Learning from what a person sees in writing; uttering aloud what is written.
From early times men were interested in reading. King Ashurbanipal of Assyria, who established a library of 22,000 clay tablets and texts, claimed: “I had my joy in the reading of inscriptions on stone from the time before the flood.” (Light From the Ancient Past, by J. Finegan, 1959, pp. 216, 217) This may refer to some traditional accounts regarding the global Flood or else to Assyrian records predating some local flood. The only writings regarding a flood found in the ruins of Ashurbanipal’s palace were those of the Babylonian flood account, containing much mythology. Whether any genuine accounts or writings actually from before the global Flood were possessed by the pagan Assyrians cannot be determined now.
The origin of reading would, of course, be associated with the origin of writing. As to available evidence concerning this, see WRITING.
It is noteworthy that, in the Bible record of events of the 16th century B.C.E. in the days of Moses, there is specific reference to reading and writing. (Ex 17:14) The nation of Israel was encouraged to read and write. (De 6:6-9) Joshua, Moses’ successor, as leader of Israel, was under command to engage in the reading of the Scriptures “day and night,” regularly, in order to be successful in the assignment that God had given him. To impress Joshua with the importance of God’s Word, and doubtless as a memory aid, he was to read “in an undertone.”—Jos 1:8.
The kings of Israel were under divine command to write for themselves copies of God’s law and to read it daily. (De 17:18, 19; see MEDITATION.) Their failure to heed this command contributed to the neglect of true worship in the land, resulting in the demoralization of the people, which led to the destruction of Jerusalem in 607 B.C.E.
Jesus had access to all the inspired scrolls of the Hebrew Scriptures in the synagogues, where, in one recorded instance, he read publicly and applied the text to himself. (Lu 4:16-21) Also, when tested three times by Satan, Jesus’ reply was in all three occurrences, “It is written.” (Mt 4:4, 7, 10) Obviously, he was well acquainted with the Scriptures.
The apostles, who were secondary foundation stones of a holy temple, the Christian congregation, found that reading the Scriptures was essential for their ministry. They quoted from and referred to the Hebrew Scriptures hundreds of times in their writings and advocated the reading of them by others. (Ac 17:11) The Jewish rulers perceived that Peter and John were unlettered and ordinary. (Ac 4:13) But this did not mean that they could not read and write, as the letters written by these apostles testify that they could. They were, however, not educated in the higher learning of the Hebrew schools, at the feet of the scribes. For similar reasons the Jews were astonished that Jesus had knowledge, although, as they said, “he has not studied at the schools.” (Joh 7:15) That reading was widespread in that time is indicated by the account concerning the Ethiopian eunuch, a proselyte, who was reading the prophet Isaiah, and who by reason of this was approached by Philip. The eunuch was rewarded for his concern for God’s Word by receiving the privilege of becoming a follower of Christ.—Ac 8:27-38.
The languages of the part of the Bible written before the first century were Hebrew and Aramaic. In the third century B.C.E., the Hebrew Scriptures were translated into Greek, which had become the international language. The Christian Scriptures were all originally written in Greek, with the exception of Matthew’s Gospel. This made the reading of the Bible possible for most of the literate people in the Roman Empire, and particularly was it available to both Jews in Palestine and those of the Dispersion.
The popular demand for the Bible has reflected its readability and value, since it has far outstripped all other books in publication and circulation and is at this writing translated, either entirely or in part, in more than 2,000 languages and dialects, in billions of copies. It is reportedly available to well over 90 percent of earth’s population in their own tongue.
The Bible enumerates many benefits derived from reading the Scriptures, among them being humility (De 17:19, 20), happiness (Re 1:3), and a discerning of the fulfilling of Bible prophecy (Hab 2:2, 3). It warns its readers to be selective as to reading material: Not all books upbuild and refresh the mind.—Ec 12:12.
The help of God’s spirit is necessary for real discernment and understanding of God’s Word. (1Co 2:9-16) To get understanding and other benefits, a person must approach the reading of God’s Word with an open mind, throwing aside all prejudice and preconceived opinions; otherwise his understanding will be veiled, as was the case with the Jews who rejected the good news preached by Jesus. (2Co 3:14-16) Superficial reading is not enough. The reader must put his heart into it, be absorbed in study of the material, meditate deeply upon it, and seek to benefit from it personally.—Pr 15:28; 1Ti 4:13-16; Mt 24:15; see PUBLIC READING.