[Heb., seʹpher, book, scroll, letter, writing, document, register; Gr., biʹblos (the center or substance of the papyrus stem), bi·bliʹon, book, scroll].
An early “book” might be a tablet or a collection of tablets made of clay, stone, wax, wood covered with wax, metal, ivory, or perhaps even a group of potsherds (Greek, oʹstra·ka), and so forth. Handwritten scrolls (rolls) were formed of attached sheets of papyrus, parchment (skin of animals, such as sheep and goats) or the finer material vellum, made of the skin of young calves, and, still later, linen, linen paper, and so forth. Finally a book became a collection of consecutive handwritten or printed, folded sheets, strung, sewn, glued, stitched or otherwise fastened together to form a bound volume.
As to scrolls, usually only one side was written on (when on leather, the originally hairy side). The writing material was sometimes wound on a stick. The reader would begin reading at one end, holding the scroll in his left hand and winding it around the stick with his right hand (if reading Hebrew; reverse if reading Greek). If the record was lengthy, the roll might be wound on two sticks, with the middle part of the text visible when picked up to read. Hence the word “volume,” derived from the Latin word volvere, meaning “to roll,” and volumin, meaning a “roll.”
A common size for the sheets that were used in making scrolls was nine to eleven inches (23 to 28 centimeters) high and six to nine inches (15 to 23 centimeters) horizontally. A number of these sheets were joined together side by side with paste. However, the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah, of the first or second century B.C.E., was made of seventeen parchment strips averaging ten and five-sixteenth inches (26.2 centimeters) in height and varying in length from about ten inches (25.4 centimeters) to almost twenty-five inches (63.5 centimeters), totaling twenty-four feet and five-sixteenth inches (7.32 meters) in length in its present state of preservation. A common length of scroll in the time of Pliny (probably those on sale commercially) was twenty sheets. An Egyptian papyrus roll chronicling the reign of Ramses II, called the Harris Papyrus, is 133 feet (40.5 meters) in length. The gospel of Mark would have required a roll about nineteen feet (5.8 meters) long, Luke, about 31 or 32 feet (c. 9.4 to 9.7 meters).
The edges of the roll were trimmed, smoothed with pumice stone and colored, generally black. Dipping in cedar oil protected the scroll from insects. The writing was usually done on one side of the scroll unless there was more information than could be put on the inside. Then at times some writing might be on the outside or the reverse side. The visionary scrolls containing judgments that were seen by the prophets Ezekiel and Zechariah and the apostle John were written on both sides. This seems to indicate that the judgments were great, extensive and weighty.—Ezek. 2:10; Zech. 5:1-3; Rev. 5:1.
Important documents were sealed with a lump of clay or wax having the impression of the seal of the writer or maker, attached to the document by strings. The apostle John saw in vision a scroll with seven seals, handed by the one on the throne to the Lamb.—Rev. 5:1-7.
Earlier scrolls appear to have had up to four columns per page, while later ones generally contained one column. Jeremiah’s scroll consisted of “page-columns.” As three or four columns were read, King Jehoiakim cut that portion off the scroll and threw it into the fire. (Jer. 36:23) The seventeen strips of the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah contained fifty-four columns of text, each having from twenty-eight to thirty-two lines.
In the papyrus scrolls the sheets were made of two layers of papyrus at right angles to each other. The sheets were pasted together so that horizontal strips formed the inside surface of the scroll, presenting a smooth writing surface and a guide for level writing. The title on a small strip of papyrus was attached to the top edge, which could be easily read whether the roll stood on end or laid on a shelf. Parchment or vellum scrolls were often ruled to guide the pen of the writer. Such lines appear on the Isaiah scroll.—See PAPYRUS; WRITING.
The scroll form of book served the Israelites down to the period of the Christian congregation. The records in the ancient national archives of Israel and Judah as well as the inspired writings of Jehovah’s prophets, though sometimes called “books,” were actually in this scroll form.—1 Ki. 11:41; 14:19; Jer. 36:4, 6, 23.
Each synagogue, a development after the Babylonian exile, kept and utilized scrolls of the Sacred Scriptures, and there was public reading from them on every sabbath. (Acts 15:21) Jesus himself read from that type of scroll, probably one like the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah.—Luke 4:15-20.
It appears that Christians used mainly the roll or scroll form of book at least until about the end of the first century C.E. The apostle John wrote the Revelation about 96 C.E., and the book calls itself a scroll at chapter 22, verses 18 and 19. But the scroll form of book was very unwieldy. It would be hard to carry around several Bible books in scroll form. It would be even more inconvenient, in fact, practically impossible, to make quick reference to certain statements in a large scroll. The indications are that the Christians were quick to adopt the use of the codex or leaf-book, because they were interested in preaching the “good news” and consulted and pointed out many references in the Scriptures in their Bible study and preaching.
As to the fact that the Christians, if they did not invent the leaf-book, took the lead in the use of it, Professor E. J. Goodspeed in his book Christianity Goes to Press, pages 75, 76, says: “There were men in the early church keenly alive to the part publication was playing in the Graeco-Roman world, who, in their zeal to spread the Christian message over that world, seized upon all the techniques of publication, not just the old traditional threadbare ones, but the newest and most progressive ones, and made use of them to the full in their Christian propaganda. In doing this they began the use on any large scale of the leaf-book, now in universal use. Their gospel was not an esoteric, secret mystery, but something to be proclaimed upon the housetops, and they made it their business to carry into effect the old slogan of the prophets, ‘Publish good tidings.’ The writing of the individual gospels was a great matter, of course, but the collecting of them, together with their publication as a collection, was an altogether different act, and one of almost as much importance as the writing of some of them.”
Professor Goodspeed quotes from the presidential address of Professor Henry A. Sanders before the American Philological Association, in December of 1937, on the rise of the codex or leaf-book, saying: “By the end of the first century B.C. and still more in the first century A.D. codices were appearing in the book trade. For the Christian literature, codices were probably used from the first,” Based on this address of Professor Sanders, published in the University of Michigan Quarterly Review, 1938, page 109, Professor Goodspeed sets forth in his book (p. 71) a table comparing the findings of classical and of Christian works of the second, third and fourth centuries C.E., as to the number of fragments of roll-books and of codex or leaf-books found in each group:
Century Roll Codex Roll Codex
II 1? 4
III 291 20 9? 38
IV 26 49 6? 64
Of early Christians as publishers of books, Professor Goodspeed goes on to say (p. 78): “They were not only abreast of their times in such matters, they were in advance of them, and the publishers of the subsequent centuries have followed them.” He further states (p. 99): “It was the publication of the Bible that had stimulated the development of the leaf-book for literary purposes in the second century, and it was the publication of the Bible that stimulated the invention of printing.”
Professor Goodspeed ventures (p. 81): “The curious remark in II Tim. 4:13 ‘Bring . . . the books, especially the parchments,’ (the Greek words are biblia, membranas) makes one wonder whether the biblia does not mean the scrolls of Jewish scripture, and the membranai the newer leaf-books of Christian origin—the gospels and Paul. Professor Sanders’ argument strongly suggests that north of the Mediterranean, leaf-books were at first more likely to be made of parchment.”—See CODEX.
Because of the cost or scarcity of writing material, manuscripts were sometimes partially erased by scraping, sponging or removing by various preparations as much as possible of the original, and writing over it. With papyrus, sponging was done if the ink was fairly fresh; otherwise the old writing was crossed out, or the back of the material used for the writing surface. On some palimpsests, due to atmospheric action, and so forth, the original writing might appear clearly enough to be deciphered. A number of Bible manuscripts are among these, a notable one of which is the Codex Ephraemi, containing, under what was probably twelfth-century writing, a part of the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures in writing thought to be of the fifth century C.E.
OTHER BOOKS REFERRED TO IN THE BIBLE
A number of uninspired books are referred to in the Bible. Some were source material for inspired writers. Some appear to be journals compiled from state records. Among them are the following:
Book of the Wars of Jehovah
Quoted by Moses at Numbers 21:14, 15. This was undoubtedly a reliable record or history of the wars of God’s people. It may have begun with Abraham’s successful warfare against the four allied kings who captured Lot and his family.—Gen. 14:1-16.
Book of Jashar
This book is cited at Joshua 10:12, 13, which passage deals with the appeal of Joshua for the sun and the moon to stand still during his fight with the Amorites, and at 2 Samuel 1:18-27, setting forth a poem, called “The Bow,” a dirge over Saul and Jonathan. It is thought, therefore, that the book was a collection of poems, songs and other writings. They were undoubtedly of considerable historical interest and were widely circulated among the Hebrews.
Other historical writings
Several other uninspired historical writings are referred to in the books of Kings and Chronicles, one being the “book of the affairs of the days of the kings of Israel.” (1 Ki. 14:19; 2 Ki. 15:31) “The book of the affairs of the times of the kings of Judah” is its counterpart for the kings of the southern kingdom, starting with Solomon’s son Rehoboam and ending with Jehoiakim. It is referred to fifteen times. (1 Ki. 14:29; 2 Ki. 24:5) Another record of Solomon’s rule is mentioned at 1 Kings 11:41 as “the book of the affairs of Solomon.”
In compiling and writing Chronicles after the captivity, Ezra refers at least fourteen times to other sources, including the “Book of the Kings of Israel,” the “account of the affairs of the days of King David” and the “Book of the Kings of Judah and of Israel.” (1 Chron. 9:1; 27:24; 2 Chron. 16:11; 20:34; 24:27; 27:7; 33:18) Ezra also made reference to books by previous inspired writers. (1 Chron. 29:29; 2 Chron. 26:22; 32:32) Ezra notes that other prophets of Jehovah made written records that are not preserved in the inspired Holy Scriptures. (2 Chron. 9:29; 12:15; 13:22) A “book of the affairs of the times” is mentioned by Nehemiah. (Neh. 12:23) Persian governmental records are noted in the Bible. In these were included reports of services rendered to the king, such as Mordecai’s disclosure of an assassination plot.—Ezra 4:15; Esther 2:23; 6:1; 10:2.
The wise writer of Ecclesiastes warns against the endless procession of books that do not instill the fear of the true God and the keeping of his commandments. (Eccl. 12:12, 13) An example of such was found in Ephesus, where spiritism and demonism were rampant. After the preaching of the good news about Christ, the believers brought their books of magic and burned them publicly, the calculation of their price being perhaps $8,000.—Acts 19:19.
In Exodus 17:14 is Jehovah’s command to write his judgment against Amalek in “the book,” indicating that the writings of Moses, the first writings known to be inspired, were already under way in 1513 B.C.E.
Some other references to the Bible or parts of it are: “The book of the covenant,” apparently containing the legislation set out at Exodus 20:22 to 23:33 (Ex. 24:7); “Moses had finished writing the words of this law in a book” (now called the Pentateuch) (Deut. 31:24, 26); “the roll of the book,” the Hebrew Scriptures.—Heb. 10:7.