OUR BIBLE & THE ANCIENT MANUSCRIPTS by SIR FREDERIC KENYON - formerly Director of the British Museum - © Sir F Kenyon 1895. First published Eyre & Spottiswoode 1895. - fourth edition 1939. - Prepared for katapi by Paul Ingram 2003.


HOME | ContentsThe Bible as a book | Canon & Text | Origin of Writing | Recent Discoveries of writing in Mesopotamia | Egypt | Hittite & Cretan | The Tell El-Amarna Letters | Early Hebrew writing | The Moabite Stone | The Serabit Inscriptions | Other proto-Hebraic writings | The Ras-Shamra Tablets | Forms of Books | Leather | Papyrus | Discoveries of Papyrus in Egypt | Biblical papyri | The Papyrus Codex | Vellum | Uncial | Miniscules | Extant MSS | >> |

The Bible as a Book.

THE foundation of all study of the Bible, with which the reader must acquaint himself if his study is to be securely based, is the knowledge of its history as a book. The English reader of the Bible knows that he is reading a translation of books written in other languages many centuries ago. If he wishes to assure himself of the claim which these books have on his consideration, he must know when and in what circumstances they were written, and how they have been handed down through the ages. He needs to be satisfied that he has the text of them substantially in a correct form. He is concerned, therefore, first with their production and transmission in their original languages, Hebrew and Greek, and next with their translation into the languages in which they have been made known to the inhabitants of these islands, which are Latin and English. It is this story, which the present volume aims at telling.

Canon and Text.

There are two main divisions of the story. There are first the questions how and when the books under consideration came into existence, and how and when they were marked off as possessing special authority. This is what is known as the history of the Canon (canon, a Greek word meaning primarily a rule, and thence, among other things, a list of books designated by order as authoritative). There is therefore a Canon of the Old Testament and a Canon of the New Testament, both of which will have to be briefly described. Next there is the question how these books, thus recognised as authoritative, have been handed down to us. This is known as the history of the Text; and again it is a different story for the Old and the New Testament respectively. Indeed, there is a marked contrast in respect of both Canon and Text between the two Testaments. In the case of the Old Testament the history of the formation of the Canon is obscure, while the history of the Text is comparatively simple; but in the case of the New Testament the history of the formation of the Canon is in most respects clear, while the history of the Text is involved and often obscure.

Origin of Writing.

There is, however, a preliminary inquiry which lies behind both the composition of the books and their transmission. This is the history of writing, without which these books could not have come down to us. The fundamental fact in the history of all ancient literature is the fact that before the invention of printing-
that is, until about the year 1450-
every copy of every book had to be separately written by hand. The whole history of ancient literature, including that of the Bible, is therefore conditioned first by the invention of writing, and next by the materials and forms of books in the various countries in which they were produced and circulated. 

Now here we have at once occasion to realise how greatly our knowledge has been increased by the many marvellous discoveries of our own age. We have learnt very much of late years with regard to the antiquity of writing. It is not long since it was commonly maintained that the books of the Pentateuch could not be based on contemporary records, much less be attributable to Moses himself, because writing was not known at that time. Eminent scholars in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, such as Wellhausen and Graf, held that writing was not known in Palestine before the time of the kings. Here archaeology has come to our assistance most decisively.

Recent Discoveries of Writing in Mesopotamia.

In Mesopotamia the excavations of American scholars at Nippur in 1888-1900 brought to light thousands of clay tablets, including many bearing literary texts (among them the Sumerian narrative of the Flood) which can be dated to about 2100 BCor earlier. To about the same time belong the tablets found by Sir Leonard Woolley at Ur, containing temple records and accounts in the most minute detail; while earlier tablets at Ur, and those found at Kish by the Oxford-Chicago expedition under Langdon, are said to go back to the middle of the fourth millennium or even earlier.


The evidence from the other side of Palestine is equally impressive. From Egypt we have actual manuscripts, written on papyrus, datable to about 2200-2000 BC, and containing texts which claim to have been written at a much earlier period. Probably the earliest of these are two ethical treatises, the Teaching of Kagemna and the Teaching of Ptah-Hetep, works of gnomic philosophy akin in character to the Proverbs of Solomon, which are attributed to about 3100 BCand 2880 BC respectively. There are also several copies of the great ritual work, the Book of the Dead, dating from the XVIIIth Dynasty (about 1580-1320 BC), which may be contemporary with Moses; while portions of the Book of the Dead existed many centuries earlier.

Hittite and Cretan.

Hittite and Cretan writings of the second millennium bc. have also been discovered by the German excavators at Boghaz-Keui in Asia Minor, by Sir Leonard Woolley at Atchana in Northern Syria, and by Sir Arthur Evans at Knossos in Crete.

The Tell el-Amarna Letters.

All round Palestine therefore we now have evidence, unknown to our fathers, of the free use of writing back to a time far earlier than that of Abraham. We can also bring new evidence from Syria and Palestine themselves. In the year 1887 an Egyptian woman found, amid the ruins of an ancient city about half-way between Thebes and Memphis, a collection of some 350 clay tablets inscribed with strange markings [The tablets are now mainly divided between Berlin and the British Museum.]. The city is now well known as Tell el-Amarna, the capital of the remarkable king Amenhotep IV, or Akhenaten, who made a vain attempt to revolutionise the religion of his country, and was the father-in-law of Tutankhamen, the discovery of whose tomb by Lord Carnarvon made such a sensation at the end of 1922. The tablets of Tell el-Amarna, however, raised an almost equal sensation among Oriental scholars; for here, in the middle of Egypt, were documents written not after the manner of the country, in the Egyptian language and upon papyrus, but engraved upon clay in the unmistakable cuneiform, or wedge-shaped script characteristic of Mesopotamia (see Plate II). Nor did their surprise lessen as the writings were deciphered and their meaning ascertained. For these tablets proved to be the official correspondence of Egyptian governors or vassal-princes, from various places in Palestine and Syria, with their overlord, the king of Egypt. Their date is about the year 1380 BC, which, according to the view now generally accepted, and which seems to be confirmed by the recent excavations at Jericho, is the period when Joshua and the Hebrews were overrunning southern Palestine [There have been two main views of the date of the Exodus, some scholars assigning it to the time of Amenhotep IV (1380-1362), and others to that of Merenptah (1233-1223), the successor of Rameses II. The excavations at Jericho, conducted by Professor J. Garstang for Sir Charles Marston in 1930-36, seem to show that Jericho was destroyed by violence early in the fourteenth century, and thus strongly support the earlier dating.], while the Hittites were conquering Damascus, and the Amorites were invading Phoenicia. Jerusalem, Lachish, Hazor, Megiddo, Gezer, are mentioned by name; and complaints are made of the assaults of the Habiru, who have been generally regarded as the Hebrews, though the identification is not accepted by all scholars.

Early Hebrew Writing.

In the Amarna tablets, therefore, we have actual documents written in Palestine about the time of Joshua.
They show that writing was then familiarly known and freely used, and consequently that historical records may easily have been composed and preserved from that period. They are, however, not in Hebrew or in any other dialect of Palestine, but in Babylonian, which was apparently the official medium of correspondence, even with Egypt, much as French has been in modern Europe.

The Moabite Stone.

For Hebrew writing it was until recently necessary to regard the celebrated Moabite Stone as the earliest known example. This is the famous monument on which Mesha, king of Moab, recorded his war with the kings of Israel and Judah about the year 890 BC. It was found by a German missionary, Herr Klein, in the possession of some Arabs in 1868. It was then perfect, but before it was acquired by M. Clermont-Ganneau for the Louvre the Arabs had broken it up, and large portions of it have never been recovered. Fortunately a paper squeeze had been taken of it before it was broken, and from this the text can be restored. This is written in what is known as the Semitic alphabet common to the Phoenicians, Aramaeans and Hebrews.
top | more about the Moabite Stone

The Serabit Inscriptions.

The earliest form of this alphabet appears to be that found in some inscriptions at the turquoise mines of Serabit, in the south of the peninsula of Sinai, first copied by Sir Flinders Petrie in 1904-5, and claimed as the ancestor of the Hebrew alphabet by Alan Gardiner in 1929, in the light of new copies made by Kirsopp Lake. These, which appear to be datable to the th Dynasty of Egypt (c. 2200-2000 BC.), are written in an alphabet derived from Egyptian hieroglyphs, which may well be the ancestor of the Phoenician, and therefore ultimately of the Greek alphabet. Several other recent discoveries help to close the gap between these proto-Phoenician signs and the inscription of Mesha.

Other Proto-Hebraic Writings.

A fragment of pottery found at Gezer in 1930, dating about 2000-1600 BC, bears three letters in characters similar to those of Sinai. In 1926 an inscription was found at Byblos, on the Syrian coast north of Beirut, on the sarcophagus of King Ahiram, which is generally considered to be not later than 1200 BC, and is certainly earlier than 1000 BC. Still more recently, in the excavations conducted for the Wellcome-Marston expedition at Tell Duweir (the ancient Lachish) by Mr. J. L. Starkey from 1932 to his lamented death at the hands of Arab murderers in January, 1938, several characters in this Sinaitic-Hebrew script have been found on pieces of pottery datable about the beginning of the thirteenth century BC. (Starkey's date is 1295-1262 BC). The exact dates and interpretation of these inscriptions are still matters of discussion among specialists, but the cumulative effect of their evidence is to assure us that writing was known and practised in Palestine, not only in Babylonian cuneiform but in the script from which Hebrew eventually developed, from the time when the Hebrews entered Palestine after the Exodus. [For fuller particulars see Sir C. Marston, The Bible Comes Alive (1937), p.171 ff.]

The Ras-Shamra Tablets.

Still more remarkable, for their bearing both on the history of writing in Syria and on the intellectual and religious background of the Hebrews, are the results of the excavations which have now for some years been proceeding at a place called Ras-Shamra, a site on the coast of north-west Syria, not far from Alexandretta. Here a chance discovery in 1929 led to excavations which were so fruitful that they have been carried on continuously since that date by M. Claude Schaeffer and his colleagues. The site was identified as that of the Phoenician city of Ugarit, a flourishing settlement from about the beginning of the second millennium BC. Among the ruins was found a building which had apparently been a library, containing quantities of clay tablets bearing cuneiform writing; and the liveliest interest was aroused when it became known, first, that this was not the ordinary Babylonian cuneiform, like the Tell el-Amarna letters, but was alphabetic in character; secondly, that the language was an archaic form of Hebrew; and, thirdly, and especially, that the texts included a number of literary and religious writings, among which occurred names familiar to us from the Old Testament. 

The decipherment and publication of the Ras-Shamra texts is still in progress, but the general results at present arrived at by the scholars who have worked at them (Schaeffer, Virolleaud, Dhorme, and others) are of the highest interest, both in themselves and for their bearing upon the ancient Hebrew records and religion. They may be briefly summarised as follows. The library of Ras-Shamra seems to have been, if not founded, at least considerably developed about the middle of the second millennium bc by a king of Ugarit named Nigmed, whose name appears on several of the tablets. It was housed in a building between the two great temples of Baal and Dagon. The writing is a cuneiform alphabetic script with twenty-nine characters. The exact relation of it to the Sinaitic and Phoenician scripts has still to be worked out. The language is Semitic, and can be fairly described as proto-Phoenician or proto-Hebrew. Many of the texts are non-literary, including Sumerian-Babylonian vocabularies, the former being the language of ancient literary texts, the latter the language of diplomacy (as in the Tell el-Amarna letters) and commerce.   Another dictionary is of Sumerian and an as yet undeciphered tongue. In addition, inscriptions in Egyptian, Hittite and Cypriot have been found, showing that Ugarit was a place where many languages met and were in use. Other texts are commercial, medical, legal, diplomatic and private. But by far the greater part of the library of Ugarit was composed of religious writings; and it is these that are of the greatest interest for our present purpose. No one can question their relationship with the early Hebrew religion. They are by no means identical; but it is clear that analogies existed between the beliefs and rites of the Canaanites and those of the Hebrews, and the names of the gods of the Philistines, the gods to whom the Israelites from time to time fell away, recur repeatedly. The supreme god at Ugarit was El, who rules over the other gods. His symbol is the bull. His home is in the "Fields of El" in the far west. His wife is Asherat, a sea-goddess. Next to these the most important god is Baal. Reference is also made to a great serpent with seven heads, whose name Lotan seems to be a contracted form of the Biblical Leviathan. The struggles between the gods, their downfalls and their uprisings, form a large part of this literature, as in Mesopotamia and in Egypt, and in singular contrast to the purer form of monotheism which was developed among the Hebrews. Of history there is little, though one group of tablets records a campaign against the Terachites, a name which recalls Terah, the father of Abraham. Altogether, no more remarkable discovery, for the light which it throws on the religion of the Canaanite peoples before the invasion of Joshua, has ever been made. We must not expect to find exact parallels with the Old Testament; but this Canaanite literature alike in its strong points (for it has much sincerity and beauty among its extravagances and its crudities) and in its weak shows us amid what surroundings the religion of Jehovah grew up and developed, and so helps us to appreciate the vast superiority which it achieved. [The best summary account of the Ras-Shamra discoveries is in M. Schaeffer's Schweich Lectures before the British Academy for 1936, published in this present year.]

Forms of Books.

We have now seen that, when the Hebrews left the land of Egypt, they left a land in which writing had been practised for hundreds of years; and when they entered Canaan under Joshua, they came to a land already possessing a literature and an alphabetic writing, available alike for secular and religious purposes. This has an intimate bearing on the origin and credibility of the books of the Old Testament; and the recent discoveries bearing on it have therefore been mentioned in some detail. It remains to examine the external form of the books which were used by the authors of the writings of the Old and the New Testament, and by the scribes who handed them down from their origin to the invention of printing. 

Many materials have been used by men in different parts of the world to receive writing-
stone, leaves, bark, wood, metals, linen, baked clay, potsherds-
but for the main transmission of the Scriptures three only are of prime importance-
namely, skins, papyrus and vellum. Of these, and especially of the last two, something must be said.


With regard to leather, we know that prepared skins were used as writing material from a very early date. In Egypt there are references to documents written on skins in the fourth millennium BC, and actual specimens are extant from about 2000 BC. Ctesias, the Greek historian of Persia, refers to royal chronicles written on leather, but does not specify their precise dates. They may include those to which reference is made in Ezra vi.1, 2 and Esther vi.1. Herodotus records that once, when papyrus was scarce, the Ionian Greeks used sheepskins and goatskins in its place; and he adds that many of the "barbarians" still did so in his day. More important for our present purpose is the traditional use of leather for the books of the Law in Hebrew. In the Talmud it is laid down that all copies of the Law must be written on skins, and in roll form. This rule still continues in force, and many examples of such leather rolls are in existence. A specimen is shown in Plate II.

The Talmud regulation no doubt represents a long-standing tradition, and it is therefore probable that the "rolls" from time to time referred to in the Bible were written on this material. In Ps.xl.7 and Ezek.ii.9 there is no decisive indication of material; but in Jer.xxxvi.23, where it is said that Jehoiakim used the scribe's scraping-knife to cut to pieces the roll of Jeremiah's prophecies, the use of such an instrument seems to show that the roll was of tougher material than papyrus. A knife was, in fact, part of the equipment of a scribe writing on leather or vellum, for the purpose of erasures, as we know from medieval pictures. Further, it is recorded that the copies of the Law, which were sent from Palestine to Egypt in the third century bc, for the purpose of the making of the Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek, were on skins. At what time papyrus came into general use in Palestine cannot be ascertained. What is certain is that for formal copies, intended for use in the synagogues, leather was the regular material, and it may be presumed that this goes back at least to the period of the prophets.


Far more widespread was the use of papyrus. The home of this material is Egypt. It was manufactured from the pith of the papyrus plant, which then grew plentifully in the Nile. The pith was cut into thin strips, which were laid down in two layers at right angles to one another, so that the fibres lay horizontally on one side and vertically on the other. The two layers were fastened together by pressure and glue, and in this way sheets were formed, which were then fastened together side by side, so as to form a roll. The height of the roll is limited by the length of the strips of pith; specimens exist which are as high as 15 inches, but about 10 inches [25.5cm] is more usual for works of literature. The length could vary according to taste and convenience; several Egyptian liturgical rolls exist of 50 feet [15m] and over, and one is known of 133 feet [40m]; but such rolls were too cumbrous for ordinary reading, and Greek literary rolls seldom, if ever, exceed 35 feet [10.5m]- a length which is sufficient for a single book of Thucydides or one of the longer Gospels, but not for more. A sample may be seen in Plate III, which contains some columns of an oration (otherwise unknown) by Hyperides, from a papyrus of the later part of the first century in the British Museum.

Papyrus was used in Egypt as far back as the third millennium, if not earlier. How early it was in use in Greece we cannot say. The evidence of Herodotus, quoted above, shows that by the middle of the fifth century BC. it was so well established that he cannot conceive a civilised people using anything else. We may therefore take it that at least from the sixth century onwards (and possibly much earlier) the papyrus roll was the regular material for book production in the Greek world. When, therefore, in the course of the third century BC, a demand arose among the Jews settled in Egypt after its conquest by Alexander for a translation of their Scriptures into Greek, it was on papyrus rolls that the translation was produced; and when the books of the New Testament were written, in the first century after Christ, papyrus must again have been the material. For our present purpose, therefore, papyrus is the material of first importance. 

Papyrus had many merits as a writing material, and for the best part of a thousand years, at least, it met the requirements of the Greek and Roman worlds. But from our point of view it lacked one very important quality, that of durability. Originally a material of about the same consistency as paper, it is destroyed by damp and, if kept dry, becomes very brittle with age. There is only one country where the soil is so dry that papyrus manuscripts buried in it have a chance of survival, and that is Egypt. [A very few sporadic discoveries of papyrus manuscripts have been made elsewhere, in southern Palestine and at Dura, on the Euphrates, where the climatic conditions are similar.] It is only comparatively recently, however, that this fact was discovered, and until then it could be said, with almost complete accuracy, that all manuscripts on papyrus had perished, and that works written in Greek or Latin could only have come down to us from the time when papyrus was superseded by the far more durable material known as vellum.
All copies, whether of the Scriptures or of works of classical literature, earlier than the first half of the fourth century after Christ were assumed to have perished. It is only within the last half-century that a flood of new light has come to us from Egypt.

Discoveries of Papyri in Egypt.

The first discovery of papyri in Egypt was made in 1778 [Some charred rolls of papyrus were found at Herculaneum in 1752, which had been buried by the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79, but it was not until their publication began in 1793 that it was known that they contained portions of the works of Epicurus and other philosophers.], when some natives in the province of the Fayum discovered a jar containing a little hoard of forty or fifty rolls. They could, however, find no market for them, and destroyed all except one, which was taken by a dealer as a curiosity. This turned out to be merely a list of labourers employed on irrigation works in AD191, and was published in 1788. During the next hundred years a few score of papyrus documents turned up, including a few of literary character: two or three portions of Homer, and (more important because new) portions of four lost speeches of Hyperides, the contemporary and rival of Demosthenes, and an ode by Alcman. The first discovery on a large scale was made in the Fayum in 1877, when a great mass of papyri was brought to light by natives, and was for the most part acquired by the Archduke Rainer of Austria for his library in Vienna. These, however, were mostly of late date and of non-literary character, and it was not until 1891 that the great era of papyrus discoveries began. In that year a number of fragments of papyrus, extracted by Professor Flinders Petrie from the cartonnage wrappings of mummies, were found to include a few portions of Plato and of a lost play of Euripides, with a number of non-literary documents, all of the third century bc; while a batch of rolls acquired by Dr. E. Wallis Budge for the British Museum proved to include the lost treatise by Aristotle on the Constitution of Athens, the lost poems of Herodas, a portion of a speech by Hyperides, and an unknown medical treatise, besides known works of Homer, Demosthenes and Isocrates. This fairly aroused public interest, and search in Egypt was actively pursued, with the result that now many thousands of papyrus documents are to be found in the great libraries of Europe and America, and among them several hundreds of literary texts, large and small, known and unknown.

Biblical Papyri.

For a long time, however, very few of these papyri contained any portion of the Scriptures. When the first edition of the present work was published, there was just one known, thirty-two leaves of a late (seventh century) papyrus book, said to have been found among the rubbish of an ancient convent at Thebes. Since then several more have from time to time come to light, culminating (for the present) in the discovery, quite recently, of considerable portions of manuscripts far earlier than any hitherto known. These will be described in their proper place in subsequent chapters. For the subject of our present chapter, all that is relevant is to state that the discoveries of the last few years, besides adding an earlier section to the record of the transmission of the Bible text, have also revealed a new feature in the history of the use of papyrus.

The Papyrus Codex.

Until recently, it was supposed that the roll form of book continued in use up to the time of the supersession of papyrus by vellum in the fourth century. It has now become clear that this is true only (and even there not wholly) of pagan literature, and that at any rate from the early part of the second century the Christian community was using the material in a different way-
that, namely, which is known as the codex form-
which is in fact our modern form of book with leaves arranged in quires or gatherings. To produce these, a sheet of papyrus, twice the size of the leaf required, was taken and folded in the middle. This produced the simplest form of quire, composed of two leaves or four pages; and a codex could be formed of a number of such quires sewn together. Or a number of such sheets, calculated to be sufficient for the whole of the text to be written, could be laid one on top of another, and the whole folded so as to produce a codex consisting of a single enormous quire. Examples are extant composed of as many as fifty-nine such sheets, or 118 leaves. This form must have been very inconvenient, and ultimately it was found that quires of about ten or twelve leaves was the more convenient form. Bible codices of all these types have been found in recent years, and will be described in Chapters V and VII below (see Plates VII, , I). The advantage of the codex form was that a much greater amount of matter could be included than was possible in a roll of normal length. We now have, as will be told in greater detail below, substantial portions of a codex containing the four Gospels and the Acts, written in the first half of the third century, another of the Pauline Epistles of about ad 200, another of the books of Numbers and Deuteronomy from the first half of the second century, a tiny scrap of St. John of the same date, and even a fragment of Deuteronomy from a roll of the second century before Christ. A great gap in the history of the transmission of the Bible text has thus been filled by the discoveries of the last seven years.


Until the discovery of papyri in Egypt, it was supposed that no actual copies of the Scriptures had survived previous to the date when vellum came into use as the predominant material for book-production. Vellum (or parchment) is a material prepared from the skins of cattle, sheep, goats or occasionally deer, and preferably from the young of these animals, and forms an exceedingly durable and handsome receptacle for writing. It is, in fact, a development and improvement of the use of skins. According to Pliny, quoting the earlier Roman writer Varro (first century BC), it was invented by Eumenes of Pergamum, at a time when Ptolemy of Egypt, jealous of a rival book-collector, laid an embargo on the export of papyrus. This implies a date between 197 and 182 BC, and probably does not mean that vellum had never been heard of before this date, but that it then temporarily came to the front as a material of book production. In point of fact, some documents on vellum were found in 1923 among the ruins of the Roman fortress of Dura on the Euphrates, which bear dates equivalent to 196-5 and 190-89 BC, showing that the material was then already in use at a place far distant from Pergamum. Apart, however, from the temporary needs of the Pergamum library, the use of vellum seems at first to have been in the form of note-books, for which purpose it competed with the wax tablet. Gradually it appears to have come into use for books, but from the point of view of the book trade it remained an inferior article to papyrus for works of literature throughout the first three centuries of the Christian era. 

Exactly how the change came about is not clear, but it is certain that in the course of the first half of the fourth century vellum definitely superseded papyrus as the material in use for the best books; and since this was also the time when the Emperor Constantine the Great adopted Christianity as the official religion of the Eastern Empire, the change had a decisive influence on the tradition of the Bible text. Eusebius records that when Constantine ordered fifty copies of the Scriptures for the churches in his new capital, Constantinople, they were to be on vellum; and a little later (about AD 350) we learn from Jerome that the papyrus volumes in the library at Caesarea, which had become damaged by use, were replaced by vellum copies. The acceptance of Christianity must have led to a great demand for copies of the Bible throughout the Empire; and though papyrus continued in use in its native home, Egypt, the remains that have come down to us after this period are fewer in number and inferior in quality.

Uncial MSS.

From this point, therefore, we must regard the fortunes of the Scriptures as committed to vellum; and it is precisely to this period that the earliest vellum manuscripts now extant belong. The Codex Vaticanus and the Codex Sinaiticus are both assigned to the first half of the fourth century. Both, when complete, contained both Old and New Testaments, in Greek, with some books which were not finally accepted as canonical; and, in spite of the recent discoveries of earlier papyrus copies of parts of some of the books, they remain the principal foundation of our modern texts of the Greek Bible. Of their textual character much will have to be said in later chapters. In appearance, as may be judged even from the reduced reproductions in Plates XV and XVII, they are extremely handsome volumes (especially the Sinaiticus), written in three or four columns to the page respectively, in capital letters separately formed. Subsequently an arrangement in two columns to the page was generally adopted as more convenient (see Plate XVI), and this style of writing, technically known as "uncial," [This term is derived from a phrase of Jerome's, in which he mentions (and condemns) books extravagantly written "in what they call uncial letters." The word probably means "inch-high "; but it is now universally used for all writing in what we call capital letters.] continued in use until the tenth century.


It was, however, a style more adapted for use at a lectern than for private reading; and in the ninth century a new style, known as "minuscule" or "cursive," was developed, which in a short time drove the more cumbrous uncial out of use. It was evolved from the style of writing then in use for non-literary purposes (as we now know from late documents on papyrus found in Egypt, containing accounts and other papers of the period after the Arab conquest of Egypt), and at its best it is an exceedingly beautiful form of script (see Plate XXI). In this script, in its various modifications, the Scriptures continued to be written until the invention of printing. Many such manuscripts are described below, for they form the main part of the materials for the history of the Bible text.

The Extant Manuscripts of the Bible.

The visitor to the British Museum may still see manuscripts that reproduce in external form the books of the Bible as they were first written. In one of the exhibition-cases he will see the great synagogue rolls of the Hebrew Scriptures, written on large and heavy skins, and wound round great wooden rollers, a weight too heavy to lift with comfort in the hand. Elsewhere he may see the copies for common use, written on ordinary vellum in the familiar book form. Among the earliest Greek manuscripts he will find delicate papyrus rolls, now spread out under glass for their protection, with their narrow columns of small writing, which may well represent that in which the Gospels and Epistles were first written down. In a special case he will see two of the earliest extant copies of the Greek Bible written in uncial letters upon fine vellum, the monument of a time when the Church was becoming prosperous under a Christian Empire, and now among the most valuable witnesses to the original text of the Bible that have been spared to us by the ravages of time. Elsewhere he will see copies written in the minuscule script which was the vehicle of literature throughout the later Middle Ages; and also copies of the translations of the Bible into other languages -
Syriac, Coptic, Latin, and ultimately English. A new room, for the special display of manuscripts and printed copies of the Bible, has recently (1938) been added to the Manuscript Department of the Museum.