Tuesday, August 24, 2010

papyrus and parchment, leaf and roll

HT: Kelli Macqueen
The second chapter Harry Gamble's Books and Readers in the Early Church: A History of Early Christian Texts (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1995) offers a very interesting discussion of book formats in the ancient Mediterranean, including the properties and manufacturing processes of roll book (scrolls) and leaf books (codices) as well as the early Christian's distinct preference for the codex even while codices weren't really considered "books" but were more like Post-It Notes.

I especially liked Gamble's point of departure. After a brief introduction he notes the chasm between our perceptions of a book—what it is, what it does, how we handle it and its contents, what it's worth, etc.—and the ancients':
The modern book and its reader are removed from antiquity not only in time and culture but also by two major developments in the history of books: the change from the roll book (scroll) to the leaf book (codex), which transpired between the second and the fourth centuries, and the change from the handwritten to the printed book, which occurred in the fifteenth century. Ancient books, then, were fundamentally different from modern ones. (43; my emphasis)

More provocatively, Gamble argues that the early collection and distribution of Paul's letters (without the Pastoral Epistles) as a corpus led the early Christians to prefer codices well before their Jewish and Greco-Roman contemporaries made the switch. His argument is detailed and fascinating, if still fundamentally circumstantial.

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