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Manuscript is derived from the Latin words manu, meaning hand, and scriptum, meaning written. Before the invention of the mechanical printing press in the fifteenth century, "books" of all sorts were written by hand - a slow and laborious process that resulted in them being unaffordable to most people. An example of their high cost is illustrated in The Bible when some repentant sorcerers burned their scrolls: "And a number of those who practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all; and they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver." (Acts 19:19 RSV). In that day, one piece of silver (i.e. a denarius) was a day's wage.

Ancient Scroll

The "paper" of ancient times was commonly papyrus, which was made from an Egyptian plant, a variety of sedge. Two sections, one placed horizontal, the other vertical, were pressed together and polished smooth. The ink was often charcoal based.

Papyrus was used in single sheet form for short works, but the sheets were also fastened together to form long rolls up to 30 feet long. By the second century AD writings began to be assembled in the "Codex" form, similar to modern books, with pages bound in a single volume.

Papyrus lacked durability, eventually becoming quite brittle, with resulting fragmentation of pages. It was also subject to natural decomposition when stored in damp or humid places.

By the fourth century the use of papyrus was largely replaced with vellum, a fine parchment made from the skin of a young animal, such as a calf or lamb. It was much more durable, and tended to remain relatively pliant over time.

Very little remains of the original books of the Bible. As earlier books wore out, they were carefully hand copied and re-copied, word by word, over and over, from generation to generation.

In the mid 1400's the invention of printing using movable type, by John Gutenberg of Germany, made it possible to produce copies of the Scriptures quickly and economically. Prior to that time, owning a personal copy of the Bible was out of reach for most people, often costing the equivalent of a year's wages.

Fact Finder: Did the apostle Paul have scrolls that he took with him during his travels?
2 Timothy 4:13
See also Paul's First Missionary Journey, Paul's Second Missionary Journey and Paul's Third Missionary Journey

This Week's Bible Quiz

What's the missing word? (Revised Standard Version)

1. "At the end of a hundred and fifty days the waters had abated; and in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, the ark came to rest upon the mountains of _______."

2. "The sons of Noah who went forth from the ark were _______, Ham, and Japheth."

3. "So Abram moved his tent, and came and dwelt by the oaks of Mamre, which are at _______"

4. "And Hagar bore Abram a son; and Abram called the name of his son, whom Hagar bore, _______."

5. "Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him, whom Sarah bore him, _______."

6. "Now _______ the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne to Jacob, went out to visit the women of the land"

7. "And Pharaoh said to _______, "Behold, I have set you over all the land of Egypt."

8. "And the child grew, and she brought him to Pharaoh's daughter, and he became her son; and she named him _______, for she said, "Because I drew him out of the water."

9. "And The Lord said to Moses, "See, I make you as God to Pharaoh; and _______ your brother shall be your prophet"

10. "On the third new moon after the people of Israel had gone forth out of the land of Egypt, on that day they came into the wilderness of _______."

For the answers to this May 1 2001 quiz, see the Bible Quiz Answers Page

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