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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 '14 at 2:19
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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 '14 at 12:56
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    @All No need to go that far. Think of England: Wesley, Whitefield, Spurgeon. – Paul Vargas Apr 19 '14 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 '14 at 9:38
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    An even more headscratching question would be, how did Moses speak to all 600,000 male Israelites at once? – Gregory Magarshak May 28 '14 at 15:24
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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 '14 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 '14 at 8:08
  • Luke 5:1-3 provides a good example of Jesus's use of natural acoustics. He asked Peter to row him out into the lake so he could talk to the crowds from a boat. The flat surface of the water and the rising banks where the crowd sat formed a natural amphitheatre. From his elevated position in the boat, his directed voice would have been heard clearly above any but the loudest sounds in the audience. The Bible doesn't bother to describe the details for every situation, but presumably he chose similarly appropriate locations for all his public sermons. – Ray Butterworth Mar 20 at 18:54
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Quoting from http://www.philipvickersfithian.com/2013/12/how-loud-was-george-whitefield.html

The great preacher George Whitefield, who lived during the life of Ben Franklin, had a booming voice.

Whitefield appears several times in Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography. My favorite reference to Whitefield is the passage in which Franklin tries to calculate the number of people that can hear Whitefield's booming voice. Here is Franklin describing Whitefield:

He had a loud and clear voice, and articulated his words and sentences so perfectly, that he might be heard and understood at a great distance, especially as his auditories, however numerous, observ’d the most exact silence. He preach’d one evening from the top of the Court-house steps, which are in the middle of Market-street, and on the west side of Second-street, which crosses it at right angles. Both streets were fill’d with his hearers to a considerable distance. Being among the hindmost in Market-street, I had the curiosity to learn how far he could be heard, by retiring backwards down the street towards the river; and I found his voice distinct till I came near Front-street, when some noise in that street obscur’d it. Imagining then a semi-circle, of which my distance should be the radius, and that it were fill’d with auditors, to each of whom I allow’d two square feet, I computed that he might well be heard by more than thirty thousand. This reconcil’d me to the newspaper accounts of his having preach’d to twenty-five thousand people in the fields, and to the antient histories of generals haranguing whole armies, of which I had sometimes doubted.

As this passage indicates, Franklin estimated that Whitefield could be heard, without a microphone, by 30,000 people.

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I would also explore the fact that we are speaking of the same Jesus who walked on waters and fed the same (5000 men) crowds with 5 loaves and 2 fish. So the physical laws that restrict us were not necessary a restriction for Him. 'They asked among themselves, what manner of man is this that even the winds and the seas obey His voice'. I imagine that when Jesus spoke, the wind carried those sound waves to reach every intended person in the audience.

I don't read of Jesus wearing a greek mask, but what i do read of is that He was the very one who spoke the worlds into existence so i would guess that every element of sound and that which may hamper it would hush at His voice.

God bless

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  • Is this your own personal exegesis, or are there other groups or commentators who have posited this? – Mr. Bultitude Mar 15 '15 at 21:08
  • While some actions of Jesus are commented as miracles by the evangelists, the fact that crowds could hear him is recounted without noting anything supernatural. – Pere Feb 19 '17 at 16:56
  • If Jesus was acting superhuman when speaking to a large crowd, the Gospel writer would've noted it as a miracle as well. Although certainly Jesus was capable for doing that, his mission was for showing how God's favor has come as manifested in His power over nature, over diseases, over evil spirits, and over death. So it's more likely that he would've used a natural means to preach. – GratefulDisciple Jul 22 at 20:32
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Jesus was both 100% God and 100% man - The person who stilled the storm on the seas and who made the deaf to hear - God can make the impossible -possible - that is why He is God - beyond my intelligence.

Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted.

  • The Bible writers were not shy about describing miraculous things jesus did. If he was making himself heard by miraculous means they would have commented on it. – Kris Jan 29 '18 at 13:31
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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.

Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted.

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