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I am wondering, today we use microphones and large sound systems to amplify someone's speaking. How did they do that 2000 years ago? Jesus spoke outside regularly before large crowds of people. I expect there were enough children, and disagreeing people, so it wasn't always quiet. Your voice won't reach very far when there are a lot of people, especially when there is a kid crying or someone having a discussion.

My question is:

How did the people back then hear Jesus' (or anyone else) preaching when there was a large crowd?

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You ask a very good question, and there are some things that need to be taken into account. We live in a mechanized society and are surrounded by noise emitted from those machines. There were no machines in Jesus day. Also the people of that day surrounded the speaker and crowed in closer than we do today, and they sat down which meant that Jesus was speaking above them and his voice would carry further not being filtered by bodies in front. There may be other factors of which I am not aware such as area acoustics. Acoustics are so good in the Mormon tabernacle that the choir uses no amps. –  Bye Apr 19 at 2:19
    
A good preacher can project their voice well enough without a microphone. In some denominations the preachers are more like college professors, who definitely need a microphone to be heard. And in others, the fire and brimstone sort, if you give them a microphone they'll blow your ears out. –  david brainerd Apr 19 at 2:24
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I've wondered about the same phenomenon. Offhand, I'd say you'd need to do an insane amount of research to pin down an answer to your question. What historian would even think of commenting on how a public speaker in Jesus' day would address a large crowd of people? Going back even further, how in the world did Moses address one or two million folks? I imagine he had hundreds of spokespersons who would spread the word throughout the crowd. They'd be placed, say, 50 feet apart, and if the people were sitting, I imagine each spokesperson would be a link in a continuous chain. Just a thought. Don –  rhetorician Apr 19 at 12:56
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@All No need to go that far. Think of England: Wesley, Whitefield, Spurgeon. –  Paul Vargas Apr 19 at 18:54
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@davidbrainerd actually, when the sound waves hit your ear, they will partly damp out, and partly bounce back, in another direction. So more people means more damping and the waves spread quicker in all directions(which is negative). So yes, more people will cause the sound to travel less far. –  2pietjuh2 Apr 20 at 9:38

3 Answers 3

up vote 5 down vote accepted

You are right, communication before modern electronics relied more on the speaker yelling and a crowd who surrounding attentively. Consider the ancient Roman coliseum for example. This place could house an audience of 50,000+ and people would need to shout loud to the crowd and be heard.

When we imagine the crowds that Jesus spoke to a typical Jesus movie seems to portray it right. Sometimes crowds followed him to a place where he could be heard well, like for the sermon on the mount. Other times they pressed in on him and he even had to sort of hurry away so that it did not become too chaotic. Also many would be responding and discussing among themselves what the meaning was for something he had said. In these conditions many would not hear exactly what was said and only get bits and pieces. There is also the repetitive second hand reiteration of what he had said. For those who could not hear they would listen to the stories told by others, even late into the night throughout the towns where Jesus preached.

Then there is the example of the Baptist preaching by the river. Have you ever yelled in a valley and heard the echo carry your voice seemingly for ever?

In summary, one could definitely communicate to large crowds in ancient Rome, such as for entertainment in the amphitheaters or when generals gave pre-battle speeches for example. When large crowds were addressed, sometimes good places were chosen for the acoustics, and the crowd would be more aware of when to hush for the communication to be effective. Even making a makeshift blow horn with your hands could have been used as ancient Greek actors already had horn shaped mouths in their masks for this purpose. However, there would certainly be some, especially among noisy crowds, who could not hear and would rely on what others said.

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Interesting comment about the design of Greek actors' masks. Never thought of that. I assume you read this somewhere. I'd be interested to know where! If you don't have a cite, that's OK. I'm not criticizing you for not including a cite, by the way! +1 Don –  rhetorician Apr 19 at 17:46
    
@rhetorician - thanks. I think I noticed the greek mask info when pondering the history of the megaphone but can't recall exactly where. probably a wiki site. –  Mike Apr 20 at 8:08

There are still scenarios where a person attempts to speak to a large audience in different places. What happens in these scenarios, without the use of audio equipment, is that some people do not hear what is being said, some do and spread the word, some people mis-hear what is being said, and so forth. In other words it is not an efficient method communication similar to the children's game of "Chinese Whispers" or "Broken telephone" - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_whispers

Some messages were communicated to some people some of time is likely the case.

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Ever heard someone give out a message in a large , large meeting? Theory voice is amplified loudly ,Gods sound system is awesome He don't need a microphone ,he's got the whole world in his hands Jesus preached to 5000 then 7000'with no mic ,he's God

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