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Rapid Writing, a Tool for the Prophets of Old Israel

  • October 29, 2019
  • By Ben van Noort
Rapid Writing, a Tool for the Prophets of Old Israel

Rapid Writing, a Tool for the Prophets of Old Israel

Do we know something about rapid writing in the time of Old Israel?

The Prophet and the King
“My heart overflows with a good word;

 I am speaking my words to the king;
 my tongue is like the pen of a ready scribe.”
Psalm 45:2 (RSV, cursives are elaborated according to the Hebrew.) 

We are reading here about:

  • The heart of the prophet is overflowing of good words, they are welling up from his heart.
  • Then he says: My tongue is like the pen of a ready writer (scribe).
  • This sort of pen (reed-pen or iron pen, stylus) was used for writing in a wax tablet (compare Jeremiah 17:1).
  • A ready writer (scribe) is: a rapid writing scribe.

Counting everything together, we see here a prophet of the Lord who is blessing the king with words given by God in his heart. Also most interesting is that the spoken words were precisely the words that borrowed from his heart. For his tongue is like the pen of a rapid writer, that is of a shorthand writer, who is listening to a speaker, to write precisely the spoken word. 

The prophet is opening his speech very close to himself: his heart, his words in it, out of his mouth, and then the metaphor of the speedy writer next to him who wrote down what the prophet said. The words of the prophet became firm and safe for the future due to the work of the scribe.

Translation in Greek
The Greek Translation of the Hebrew Bible in the 2th century BC (Septuagint) gives here grammateoos oksugraphou that is “a scribe, rapid writing”. The Greek word oksugraphos is a compositum from oksus and graphos (rapid and script) meaning: rapid writing. And so we know that oksugraphy was a real art of speedy writing in the Greek speaking area of the Middle East, in the second century BC. This art was possible by leaving letters out, especially vocals as in Hebrew script.

Shorthand in Old Israel
This verse of Psalm 45:2 is in the first place an example, that in the time of the Kings of Judea a form of shorthand writing did exist. Of course this was a real option as the vocals were not written in Old-Hebrew, only the consonants: a reduction of at least 30% of the letters. Through training it was possible for a quick writer to preserve the calmly spoken words of a lengthy oration of a prophet. Calmly, because the prophet had to listen carefully to his own heart and to the words that welled up from it.

It is not difficult to extrapolate shorthand to the very past, to the time of the patriarchs, the time of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Then also it was possible for trained writers to work rapidly on their wax tablets. And this is completely in accordance with our earlier results that Abraham preserved the words of God spoken to him (Galatians 3:8, 18). And so we have a new and important finding that writing the spoken word was possible in all stages of Israel’s history.

The Hebrew History of Rapid Writing
It is no secret for the common Bible reader, that the phenomenon and importance of writing becomes evident in many occasions of Israel’s history. Of course there was much more said in all the biblical occasions where we hear people speak, however the key sayings show over and over again the characters of the leading figures. Their spiritual decisions are still the lessons we need to understand this world, God and ourselves.

And last but not least, we see how Jesus’s Stenographers were the perfect successors of the Old Testament oksugraphers (rapid writers). They are connected inseparably.


By Ben van Noort, October 29, 2019