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The Bible – Scroll to Codex to Book to Digital

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At first there were scrolls, then came clay tablets, and then the codex, precursor to the modern book. Clay tablets were used by the Romans, who later tied them together with leather thongs or cords. Then, about 1 AD, came parchments. Folded in the middle. These were the pugillares membrane, commonly used throughout the Roman territories. Paul referred to these.

It should be noted, however, that the patriarchs were familiar with ‘books’; of some kind. God commanded Moses to “Write this for a memorial in a book…”, though we do not know what form this book took.

The earliest books were called codices (one book being a codex), which later used parchment. The pages were even washed and scraped, to be re-used. For this reason codices were usually used for informal and temporary writings, often as personal notebooks.

However, the Bible was one of the first books to be recorded in codex form as a permanent record. Very early codices used papyrus, and was preferred by Christian scribes. The codex became popular and widely used about the 4th century, finally replacing scrolls, most of which were converted to codex form.

It is not hard to see why: a codex had flat pages, could be written on both sides, and had a hard cover. They were also easier to transport. Along with this ease of use came lettering on the spines, to identify the book contents or, by medieval times, a title. By that time parchment and vellum were used extensively for pages.

The pages of established codices were sewn together, and thus began the specialised skill of book-binding. The rise of codices as permanent books took advantage of the new invention – printing, and so codices became the modern books. The replacement of scrolls by codices took place by about the 6th century AD.

Modern sewn books are basically the same formats, but the terms ‘codex’ and ‘codices’ are now used academically to refer to hand-written books of the early codex period up to about the medieval period. The study of bindings is known as codicology; the study of ancient documents is known as paleography.

There can be no doubt that the Bible, one of the first books to be documented in codex form, was able to penetrate the farthest reaches of the world simply by changing from scroll to codex.

From codex the Bible translators quickly learned to use printing and formal books as we know them today. The format changed little over several centuries. Then along came printing from computerised machines, which did away with the skills of the type-setter, and the big costs linked to their work.

But, the biggest step forward came with the desk computer, ink-jet and laser printers. These made home publishing possible. From this there came completely digital versions of books, called ebooks, prepared on computers and sold by computerised internet systems. The Bible is always at the forefront of technology!

© April 2011

Published on

Bible Theology Ministries - PO Box 415, Swansea, SA5 8YH
United Kingdom