament prophets had written that certain things had to be done before the Kingdom of God would arrive. Certain conditions needed to be fulfilled. Among them were the prior appearance of the prophet Elijah and the period of suffering known as the pre-Messianic tribulation. Jesus announced the imminent arrival of the Kingdom of God. He personally fulfilled conditions required for its appearance. Albert Schweitzer believes that Jesus fulfilled the pre-Messianic tribulation in his own person. His death canceled this requirement, bringing about the Kingdom.

The prophet Mohammed brought monotheistic religion to the Arabs. Many of his early followers were students of Harb, who popularized writing among the Quraysh aristocracy in Mecca. By tradition, Mohammed himself was illiterate. The Koran states that the archangel Gabriel appeared to him in a vision issuing a command: "Read." Mohammed protested: "I am no reader." Gabriel repeated: "Read in the name of the Lord who created man of blood coagulated. Read! Thy Lord is the most beneficent who taught by the Pen." The angel dictated to Mohammed the words which have been recorded in the Koran. The Koran brought both religion and literacy to previously illiterate people.

We can see that the words of the Bible and the Koran are regarded as divinely revealed. They are a unique source of truth. This notion of God's infallible truth revealed to his messengers is a basis of religion inherited from the second epoch of world history. Religion in the second civilization is religion "of the book".

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