Biblically speaking, the term “copyist” applies to a transcriber, or a person who made copies of written material, specifically of the Scriptures. The Hebrew word rendered “copyist” is so·pherʹ, which has to do with counting and recording. It has various meanings. It can denote a scribe (Jg 5:14) or a secretary. (Jer 36:32; Eze 9:2, 3) A scribe is either a public writer penning compositions dictated by various persons, a secretary, a copyist, or a teacher of the Law. However, the term “copyist” is especially apropos when applied to individuals who worked at copying the Law and other portions of the Holy Scriptures. Particularly identified as copyists are Shaphan, a certain Zadok, and the priest Ezra.—Jer 36:10; Ne 13:13; 12:26, 36.
The priest Ezra, who went from Babylon to Jerusalem with the Jewish remnant in the seventh year of Persian King Artaxerxes (468 B.C.E.), is identified as “a skilled copyist in the law of Moses” and as “a copyist of the words of the commandments of Jehovah and of his regulations toward Israel.” (Ezr 7:6, 7, 11) In his time the Jewish scribes first became prominent as a group of Scripture copyists. Thousands of Jews had remained in Babylon, and others had been scattered about because of migrations and for business purposes. Local assembly halls known as synagogues sprang up in various places, and for these, copyists had to make handwritten copies of Biblical manuscripts. They did so with great care.—See SCRIBE.
It was Ezra, the skillful priestly copyist, who read “the book of the law of Moses” to a congregation in restored Jerusalem. Competent explanation and instruction given by Ezra and his assistants on that occasion led to “great rejoicing” and rich blessings for the assembled people.—Ne 8.
The psalmist, his heart “astir with a goodly matter” concerning God’s Messianic King, said: “May my tongue be the stylus of a skilled copyist.” (Ps 45:1-5) His wish was that his tongue prove to be eloquent, a match for the exalted theme of his composition, which was inspired of God. Thus, the psalmist desired that his tongue function efficiently, like a stylus in the hand of a trained and skillful copyist, one with ability.