a printer workshop (Gutenberg Museum, Mainz)
Technology plays an important role in religions. Aside from technologies such as husbandry and farming, the invention of writing, writing materials, printing and digital recordings has an important role in the growth and development of Christianity and the spread of the Gospel.
Oral traditions have a significant place in the formation of concepts and ideas of a monotheist God during the early days of ancient Israel. The limits of oral traditions require practitioners with exception memories and the ability to recall verbatim. Often, this is not possible as additions and omissions affect the narratives. The invention of writing from its initiate scratches on bones or shells to a formalised cuneiform marks the end of the oral tradition. Writing necessitates the invention of a medium to write on. Initial writing materials were bones, which makes way for animal skins where were made into parchment. Pergamum, a city mentioned in Revelation was a centre of parchment production until the introduction of papyrus from Egypt. This technology leads to our modern paper. Paper is a stable medium and writings were bound up into codex (like our modern books) instead of stored as scrolls (parchment). The Bible and its various commentaries are the results of this technology of writing and writing materials. Books became the medium for the use in churches. Unfortunately, the early Bibles were written in Greek and Latin and hence incomprehensible to the common people.
Books were laboriously hand-copied by scribes until the introduction of the movable printing press. Printing was invented in 593 in China using carved wooden blocks. The movable printing press was developed in China in 1040. In the west, Lauren Coster from Denmark was the first to develop a movable printing press using wooden types but German Johannes Gutenberg was more well known for his movable type printing press using metal types in 1447. This date was significant because this was around the time when an unknown Augustinian monk, Martin Luther argued with the Roman Catholic Pope, and to his surprise cause the Reformation. Gutenberg’s press allowed enormous reprints of the tracts of the arguments (some of which were in German) to be printed and distributed widely in the Holy Roman Empire. Later in the Reformation, Luther and his friends translated the whole Bible into German. With printing, many people in Germany were able to read and understand the Bible in their own language.
facsimile of The Babylonian Captivity of the Church by Martin Luther, Lutherstadt, Wittenberg
Prelude on the Babylonian Captivity of the Church (Latin: De captivitate Babylonica ecclesiae, praeludium Martini Lutheri, October 1520) was the second of the three major treatises published by Martin Luther in 1520, coming after the Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation (August 1520) and before On the Freedom of a Christian (November 1520)
The invention of the modern computers in the 1960-70s with its increasingly sophisticated word processing software marked another important milestones in the development of technology and religion. The move from analogy to digital and the interconnectivity provided by the Internet allows production and transmission of an enormous amount of religious knowledge. The number of platforms and devices in which this knowledge may be downloaded have also increased exponentially.
There seem to a close relationship between the introduction of new technologies and the expansion of the Gospel. Hand copied Bibles and books seem to limit the spread of the Gospel around the main European cities. With the Reformation and the printing press, the Gospel spread is wider to the rest of Europe, North America, certain parts of Asia and North Africa. The digital media seems to herald the expansion of the Gospel to the Global South. The smartphone has become the main platform for evangelism. It is now possible to bring the Gospel to the ends of the world. It will be interesting to see what the next technology brings.