The Practical Codex
EVERY year millions upon millions of books are printed. In the Brooklyn, New York, printery of the Watchtower Society alone, over a million bound books are frequently produced each week. Books being so common today, it may be hard to imagine a time in human history when they were unknown. Yet that was the case for many centuries.
Not until after the passing of about four thousand years of human history did the codex or leaf-book, the forerunner of the modern book, come into common use. Before that, scrolls of papyrus or parchment served the purpose that books do today.
Scrolls had definite disadvantages not shared by the codex. To find a particular point in a concluding section of a scroll might require unrolling twenty, thirty or more feet of it. This may explain why quotations made by ancient secular writers from other sources are often very inaccurate. Instead of going to all the trouble of unrolling a scroll and trying to find the quotation, they likely recorded it from memory.
The codex was far more practical than the scroll. While a scroll of some 104 feet might be needed to contain the four Gospels, one compact codex could accommodate them all. Because the writing was on separate pages and not just on one long roll with numerous columns of writing, one could more readily find specific statements. A codex usually contained twice as much information as a scroll having the same amount of papyrus or parchment. This was so because scrolls ordinarily had writing on only one side, whereas the leaves of the codex had writing on both sides. So the codex was more economical than the scroll.
DEVELOPMENT OF THE CODEX
As to the development of the codex, the Latin word from which the term “codex” is drawn provides clues. It comes from the Latin caudex and originally meant a tree trunk. Later the term was applied to wooden tablets that were used for writing after being smeared over with wax. In time, individual tablets were bound together by cords or rings, and the assembled tablets came to be known as a codex.
Eventually the Romans began using parchment instead of wax-coated wood as writing material. Such parchment was called membranae, that is, “skin (prepared for writing).” By the first century C.E. membranae was evidently in common use. The apostle Paul, for example, requested that Timothy bring him “the scrolls, especially the parchments [Greek, mem·braʹnas].” With the change in writing material, the development of the codex progressed rapidly.—2 Tim. 4:13.
The early codices took various forms. One form of codex consisted of a large quire (signature or collection of sheets) that was sewn down the center fold. When this codex was closed, the center pages extended beyond the outer pages and therefore had to be trimmed. As a result, this codex had the objectionable feature of middle pages that were noticeably narrower than the outer pages.
The type of codex that gained popularity, however, was the multiple-quire codex. A quire of eight to ten leaves (four or five sheets folded in half) was found to be most convenient for binding. This arrangement kept variation of page size at a minimum. The sheets of each quire were sewn together before they were stacked and bound between the covers, to complete the codex. Modern books also consist of a group of signatures.
EARLY CHRISTIANS ADOPT THE CODEX
At least until about the end of the first century C.E. Christians used mainly scrolls. The apostle John referred to the book of Revelation, which he wrote about 96 C.E., as a “scroll.”—Rev. 22:18, 19.
Not long thereafter, Christians adopted the codex to preserve the writings making up the Christian Greek Scriptures. Archaeological findings suggest that early Christians were making more extensive use of the codex than other people. For example, scroll fragments of classical writings of the third century number 291. But there are only 20 codex fragments for the same period. As for Christian writings, codex fragments number 38 and scroll fragments perhaps 9.
There was good reason for the early Christians to adopt the use of the codex. Jesus Christ had commissioned his followers: “Make disciples of people of all the nations, . . . teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded you.” (Matt. 28:19, 20) In order to make and to teach disciples, Christians needed to use the Sacred Scriptures. The compact and convenient nature of the codex facilitated their teaching, making it easier to find appropriate passages of Scripture.
The pattern for using the Scriptures extensively in making and teaching disciples had been established in the first century C.E. Of the apostle Paul’s use of the Scriptures, Acts 17:2, 3 reports: “According to Paul’s custom he went inside to them, and for three sabbaths he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving by references that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead.” Also, the taught ones were commended for checking matters out in the Holy Scriptures. Thus we read: “Now the [Beroeans] were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with the greatest eagerness of mind, carefully examining the Scriptures daily as to whether these things were so.” (Acts 17:11) The codex was much easier to use in imitating these fine examples.
Just as the early Christians made wise use of the codex, Jehovah’s Christian witnesses in modern times have availed themselves of modern methods to spread the Kingdom message. Hence, the printed page is today playing a tremendous part in spreading God’s truth to the most distant parts of the earth.