Botha, P.J.J. "Chapter Four: Writing in the First Century." Orality and Literacy in Early Christianity. Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2013, 75-101.
Botha evaluates the actual physical process of writing in the first century as a means to approach understanding the move of a message from oral to written form (Botha 2013, 75). Writing at a table or a desk, as we might picture today, was unknown. Rather, the illustrations and descriptions we have indicate either making a brief note on writing material while standing or doing more extensive writing either seated on the ground, a stool, or a bench, balancing the writing material on the thighs or knees (Botha 2013, 76). Ink would be in a container either set on the ground or held in the hand. This would have been difficult at best. Botha notes the column width roughly corresponded with the width of a human thigh and that writing tends to be larger at the bottom of a column. Depictions of writing desks appear in the eighth century and multiply thereafter (Botha 2013, 77).
Of importance to our understanding is the fact that reading and writing were considered labor, which would not necessarily be engaged in by those who held wealth and status (Botha 2013, 78). The lack of ability or practice in reading or writing was not seen as a hindrance. At this point, I feel compelled to observe that the inability to read was cited in chapter three as a means by which government and powerful people could oppress others. Yet here it does not serve in that way.
The use of a scribe was a common practice. Botha notes that reading and the physical act of writing were not closely associated among Greco-Roman societies as in ours (Botha 2013, 79). I observe that the ability to write with a regular and clear hand remains elusive to many in my society, which has made extensive use of typographical tools. In antiquity, penmanship was considered far less important, and a completely different skill than the ability to create intelligent arguments. Writing the argument was the work of a scribe. Botha observes that this was a practice recognized adequately well, that laws were promulgated stating minimum allowed prices to be charged to military personnel in exchange for writing (Botha 2013, 80).
Botha calculates the price of various copies of New Testament and early Christian documents. While not extremely expensive, compared to a laborer's wage it would be costly to purchase a copy of a Gospel (Botha 2013, 84). Methods of speedwriting and abbreviation were known. This would enable a secretary to take notes or transcripts in real time, then go back to make a clean and generally legible copy (Botha 2013, 85). The creation of an early Christian text, such as a Gospel, would have required several days' work of dictation, copying, editing, and preparation of a final version. "Whatever the case may have been, the creation of most early Christian documents reflects dedication and commitment. Though nothing wildly exorbitant, we are once again reminded of a fairly serious investment of resources" (Botha 2013, 88).
It is important to consider the role of the scribe. Botha notes that, as far as we can tell, the scribe was rarely a mere copyist, but also normally played a role in gathering information and editing (Botha 2013, 90). The role of the secretary would vary depending on the level of collaboration or edition desired. Botha notes that this causes difficulty in our attempts to ascribe communication to a named author or that person's assistant (Botha 2013, 91).
Botha moves on to describe the assistant in terms of someone who was societally servile and who was forced into a subservient role, even reflected in the typical posture used for writing (Botha 2013, 92). He emphasizes the domination of the named master in the writing project. The ideas were considered worthy of merit and were expressed orally by those who had attained a high level of education and standing. The writing was considered the work of a laborer and would receive little or no credit (Botha 2013, 93).