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International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
2. Inward Writing
3. Outward Writing
1. Object Writing
2. Image Writing
3. Picture Writing
4. Mnemonic Writing
5. Phonetic Writing
5. Gold and Silver
7. Bones and Skins
1. The Roll
2. The Codex
2. The Writing Art
1. Mythological Origins
2. Earliest Use
3. Biblical History
Writing is the art of recording thought, and recording is the making of permanent symbols. Concept, expression and record are three states of the same work or word. Earliest mankind expressed itself by gesture or voice and recorded in memory, but at a very early stage man began to feel the need of objective aids to memory and the need of transmitting a message to a distance or of leaving such a message for the use of others when he should be away or dead. For these purposes, in the course of time, he has invented many symbols, made in various ways, out of every imaginable material. These symbols, fixed in some substance, inward or outward, are writing as distinguished from oral speech, gesture language, or other unrecording forms of expression. In the widest sense writing thus includes, not only penmanship or chirography, but epigraphy, typography, phonography, photography, cinematography, and many other kinds of writing as well as mnemonic object writing and inward writing.
Writing has to do primarily with the symbols, but as these symbols cannot exist without being in some substance, and as they are often modified as to their form by the materials of which they are made or the instrument used in making, the history of writing has to do, not only with the signs, symbols or characters themselves, but with the material out of which they are made and the instruments and methods by which they are made.
2. Inward Writing:
The fact that memory is a real record is well known in modern psychology, which talks much of inward speech and inward writing. By inward writing is commonly meant the inward image or counterpart of visual or tangible handwriting as distinguished from the inward records of the sound of words, but the term fairly belongs to all inward word records. Of these permanent records two chief classes may be distinguished: sense records, whether the sense impression was by eye, ear, finger-tip or muscle, and motor records or images formed in the mind with reference to the motion of the hand or other organs of expression. Both sense records and meter records include the counterparts of every imaginable kind of outward handwriting.
We meet this inward writing in the Bible in the writing upon the tablets of the heart (Proverbs 3:3; Proverbs 7:3; Jeremiah 17:1; 2 Corinthians 3:3 ), which is thus not a mere figure of speech but a proper description of that effort to fix in memory which some effect by means of sound symbols and some by the sight symbols of ordinary handwriting.
It has also its interesting and important bearing on questions of inspiration and revelation where the prophet "hears" a voice (Exodus 19:19; Numbers 7:89; Revelation 19:1 , Revelation 19:2 ) or "sees" a vision (2 Kings 6:17; Isaiah 6:1-13; Amos 7:1-9 ) or even sees handwriting (Revelation 17:5 ). This handwriting not only seems "real" but is real, whether caused by external sound or vision or internal human or superhuman action.
3. Outward Writing:
Outward writing includes many kinds of symbols produced in various ways in many kinds of material. The commonest kind is alphabetical handwriting with pen and ink on paper, but alphabetic symbols are not the only symbols, the hand is not the only means of producing symbols, the pen is not the only instrument, and ink and paper are far from being the only materials.
The ordinary ways of human expression are voice and gesture. Corresponding to these there is an oral writing and a gesture writing. For the recording of vocal sounds various methods have been invented: direct carving or molding in wax or other material, or translating into light vibrations and recording these by photograph or kymograph. Both phonographic and photographic records of sounds are strictly oral writing.
The record of gestures by making pictures of them forms a large fraction of primitive picture writing (e.g. the picture of a man with weapon poised to throw) and the modern cinematography of pantomime is simply a perfected form of this primitive picture writing.
Handwriting is simply hand gesture with a mechanical device for leaving a permanent record of its motion by a trail of ink or incision. In the evolution of expression the imitation of human action tends to reduce itself to sign language, where both arms and the whole body are used, and then to more and more conventionalized hand gesture. This hand gesture, refined, condensed and adapted to mechanical conditions, and provided with pencil, chisel, or pen and ink, is handwriting. Its nature is precisely analogous to that of the self-registering thermometer or kymograph.
Nearly all the great body of existing written documents, save for the relatively few modern phonographic, kymographic and other visible speech records, is handwritten, the symbols being produced, selected, arranged, or at least pointed out, by the hand. Even the so-called phonetic writing, as usually understood, is not sound record but consists of hand-gesture symbols for sounds.
II. The Symbols.
Among the many kinds of outward signs used in writing the best known are the so-called Phoenician alphabet and its many derivatives, including the usual modern alphabets. Other well-known varieties are the wedge system of Assyria and Babylonia, the hieroglyphic systems of Egypt and Mexico, the Chinese characters, stenographic systems, the Morse code, the Braille system, the abacus, the notched stick, the knotted cord, wampum and twig bundles. These, however, by no means exhaust the list of signs which have been used for record or message purposes; e.g. colored flags for signaling, pebbles, cairns, pillars, flowers, trees, fishes, insects, animals and parts of animals, human beings, and images of all these things, have all served as record symbols in writing.
The various symbols may be grouped as objects and images, each of these classes divided again into pictorial or representative signs and mnemonic or conventional signs, mnemonic signs again divided into ideographic and phonetic, and phonetic again into verbal, syllabic (consonantal), and alphabetic. This may be represented graphically as follows:
(2) Conventional (Mnemonic)
( a ) Ideographic (Eye Images)
( b ) Phonetic (Ear Images)
( i ) Verbal
(2) Conventional (Mnemonic)
( a ) Ideographic
( b ) Phonetic
Objects may be whole objects (a man) or characteristic parts (human head, arm, leg) or samples (feather or piece of fur). The objects may be natural objects or artificial objects designed for another purpose (arrow), or objects designed especially to be used as writing symbols (colored flags). Images include images of all these objects and any imaginary images which may have been invented for writing purposes.
Pictorial or representative signs are distinguished from mnemonic or conventional signs by the fact that in themselves they suggest the thing meant, while the others require agreement beforehand as to what they shall mean. The fact, however, that the symbol is a picture of something does not make it pictorial or the writing picture writing. It is pictorial, not because it is a picture, but because it pictures something. The fact, e.g., that a certain symbol may be recognized as an ox does not make of this a pictograph. If it stands for or means an ox, it is a pictograph; if it stands for "divinity," it may be called an ideograph, or if it stands for the letter a it is phonetic, a phonogram.
The key to the evolution of writing symbols is to be found in a law of economy. Object writing undoubtedly came first, but man early learned that the image of an object would serve as well for record purposes and was much more convenient to handle. True picture writing followed. The same law of economy led to each of the other steps from pictorial to alphabetic, and may be traced in the history of each kind and part. Every alphabet exhibits it. The history of writing is in brief a history of shorthand. It begins with the whole object or image, passes to the characteristic part, reduces this to the fewest possible strokes which retain likeness, conventionalizes these strokes, and then, giving up all pretense of likeness to the original symbol, and frankly mnemonic, it continues the process of abbreviation until the whole ox has become the letter "a" or perhaps a single dot in some system of stenography.
Object writing is not common in the phonetic stage, but even this is found, for example, in alphabetical flags for ship signaling. The actual historical evolution of writing seems to have been object, image-picture, ideogram. phonogram, syllable, consonant, letter. All of these stages have some echoes at least in the Bible, although even the syllabic stage seems to have been already passed at the time of Moses. The Hebrew Old Testament as a whole stands for the consonantal stage and the Greek New Testament for the complete alphabetic - still the climax of handwriting, unless the evolution of mathematical symbols, which is a very elaborate evolution of ideographic handwriting, is so regarded.
Although probably not even a single sentence of the Hebrew Bible was written in ideographic, picture, or object handwriting, many documents which are used or quoted by Biblical writers were written by these methods, and all of them are repeatedly implied. In a number of cases full exegesis requires a knowledge of their nature and history. A certain number of scholars now believe that the Pentateuch was originally written in cuneiform, after the analogy of the circumstances shown by the
1. Object Writing:
The most primitive writing was naturally pictorial object writing. When the hunter first brought home his quarry, this had in it most of the essential elements of modern handwriting. Those who remained at home read in the actual bodies the most essential record of the trip. When, further, the hunter brought back useless quarry to evidence his tale of prowess, the whole essence of handwriting was involved. This was whole-object record, but object abbreviations soon followed. Man early learned that skins represented whole animals (the determinative for "quadruped" in Egyptian is a hide), and that a reindeer's head or antlers, or any characteristic part, served the simple purpose of record just as well as the whole object, and this method of record survives in a modern hunting-lodge. The bounty on wolves' scalps and the expression "so many head of cattle" are similar survivals. In war, men returning hung the dead bodies of their enemies from the prows of their triumphal ships or from the walls of the city, and, in peace, from the gibbet, as object lessons. They soon learned, however, that a head would serve all practical purposes as well as a whole body, and the inhabitants of Borneo today practice their discovery. Then they discovered that a scalp was just as characteristic and more portable, and the scalp belt of the American Indian is the result. The ancient Egyptians counted the dead by "hands" carried away as trophies. Both objects and images tend thus to pass from the whole object to a characteristic part, then to the smallest characteristic part: from the tiger's carcass or stuffed tiger to the tiger's claw or its picture. The next or mnemonic step was taken when the simplest characteristic part was exchanged for a pebble, a twig, a notched stick, a knot, or any other object or image of an object which does not in itself suggest a tiger.
The pictorial object writing had an evolution of its own and reached a certain degree of complexity in elaborate personal adornment, in sympathetic magic, the medicine bag, the prayer stick, pillars, meteoric stones, etc., for worship, collections of liturgical objects, fetishes, votive offerings, trophies, etc.
It reached a still higher order of complexity when it passed into the mnemonic stage represented by the abacus, the knotted cord, the notched stick, the wampum, etc. The knotted cord may be recognized in the earliest hieroglyphic signs, is found still among primitive people, and its most famous example is the, Peruvian quipu. It still survives in the cardinal's hat and the custom of knotting a handkerchief for mnemonic purposes. It is found in the Bible in a peculiarly clear statement in the mnemonic "fringes" of Numbers 15:37-41 (compare Deuteronomy 22:12 ). The notched stick is equally old, as seen in the Australian message stick, and its best-known modern example is the tally of the British Exchequer. The abacus and the rosary are practically the lineal descendants of the pebble heap which has a concrete modern counterpart in the counting with pebbles by Italian shepherd boys. It is possible that the notched message stick has its echo in Judges 5:14 (military scribe's staff); Numbers 17:1-10 (Aaron's inscribed rod), and all scepters (rods of authority) and herald's wands.
2. Image Writing:
It was a very long step in the history of handwriting from object to image, from the trophy record to the trophy image record. The nature of this step may perhaps be seen in the account of the leopard-tooth necklace of an African chief described by Frobenius. In itself this was merely a complex trophy record - the tribal record of leopards slain. When, however, the chief took for his own necklace the actual trophy which some members of the tribe had won, while the hunter made a wooden model of the tooth which served him as trophy, this facsimile tooth became an image record. This same step from object to image is most familiar in the history of votive offerings, where the model is substituted for the object, the miniature model for the model, and finally a simple written inscription takes the place of the model. It is seen again in sympathetic magic when little wax or clay images are vicariously buried or drowned, standing for the person to be injured, and taking the place of sample parts, such as the lock of hair or nail-parings, etc., which are used in like manner by still more primitive peoples.
3. Picture Writing:
It was another long step in the evolution of symbols when it occurred to man that objects worn for record could be represented by paint upon the body. The origin of written characters is often sought in the practice of tattooing, but whatever truth there may be in this must be carried back one step, for it is generally agreed and must naturally have been the fact that body painting preceded tattooing, which is a device for making the record permanent. The transition from the object trophy to the image on the skin might easily have come from the object causing a pressure mark on the skin. There is good reason to believe that the wearing of trophies was the first use of record keeping.
It is of course not proved that body ornaments or body marks are the original of image writing or that trophies are the earliest writing, nor yet that models of trophies or votive offerings were the first step in image writing. It may be that the first images were natural objects recognized as resembling other objects. The Zuni Indians used for their chief fetishes natural rock forms. The first step may have been some slight modification of natural stone forms into greater resemblance, such as is suggested by the slightly modified sculptures of the French-Spanish caves. Or again the tracks of animals in clay may have suggested the artificial production of these tracks or other marks, and the development of pottery and pottery marks may have been the main line of evolution. The Chinese trace the origin of their symbols to bird tracks. Or again smear marks of earth or firebrand or blood may have suggested marks on stone, and the marked pebbles of the Pyrenean caves may have reference to this. Or yet again the marks on the animals in the Pyrenean caves may have been ownership marks and point back to a branding of marks or a primitive tattooing by scarification.
Whatever the exact point or motive for the image record may have been, and however the transition was made, the idea once established had an extensive development which is best illustrated by the picture writing of the American Indians, though perhaps to be found in the Bushmen drawings, petroglyphs, and picture writing the world over. It is almost historic in the Sumerian and the Egyptian, whose phonetic symbols are pictographic in origin at least and whose determinatives are true pictographs.
4. Mnemonic Writing:
The transition from pictorial to conventional or mnemonic takes place when the sign ceases to suggest the meaning directly, even after explanation. This happens in two ways: (1) when an object or image stands for something not directly related to that naturally suggested, e.g., when a stuffed fox stands for a certain man because it is his totem, or an ox's head stands for divinity or for the sound "a," or when the picture of a goose stands for "son" in the Egyptian because the sounds of the two words are the same; (2) when by the natural process of shorthanding the object or image has been reduced beyond the point of recognition. Historically, the letter a is ox (or goat?); actually it means a certain sound.
When this unrecognizable or conventional sign is intended to suggest a visual image it is called an ideogram, when an ear picture, a phonogram. Anybody looking casually over a lot of Egyptian hieroglyphics can pick out kings' names because of the oval line or cartouche in which they are enclosed. This cartouche is ideagraphic. On the other hand the pictures of a sun, two chicks, and a cerastes within the cartouche have nothing to do with any of these objects, but stand for the sounds
Both old Babylonian and Egyptian show signs of picture origin, but the earliest Babylonian is mainly ideographic, and both developed soon into the mixed stage of phonetic writing with determinatives.
5. Phonetic Writing:
Phonetic writing seems to have developed out of the fact that in all languages the same sound often has many different meanings. In English "goose" may mean the fowl or the tailor's goose. In Egyptian the sound sa or s , with a smooth breathing, means "goose" or "son," and the picture of a goose means either.
Whether the word-sign is an ideogram or a phonogram is a matter of psychology. Many modern readers even glimpse a word as a whole and jump to the visual image without thinking of sounds at all. To them it is an ideagram. Others, however, have to spell out the sounds, even moving their lips to correspond. To them as to the writer it is a phonogram. The same was true of the ancient picture or ideagraphic sign. The word-sign was ideagram or phonogram according to intention or to perception.
With the transition to syllabic writing, record became chiefly phonetic. The transition was made apparently by an entirely natural evolution from the practice of using the same word-sign for several different objects having the same sound, and it proceeded by the way of rebus, as shown in Mexican and Egyptian hieroglyphics.
Syllabic writing implies a symbol for every monosyllable. It was a great step therefore when it was discovered that the number of sounds was small and could be represented by individual symbols, as compound words could by syllable signs. At first only consonants were written. In the Semitic languages vowels were at first not written at all - possibly they were not even recognized, and one might use any vowel with a particular combination of consonants. However that may be, what many prefer to call consonantal writing seems to have existed for 2,000 years before the vowels were recognized and regularly introduced into the Phoenician alphabet. It is at this stage that alphabetic writing, as usually reckoned, began. See ALPHABET .
Phonetic consonantal writing has now been in use some 5,000 years and strict alphabetic writing some 3,000 years, almost to the exclusion of other forms. The characters in use today in several hundred alphabets are probably the historical descendants, with accumulation of slight changes through environment, of characters existing from near the beginning.
Alongside the development of the historic system of symbols, there has been, still within the field of alphabetic writing for the most part, a parallel line with multitudes of shorthand and cryptographic systems. An equally great multitude of code systems are in effect phonetic words or sentences and cryptographically or otherwise used for cable or telegraph, diplomatic letters, criminal correspondence and other secret purposes.
Roughly speaking, the ways of making symbols, apart from the selection of the ready-made, may be reduced to two which correspond to art in the round or in three dimensions and art in the flat or in two dimensions. The former appeals to eye or touch, affording a contrast by elevation or depression, while the latter produces the same effect by contrasting colors on a flat surface.
Written symbols in three dimensions are produced either by cutting or by pressure. In the case of hard material superfluous matter is removed by sculpture, engraving or die cutting. In the case of plastic or malleable material, it is modeled, molded, hammered or stamped into the required form. To the first form belongs the bulk of stone inscriptions, ancient metal inscriptions, scratched graffiti, wax tablets, etc., to the later clay tablets, votive figurines, seal impressions, hammered inscriptions, minted coins, also molded inscriptions, coins and medals, etc. Several of the Hebrew and Greek words for writing imply cutting (
Symbols in two dimensions are produced either by drawing or printing, both of which methods consist in the applying of some soft or liquid material to a material of a contrasting color or cutting from thin material and laying on. Drawing applies the material in a continuous or interrupted line of paint, charcoal, colored chalk, graphite, ink or other material. Its characteristic product is the manuscript. This laying on is implied, as some think (Blau, 151), in the commonest Hebrew word for writing (
Printing consists in laying the contrasting color on by means of stencil or pressure, forming symbols in two dimensions at one stroke. Perhaps the most primitive form of printing is that of the pintadoes, by which the savage impresses war paint or other ceremonial forms on his face and body. Branding also belongs in this class (Galatians 6:17 , figuratively; 3 Macc 2:19; branding on the forehead, Code of Hammurabi, section 127; branding a slave, Code of Hammurabi, sections 226, 227).
These processes of cutting, molding, drawing and printing roughly correspond with inscriptions, coins, medals, seals, manuscripts, and printed documents - epigraphy, numismatics, sigillography, chirography, typography.
The commonest instruments of ancient writing were the pen, brush and style. Other instruments are: the various tools for modeling, molds, stencils, dies, stamps, needles, engraving tools, compass, instruments for erasure, for the ruling of lines, vessels for ink or water, etc. Several of these are mentioned and others are implied in the Bible. The chisel which cuts and the stylus which scratches are both called stylus or simply the "iron" (the iron pen). The graving tool of Exodus 32:4 , the iron pen of Job 19:24 , the pen of Isaiah 8:1 , the pen of iron of Jeremiah 17:1 , and, with less reason, the pencil of Isaiah 44:13 , are all commonly interpreted as stilus or style, but they are sometimes at least cutting rather than scratching tools. References to wooden tablets also imply the style, and references to clay tablets either the style proper or a similar instrument for pressure marks. The point of a diamond in Jeremiah 17:1 , whether it is joined with the pen of iron or not, seems to refer to the use of corundum in the engraving of precious stones. The passages which refer to blotting out (see below) or writing on papyrus (see below) or refer to an ink-horn or ink (see respective articles) imply a pen or brush rather than style, and presumably the writing of the New Testament implied in general a reed pen. The wide house "painted with vermilion" ( Jeremiah 22:14 ) implies the brush, but there is no direct evidence of its use in writing in the Bible itself. The existing ostraca from Ahab's palace are, however, done with the brush. The pencil (
The Hebrew term translated "weight of lead" in Zechariah 5:8 , and "talent of lead" is precisely equivalent to the Greek term for the circular plate of lead (
Erasure or blotting out is called for in Numbers 5:23 , and often figuratively ( Exodus 32:32 , Exodus 32:33; Revelation 3:5 , etc.). If writing was on papyrus, this would call for the sponge rather than the penknife as an eraser, but the latter, which is used for erasure or for making reed pens, is referred to in Jeremiah 36:23 . For erasing waxed surfaces the blunt end of the style was used certainly as early as the New Testament times. Systematic erasure when vellum was scarce produced the palimpsest.
The materials used in writing include almost every imaginable substance, mineral, vegetable, and animal: gold, silver, copper, bronze, clay, marble, granite, precious gems, leaves, bark, wooden planks, many vegetable complexes, antlers, shoulder-blades, and all sorts of bones of animals, and especially skins. The commonest are stone, clay, metal, papyrus, paper and leather, including vellum, and all of these except paper are mentioned in the Bible. Paper too must be reckoned with in textual criticism, and it was its invention which, perhaps more even than the discovery of printing with movable type, made possible the enormous multiplication of copies of the Bible in recent times.
Whatever may be the fact as to the first material used for record purposes, the earliest actual records now existing in large quantities are chiefly on clay or stone, and, on the whole, clay records seem to antedate and surpass in quantity stone inscriptions for the earliest historical period. After making all allowances for differences in dating and accepting latest dates, there is an immense quantity of clay records written before 2500
Stones were used for record before image writing was invented - as cairns, pillars, pebbles, etc. Many of the early and primitive image records are on the walls of caves or on cliffs (Bushmen, American Indians, etc.). Sometimes these are sculptured, sometimes made by charcoal, paint, etc. The durability rather than the more extensive use of stone makes of these documents the richest source for our knowledge of ancient times. Besides natural stone objects, stone pillars, obelisks, statues, etc., stone-wall tablets, the sides of houses and other large or fixed surfaces, there are portable stone-chip ostraca and prepared tablets (tablets of stone, Exodus 24:12; Exodus 31:18 ). These latter might be written on both sides (Exodus 32:15 ). Job seems to refer to stone inscriptions (Job 19:24 ). The famous trilingual inscription of Behistun which gave Rawlinson the key to the Assyrian was on a cliff and refers to King Darius (Rawlinson, Life , 58 ff, 142 ff). Two of the most famous of stone inscriptions are the Rosetta Stone, which gave the key to the Egyptian hieroglyphics, and the Moabite Stone (W. H. Bennett, Moabite Stone , London 1911), and both have some bearing on Jewish history. An especially interesting and suggestive stone inscription is the Annals of Thutmose
Another form of record on stone is the engraving of gems, which is referred to in Exodus 28:9 , Exodus 28:11 , Exodus 28:21; Exodus 39:6 , Exodus 39:14 , etc., and possibly Zechariah 3:9 .
One of the commonest materials, on account of the ease of engraving, probably, is lead. Used more or less for inscriptions proper, it is also used for diplomatic records and even literary works. It was very commonly used for charms in all nations, and is referred to in Job (Job 19:24 ), where it perhaps more likely means a rock inscription filled with lead, rather than actual leaden tablets. For the text of Ps 80 on lead see Gardthausen, p. 26. Submergence curses were usually of lead, but that of Jeremiah 51:62 seems to have been of papyrus or paper (compare W. S. Fox in American Journal of Phil .,
Bronze was used for several centuries BC, at least for inscribed votive offerings, for public records set up in the treasuries of the temples and for portable tablets such as the military diplomas. In the time of the Maccabees public records were engraved on such tablets and set up in the temple at Jerusalem (1 Maccabees 14:27 ). There were doubtless many such at the time when Jesus Christ taught there.
5. Gold and Silver:
Gold and silver as writing material are most commonly and characteristically used in coins and medals. References to money, mostly silver money, are numerous in the Old Testament, but these are not certainly coins with alphabetic inscriptions. In New Testament times coins were so inscribed, and in one case at least the writing upon it is referred to - "Whose is this image and superscription?" (Matthew 22:20 ). The actual inscription and the actual form of its letters are known from extant specimens of the denarius of the period. See MONEY .
The use of the precious metals for ordinary inscriptional purposes was, however, frequent in antiquity, and the fact that rather few such inscriptions have survived is probably due to the value of the metal for other purposes. The Hittite treaty of Khetasar or Chattusil engraved on silver and sent to the king of Egypt, has long been known from the Egyptian monuments (translation in Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt , III, 165-74), and recently fragments of the Hittite version of this treaty have been discovered at Boghaz-keui (Winckler,
Silver, and more especially gold, have also been very extensively used for the laying on of contrasting colors, either furnishing the background or more often the material laid on. The history of chrysography is a long and full one (Gardthausen, I, 214-17; Blau, 13,159-63). The standard copy of the Old Testament at Jerusalem, which was loaned to Alexandria, was apparently in gold letters (Josephus, Ant. ,
Leaves of trees were early used for charms and writing. Some of the representations of writing on the Egyptian monuments show the goddess of writing inscribing the leaves of growing trees. Jewish tradition (
Bark also has often been used: both liber in Latin and "book" in English, according to some, are thought to refer to the bark of the lime or beech tree, and birch bark was a common writing material among the American Indians. It is in the form of wrought wood, staves, planks or tablets however, that wood was chiefly known in historical times. These wood tablets were used in all early periods and among all nations, especially for memorandum accounts and children's exercises. Sometimes the writing was directly on the wood, and sometimes on wood coated with wax or with chalk. See
Woven linen as a writing substance had some fame in antiquity ( libri lintei ), and many other fibers which have been used for woven or embroidered writing are, broadly speaking, of wood. So too, in fact, when linen or wood is pulped and made into paper, the material is still wood. Most modern writing and printing is thus on wood. See 10, below.
7. Bones and Skins:
Diogenes Laertius (vii. 174) tells that Cleanthes wrote on the shoulder-blades of oxen, but he was preceded by the cave-dwellers of the Neolithic age, who wrote on reindeer horns and bones of many kinds (Dechelette, Archeological Prehistory , 1908,125, 220-37, et passim ). Ivory has often been used and was a favorite material for tablets in classical times. The Septuagint translates "ivory work" of Song of Solomon 5:14 as "ivory tablets." Horns are given in late Hebrew (
The hides of living animals have served for branding, and living human skin for painting, branding and tattooing extensively in all lands and all times. The literature of ceremonial painting and tattooing is very extensive, and the branding of slaves was common in many lands. See
The use of skins prepared for writing on one side (leather) was early and general, dating back as far at least as the IVth Dynasty of Egypt. The Annals of Thutmose 3 in Palestine were written on rolls of leather. Its use was common also in Persia (Diodorus ii. 32; Herodotus v. 58; Strabo xv. 1), and it was a natural universal material. It has been much used by modern American Indians. It was the usual material of early Hebrew books, and the official copies at least of the Old Testament books seem always to have been written on this material (Blau, 14-16), and are so, indeed, even to the present day.
Vellum is simply a fine quality of leather prepared for writing on both sides. The autographs of the New Testament were most likely written on papyrus, rather than leather or vellum, but most of the earliest codices and all, until recent discoveries, were on this material, while very few of the long list of manuscripts on which the New Testament text is founded are on any other material. This material is referred to as parchment by Paul (2 Timothy 4:13 ). Almost every kind of skin (leather or vellum) has been used for writing, including snake skin and human skin. The palimpsest is secondhand or erased vellum, written upon again. See PARCHMENT; PARCHMENTS .
Papyrus was not only the chief of the vegetable materials of antiquity, but it has perhaps the longest record of characteristic general use of anything except stone. The papyrus was made from a reed cultivated chiefly in Egypt, but having a variety found also in Syria, according to Theophrastus. The papyrus reed grows in the marshes and in stagnant pools; is at best about the thickness of one's arm, and grows to the height of at most from 12 to 15 feet. It was probably a pool of these papyrus reeds ("flags") in which Moses was hidden (Exodus 3:3 ), and the ark of bulrushes was evidently a small boat or chest made from papyrus reeds, as many of the Egyptian boats were. These boats are referred to in Isaiah 18:2 .
Papyrus was made by slicing the reed and laying the pieces crosswise, moistening with sticky water, and pressing or pounding together. The breadth of the manufactured article varied from 5 inches, and under, to 9 1/4 in., or even to a foot or a foot and a half. The earliest Egyptian papyrus ran from 6 to 14 in. Egyptian papyri run to 80,90 and even 135 ft. in length, but the later papyri are generally from 1 to 10 ft. long. The use of papyrus dates from before 2700
Many Bible fragments important for textual criticism have been discovered in Egypt in late years. These, together with the light which other papyri throw on Hellenistic Greek and various paleographical and historical problems, make the study of papyri, which has been erected into an independent science, one of very great importance as to Biblical history and Biblical criticism (compare Mitteis u. Wilcken, Grundzuge ... d. Papyruskunde , Leipzig, 1912,2 volumes in 4). It has been argued from Jeremiah 36:23 that the book which the king cut up section by section and threw on the fire was papyrus. This argument is vigorously opposed by Blau (14, 15), but the fact of the use of papyrus seems to be confirmed by the tale that the Romans wrapped the Jewish school children in their study rolls and burned them (
The introduction of paper was from Western Asia, possibly in the 8th century, and it began to be used in Europe commonly from the 13th century. While few Western manuscripts of any importance are on paper, many of the Eastern are. It was the invention of paper, in large measure, which made possible the immense development in the multiplication of books, since the invention of printing, and the enormous number of Bibles now in existence.
Of the many materials used in order to lay one contrasting color on another, the flowing substances, paint and ink, are the most common. In general throughout antiquity the ink was dry ink and moistened when needed for writing. Quite early, however, the liquid inks were formed with the use of gall nut or acid, and many recipes and formulas used during the Middle Ages are preserved. See INK , INK-HORN . The reading of a palimpsest often depends on the kind of ink originally used and the possibility of reviving by reagents.
The best known ancient forms of written documents are the tablet or sheet, the roll, the diploma and the codex. These may be analyzed into one-face documents and many-faced documents - page documents and leaf documents. The roll, the diploma and the usual folding tablet or pleated document are forms of the one-page document, while the codex or bound book (English "volume") is the typical leaf document. The roll is the typical form of the Old Testament, the codex of the New Testament, extant manuscripts.
A book as regards its material form consists of a single limited surface suited for writing, or a succession of such surfaces. This single surface may be the face of a cliff or house wall, a broken piece of pottery, a leaf, a sheet of lead, papyrus, vellum or paper, a tablet of clay, stone or wood, a cylinder, prism, cone, pyramid, obelisk, statue or any one of the thousands of inscribed objects found among votive offerings. The typical form is the flat surface to which the term "tablet" or "sheet" is applied, and which is called "page" or "leaf" according as one or both surfaces are in mind.
These single flat leaves are characteristically quadrilateral, but may be of any shape (circular, oval, heart-shaped, etc.) or of any thickness, from the paper of an Oxford Bible or equally thin gold foil up to slabs of stone many inches thick.
When the document to be written is long and the sheet becomes too large for convenient handling, space may be gained by writing on both sides or by making still larger and either folding or rolling, on the one hand, or breaking or cutting up into a series of smaller sheets, on the other. This folding or rolling of the large sheet survives still in folded or rolled maps and the folded or rolled documents (diplomas) of medieval and modern archives. The use of the tablet series for long works instead of one overgrown tablet was early - quite likely as early as the time of actual writing on real "leaves."
These smaller tablets or sheets were at first, it would seem, kept together. by numbering (compare Dziatzko, Ant. Buchw ., 127), catchwords, tying in a bundle, or gathering in a small box ( capsa ). This has indeed its analogy with the mnemonic twig bundle of object writing. The Pentateuch gets its name from the five rolls in a box, jar, or basket (Blau, 65; Birt, Buchrolle , 22).
The next step in the evolution of book forms was taken when the various leaves or sheets were fastened to each other in succession, being strung, pasted or hinged together.
The stringing together is as early and primitive as the leopard-tooth trophy necklace of the African chief or the shell and tooth necklaces of quaternary Europe (Dechelette, Arch ., 208-9). It was perhaps used with annual tablets in the first dynasties of Egypt and is found in oriental palm-leaf books today.
1. The Roll:
The roll consists normally of a series of one-surface sheets pasted or sewed together. Even when made into a roll before writing upon, the fiction of individual tablets was maintained in the columns (
The roll form is rounded on the one-surface tablet, and, as a matter of fact, neither leather nor papyrus was well suited to take ink on the back; it developed from the sewing together of skins and the pasting together of sheets of papyrus. Although papyrus is found written on both sides, it is in general not the same document on the back, but the old has been destroyed and utilized as waste paper. This writing on both sides of the roll (opisthography) is referred to in Ezekiel 2:10 ( Revelation 5:1 ), where the roll is written within and without.
2. The Codex:
Wood and metal tablets, not being flexible, could not be rolled, but were hinged and became diptychs, triptychs, polyptychs. The typical method of hinging these tablets in Roman times was not the codex or modern book form proper, where all are hinged by the same edge, but a folding form based on a series of one-surface tablets hinged successively so as to form a chain (Gardthausen, Greek Palestine , I, 129, figure 12). They were strictly folding tablets, folding like an accordion, as in some Far Eastern manuscripts of recent times. The modern hinging was used but rarely.
It is commonly said that it was this folding or hinged wooden tablet which produced the codex of the Latins and the "book" of modern Germanic races. Some, however, prefer to trace the origin to the folded document. The wood or waxed tablet was commonly used in antiquity for letters, but even more commonly the sheet of papyrus or vellum. It is quite natural to fold such a sheet once to protect the writing. Whether this was suggested by the diptych, or vice versa, the form of a modern sheet of note paper was early introduced. Either the diptych or the folded single sheet may have suggested the codex.
Whether the first codices were wood and metal or papyrus and vellum, the hinging at one edge, which is the characteristic, is closely connected with the double-face (or multiple-face) tablet. With suitable material the simplest way of providing space, if the tablet is too small, is to turn over and finish on the back. The clay tablets lend themselves readily to writing on both sides, but not to hinging. It developed, however, to a certain degree the multiple-face idea by use of prisms, pyramids, hexagonal and other cylinders, but it was early forced into the numbered series of moderate-sized tablets.
Wood and metal tablets would be hinged, but the wood tablets were too bulky and metal tablets too heavy for long works, and the ring method of joining actually led away from the book to the pleated form. Papyrus and leather, however, while they might be used (as they were used) as single tablets were thin enough to allow of a long work in a single codex. They soon developed, therefore, perhaps through the folded sheet, into the codex proper and the modern bound book. The codex, as Thompson remarks, was destined to be the recipient of Christian literature, as the papyrus roll had been the basis of the pagan literature, and there is some evidence to show that the form was, historically, actually developed for the purposes of the Christian writings, and in papyrus, while the pagan papyri continued to be in roll form. Since the invention of the codex is placed at the end of the 1st century, and the earliest codices were especially the New Testament writings, there is a certain possibility that at least the historical introduction of the codex was in the New Testament books, and that its invention comes perhaps from combining the New Testament epistles on papyrus into a volume. In the West at least the roll is, however, the prevailing form of the New Testament until the 3or 4th centuries (Birt, Buchrolle, passim ).
The chief Hebrew words for the professional "writer" are
The two terms are often, however, used together as of parallel and distinct offices (2 Chronicles 26:11; 2 Chronicles 34:13 ). If any such distinction can be made, it would seem that the
Another kind of professional scribe was the
Still another word, rendered in the Revised Version (British and American) as "magicians," is rendered in its margin as "sacred scribe" (
Sayce argues from the name Kiriath-sepher that there was a university for scribes at this place, and according to 1 Chronicles (1 Chronicles 2:55 ) there were Kenite families of professional scribes at Jabez.
The professional scribe, writing as an amanuensis, is represented by Baruch (Jeremiah 36:4 ) and Tertius (Romans 16:22 ), and the calligraphist by Ezra (Ezra 7:6 ). In later times the scribe stood for the man of learning in general and especially for the lawyer.
It would seem that Moses expected that kings should write with their own hands (Deuteronomy 17:18; Deuteronomy 31:24 ), and the various letters of David (2 Samuel 11:15 ), Jezebel (1 Kings 21:9 ), the king of Aram (2 Kings 5:5 ), Jehu (2 Kings 10:2 ,
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Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. Entry for 'Writing'. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/isb/w/writing.html. 1915.