Claim: Twitter Is 2,000 Years Old

A Vatican cardinal makes the case that Jesus, not Jack, sent the world's first tweets.
More
Dinner, (probably) pre-Instagram (Shutterstock/Renata Sedmakova)

There's Twitter, the 140-character bound communications service. There's Twitter, the multi-million-membered social network. There's Twitter, the soon-to-go-public company. But there's also Twitter, the idea-distributor. Twitter, the community-builder. Twitter, the platform.

In those broader senses, Twitter is much older than its official seven years of life would suggest. Twitter may be, in fact, nearly 2,000 years old. 

In a conference with Italian newspaper editors, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi — who, as president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, acts as a kind of culture minister for the Vatican — discussed social media and the Church's use of it. And he claimed, during the discussion, that Jesus was the earliest of Twitter's early adopters: the first person ever to use Twitter. Well, to "use" it.

Jesus's pronouncements, Ravasi noted, tended to be "brief" — made up of fewer than 45 characters — and "full of meaning." The first Christian also relied on elementary and thus easily sharable phrases like "love one another." He also delivered many of his messages via stories and symbols, Ravasi said, "a bit like in television today."

Ravasi is, of course, speaking figuratively, in loose (and, here, translated-from-the-Italian) metaphors and analogies. But he's also making an important point about the fundamental continuity of communications technologies over decades and centuries. We may tend, sure, to associate religion more with a lack of tech prowess than an embrace of it. But while many of the traditions of the Catholic Mass, for their part, involve words and rituals — incense, organs, the occasional Latin phrase — that are centuries old, their ceremony is only part of the picture. At the macro level of a social system and a religious institution, the Church is nothing if not an agent of communication: It's medium and message at the same time.

And it has, like its fellow denominations and its fellow religions, embraced new technologies to spread its word. From Father Coughlin and his radio to Reverend Schuller and his television to the Dalai Lama and his Twitter feed, religious leaders have often been relatively quick to embrace the latest communications capabilities. And religions themselves, of course, spread along social networks. Ravasi's claim of Jesus as word-made-tweet may be specific to his own belief and true only in the broadest sense. But his larger point holds: If religious leaders aren't "interested in communication," as Ravasi put it, in some sense "they are defying their duty."

Via Betabeat

Jump to comments
Presented by

Megan Garber is a staff writer at The Atlantic. She was formerly an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab, where she wrote about innovations in the media.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.

Video

What Makes a Story Great?

The storytellers behind House of CardsandThis American Life reflect on the creative process.

Video

Tracing Sriracha's Origin to Thailand

Ever wonder how the wildly popular hot sauce got its name? It all started in Si Racha.

Video

Where Confiscated Wildlife Ends Up

A government facility outside of Denver houses more than a million products of the illegal wildlife trade, from tigers and bears to bald eagles.

Video

Is Wine Healthy?

James Hamblin prepares to impress his date with knowledge about the health benefits of wine.

Video

The World's Largest Balloon Festival

Nine days, more than 700 balloons, and a whole lot of hot air

Writers

Up
Down

More in Technology

Just In