This past Sunday we looked at the story in Acts 8 where Philip baptizes an Ethiopian eunuch. At one point, Philip overhears him reading from Isaiah 53. Today, we don’t typically read aloud, but in the ancient world it was common. For example, Augustine mentions in his Confessions the remarkable habit that Ambrose had of reading silently:
But when he was reading, his eye glided over the pages, and his heart searched out the sense, but his voice and tongue were at rest. Ofttimes when we had come (for no man was forbidden to enter, nor was it his wont that any who came should be announced to him), we saw him thus reading to himself, and never otherwise;….
It has been suggested that people used to read aloud because it helped them memorize the content. Books are easy to come by today, but in the ancient world, they were rare and expensive. The most convenient library in those days was the one in your head.
Another reason for reading aloud was the way people wrote. As a rule, they didn’t put spaces between words. (Here is a photograph of a manuscript from about 200 AD: notice how thewordsinitareallmashed togetherthewayimwritingthemhere.) If you have to sound out what you’re reading, it’s easier to, well, sound it out.