From Roll to Codex

The first books were in the form of long, rolled manuscripts, made of papyrus. Beginning in the late first century CE these were replaced with a new format, called the codex, that resembled today’s modern bound book.


LATIN VULGATE GOSPELS

Italy, late 6th or early 7th century, 10 1/8 x 8 3/8 in. (25.7 x 21.3 cm), MS. Auct. D. 2. 14, fols. 79v–80r

This is one of the two earliest extant Gospelbooks known to have been used to spread Christianity in the British Isles. It is written in uncial, a script with rounded letterforms and no lower case found in early medieval Greek and Latin manuscripts. Of Italian origin, the codex reached England by the eighth century at the latest, as indicated by marginal notes in an Anglo-Saxon hand. These pages display Christ’s genealogy in Luke 3:21–4:1. Musical notations were added in the eleventh century for liturgical use.



THE FOUR GOSPELS IN SYRIAC

Probably 5th century, 11 5/8 x 8 1/4 in. (29.5 x 21 cm), MS. Dawkins 3, fols. 172b–173a

Syriac, an Aramaic dialect and major literary language, was widely spoken in the ancient Near East. The early translation of the New Testament into Syriac facilitated the spread of Christianity. By the fifth century the Peshitta, or “simple” version, became the official Syriac Bible, comprising the Hebrew Bible and New Testament. The manuscript is open to the Gospel of John, chapters 17–18. The red notations at bottom provide a concordance to corresponding sections in the other Gospels.



PART OF A ROTULUS, IN HEBREW

10th or early 11th century, found in the Cairo Genizah, 28 1/8 x 3 1/4 in. (71.4 x 8.3 cm), MS. Heb. a. 3, fol. 33b

The rotulus, a roll with text written from top to bottom, is a form taken by books before the invention of the codex. Long after codices replaced rolls, the format continued to be used for the copying of Hebrew liturgical compositions, as here. Jews, who seem to have adopted the codex late, made rotuli until at least the thirteenth century. The text on each side of this example is written in a different hand, as a rotulus was often reused.



FRAGMENT OF EARLY CODEX IN GREEK: BOOK 4(6) EZRA

Greco-Roman Egypt, 4th century CE, found at Oxyrhynchus, 4 x 3 in. (10.2 x 7.6 cm), MS. Gr. bib. g. 3(P)r,

The Book of Ezra is a Jewish apocalyptic text from the late first century CE. It survived through Christian transmission, translated into Greek from a lost Hebrew original. Erroneously attributed to Ezra the Scribe (fifth century BCE), it is composed of seven visions and deals with the theological implications of the destruction of the Temple. In the third century a Christian introduction and appendix were added to the book. This leaf fragment is the oldest surviving copy of this text in Greek and the oldest fragment of a parchment codex in the Bodleian collection.

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FRAGMENTS OF EARLY PAPYRUS CODEX IN GREEK: SCRIPTURE INTERPRETED BY PHILO OF ALEXANDRIA

Greco-Roman Egypt, 3rd century CE, found at Oxyrhynchus, 8 x 12 in. (20.3 x 30.5 cm), MS. Gr. class. c. 74(P) / 2

Philo (20 BCE–50 CE) was an Alexandrian Jewish biblical commentator. Writing in Greek (he knew no Hebrew), he developed a technique of allegorical interpretation of the Bible that influenced Christian scholars greatly. These papyrus fragments from an early Christian text include passages from Philo’s "De Ebrietate" (On Drunkenness), in which the author discusses the inebriating effects of ignorance, drawing upon biblical stories such as the drunkenness of Noah.



FRAGMENT OF A TORAH SCROLL

13th century?, found in the Cairo Genizah, 18 1/2 x 25 in. (47 x 63.5 cm), MS. Heb. a. 4, fol. 2a

While the codex was eventually adopted as a Hebrew book form, the Torah continues to be written in a scroll for synagogue use. This fragment features the text for Genesis 32:6–36:12.



FRAGMENT OF EARLY CODEX IN HEBREW: BOOK OF BEN SIRA (ECCLESIASTICUS)

10th century, found in the Cairo Genizah, 7 9/16 x 13 1/4 in. (19.2 x 33.7 cm), MS. Heb. e. 62, fols. 3[a], 6b

The Book of Ben Sira (also known as Ecclesiasticus) is a second-century BCE Hebrew text. It was excluded from the canonical Hebrew Bible and known only through Greek translation until these fragments were discovered in the late nineteenth century. The book guides the reader to ethical conduct and a love of wisdom, identified with the Torah. In the text at right the author cites biblical episodes whose outcome is due to divine intervention. On the left he urges the father of an unmarried daughter to safeguard her chastity.



MAIMONIDES, MISHNEH TORAH, AUTOGRAPH DRAFT

Egypt, c. 1180, found in the Cairo Genizah, 9 1/4 x 6 1/2 in. (23.5 x 16.5 cm), MS. Heb. d. 32, fols. 53b–54a

This is a draft of a portion of the Book of Civil Laws, a section of the "Mishneh Torah" of Maimonides (1135– 1204), written in his own hand. The philosopher and royal physician wrote his masterpiece on rabbinic law in Hebrew, whereas his earlier works had been composed in Judeo-Arabic (Arabic in Hebrew characters). Maimonides’s cursive Sephardic script is similar to contemporary Arabic script. The pages seen here deal with the laws of hiring (right) and the laws of borrowed and deposited things (left).