1. Definition

2. Inward Writing

3. Outward Writing


1. Object Writing

2. Image Writing

3. Picture Writing

4. Mnemonic Writing

5. Phonetic Writing




1. Clay

2. Stone

3. Lead

4. Bronze

5. Gold and Silver

6. Wood

7. Bones and Skins

8. Vellum

9. Papyrus

10. Paper

11. Ink


1. The Roll

2. The Codex


1. Writers

2. The Writing Art


1. Mythological Origins

2. Earliest Use

3. Biblical History


I. General.

1. Definition:

Writing is the art of recording thought, and recording is the making of permanent symbols. Concept, expression and record are three states of the same work or word. Earliest mankind expressed itself by gesture or voice and recorded in memory, but at a very early stage man began to feel the need of objective aids to memory and the need of transmitting a message to a distance or of leaving such a message for the use of others when he should be away or dead. For these purposes, in the course of time, he has invented many symbols, made in various ways, out of every imaginable material. These symbols, fixed in some substance, inward or outward, are writing as distinguished from oral speech, gesture language, or other unrecording forms of expression. In the widest sense writing thus includes, not only penmanship or chirography, but epigraphy, typography, phonography, photography, cinematography, and many other kinds of writing as well as mnemonic object writing and inward writing.

Writing has to do primarily with the symbols, but as these symbols cannot exist without being in some substance, and as they are often modified as to their form by the materials of which they are made or the instrument used in making, the history of writing has to do, not only with the signs, symbols or characters themselves, but with the material out of which they are made and the instruments and methods by which they are made.

2. Inward Writing:

The fact that memory is a real record is well known in modern psychology, which talks much of inward speech and inward writing. By inward writing is commonly meant the inward image or counterpart of visual or tangible handwriting as distinguished from the inward records of the sound of words, but the term fairly belongs to all inward word records. Of these permanent records two chief classes may be distinguished: sense records, whether the sense impression was by eye, ear, finger-tip or muscle, and motor records or images formed in the mind with reference to the motion of the hand or other organs of expression. Both sense records and meter records include the counterparts of every imaginable kind of outward handwriting.

We meet this inward writing in the Bible in the writing upon the tablets of the heart (Pr 3:3; 7:3; Jer 17:1; 2Co 3:3), which is thus not a mere figure of speech but a proper description of that effort to fix in memory which some effect by means of sound symbols and some by the sight symbols of ordinary handwriting.

It has also its interesting and important bearing on questions of inspiration and revelation where the prophet "hears" a voice (Ex 19:19; Nu 7:89; Re 19:1,2) or "sees" a vision (2Ki 6:17; Isa 6; Am 7:1-9) or even sees handwriting (Re 17:5). This handwriting not only seems "real" but is real, whether caused by external sound or vision or internal human or superhuman action.

3. Outward Writing:

Outward writing includes many kinds of symbols produced in various ways in many kinds of material. The commonest kind is alphabetical handwriting with pen and ink on paper, but alphabetic symbols are not the only symbols, the hand is not the only means of producing symbols, the pen is not the only instrument, and ink and paper are far from being the only materials.

The ordinary ways of human expression are voice and gesture. Corresponding to these there is an oral writing and a gesture writing. For the recording of vocal sounds various methods have been invented: direct carving or molding in wax or other material, or translating into light vibrations and recording these by photograph or kymograph. Both phonographic and photographic records of sounds are strictly oral writing.

The record of gestures by making pictures of them forms a large fraction of primitive picture writing (e.g. the picture of a man with weapon poised to throw) and the modern cinematography of pantomime is simply a perfected form of this primitive picture writing.

Handwriting is simply hand gesture with a mechanical device for leaving a permanent record of its motion by a trail of ink or incision. In the evolution of expression the imitation of human action tends to reduce itself to sign language, where both arms and the whole body are used, and then to more and more conventionalized hand gesture. This hand gesture, refined, condensed and adapted to mechanical conditions, and provided with pencil, chisel, or pen and ink, is handwriting. Its nature is precisely analogous to that of the self-registering thermometer or kymograph.

Nearly all the great body of existing written documents, save for the relatively few modern phonographic, kymographic and other visible speech records, is handwritten, the symbols being produced, selected, arranged, or at least pointed out, by the hand. Even the so-called phonetic writing, as usually understood, is not sound record but consists of hand-gesture symbols for sounds.

II. The Symbols.

Among the many kinds of outward signs used in writing the best known are the so-called Phoenician alphabet and its many derivatives, including the usual modern alphabets. Other well-known varieties are the wedge system of Assyria and Babylonia, the hieroglyphic systems of Egypt and Mexico, the Chinese characters, stenographic systems, the Morse code, the Braille system, the abacus, the notched stick, the knotted cord, wampum and twig bundles. These, however, by no means exhaust the list of signs which have been used for record or message purposes; e.g. colored flags for signaling, pebbles, cairns, pillars, flowers, trees, fishes, insects, animals and parts of animals, human beings, and images of all these things, have all served as record symbols in writing.

The various symbols may be grouped as objects and images, each of these classes divided again into pictorial or representative signs and mnemonic or conventional signs, mnemonic signs again divided into ideographic and phonetic, and phonetic again into verbal, syllabic (consonantal), and alphabetic. This may be represented graphically as follows:


(1) Pictorial

(2) Conventional (Mnemonic)

(a) Ideographic (Eye Images)

(b) Phonetic (Ear Images)

(i) Verbal

(ii) Syllabic

(iii) Consonantal

(iv) Alphabetic


(1) Pictorial

(2) Conventional (Mnemonic)

(a) Ideographic

(b) Phonetic

(i) Verbal

(ii) Syllabic

(iii) Consonantal

(iv) Alphabetic

Objects may be whole objects (a man) or characteristic parts (human head, arm, leg) or samples (feather or piece of fur). The objects may be natural objects or artificial objects designed for another purpose (arrow), or objects designed especially to be used as writing symbols (colored flags). Images include images of all these objects and any imaginary images which may have been invented for writing purposes.

Pictorial or representative signs are distinguished from mnemonic or conventional signs by the fact that in themselves they suggest the thing meant, while the others require agreement beforehand as to what they shall mean. The fact, however, that the symbol is a picture of something does not make it pictorial or the writing picture writing. It is pictorial, not because it is a picture, but because it pictures something. The fact, e.g., that a certain symbol may be recognized as an ox does not make of this a pictograph. If it stands for or means an ox, it is a pictograph; if it stands for "divinity," it may be called an ideograph, or if it stands for the letter a it is phonetic, a phonogram.

The key to the evolution of writing symbols is to be found in a law of economy. Object writing undoubtedly came first, but man early learned that the image of an object would serve as well for record purposes and was much more convenient to handle. True picture writing followed. The same law of economy led to each of the other steps from pictorial to alphabetic, and may be traced in the history of each kind and part. Every alphabet exhibits it. The history of writing is in brief a history of shorthand. It begins with the whole object or image, passes to the characteristic part, reduces this to the fewest possible strokes which retain likeness, conventionalizes these strokes, and then, giving up all pretense of likeness to the original symbol, and frankly mnemonic, it continues the process of abbreviation until the whole ox has become the letter "a" or perhaps a single dot in some system of stenography.

Object writing is not common in the phonetic stage, but even this is found, for example, in alphabetical flags for ship signaling. The actual historical evolution of writing seems to have been object, image-picture, ideogram. phonogram, syllable, consonant, letter. All of these stages have some echoes at least in the Bible, although even the syllabic stage seems to have been already passed at the time of Moses. The Hebrew Old Testament as a whole stands for the consonantal stage and the Greek New Testament for the complete alphabetic--still the climax of handwriting, unless the evolution of mathematical symbols, which is a very elaborate evolution of ideographic handwriting, is so regarded.

Although probably not even a single sentence of the Hebrew Bible was written in ideographic, picture, or object handwriting, many documents which are used or quoted by Biblical writers were written by these methods, and all of them are repeatedly implied. In a number of cases full exegesis requires a knowledge of their nature and history. A certain number of scholars now believe that the Pentateuch was originally written in cuneiform, after the analogy of the circumstances shown by the Tell el-Amarna Letters. In this case of course there would still be traces both of the syllabic and ideographic, but theory is improbable.

1. Object Writing:

The most primitive writing was naturally pictorial object writing. When the hunter first brought home his quarry, this had in it most of the essential elements of modern handwriting. Those who remained at home read in the actual bodies the most essential record of the trip. When, further, the hunter brought back useless quarry to evidence his tale of prowess, the whole essence of handwriting was involved. This was whole-object record, but object abbreviations soon followed. Man early learned that skins represented whole animals (the determinative for "quadruped" in Egyptian is a hide), and that a reindeer's head or antlers, or any characteristic part, served the simple purpose of record just as well as the whole object, and this method of record survives in a modern hunting-lodge. The bounty on wolves' scalps and the expression "so many head of cattle" are similar survivals. In war, men returning hung the dead bodies of their enemies from the prows of their triumphal ships or from the walls of the city, and, in peace, from the gibbet, as object lessons. They soon learned, however, that a head would serve all practical purposes as well as a whole body, and the inhabitants of Borneo today practice their discovery. Then they discovered that a scalp was just as characteristic and more portable, and the scalp belt of the American Indian is the result. The ancient Egyptians counted the dead by "hands" carried away as trophies. Both objects and images tend thus to pass from the whole object to a characteristic part, then to the smallest characteristic part: from the tiger's carcass or stuffed tiger to the tiger's claw or its picture. The next or mnemonic step was taken when the simplest characteristic part was exchanged for a pebble, a twig, a notched stick, a knot, or any other object or image of an object which does not in itself suggest a tiger.

The pictorial object writing had an evolution of its own and reached a certain degree of complexity in elaborate personal adornment, in sympathetic magic, the medicine bag, the prayer stick, pillars, meteoric stones, etc., for worship, collections of liturgical objects, fetishes, votive offerings, trophies, etc.

It reached a still higher order of complexity when it passed into the mnemonic stage represented by the abacus, the knotted cord, the notched stick, the wampum, etc. The knotted cord may be recognized in the earliest hieroglyphic signs, is found still among primitive people, and its most famous example is the, Peruvian quipu. It still survives in the cardinal's hat and the custom of knotting a handkerchief for mnemonic purposes. It is found in the Bible in a peculiarly clear statement in the mnemonic "fringes" of Nu 15:37-41 (compare De 22:12). The notched stick is equally old, as seen in the Australian message stick, and its best-known modern example is the tally of the British Exchequer. The abacus and the rosary are practically the lineal descendants of the pebble heap which has a concrete modern counterpart in the counting with pebbles by Italian shepherd boys. It is possible that the notched message stick has its echo in Jud 5:14 (military scribe's staff); Nu 17:1-10 (Aaron's inscribed rod), and all scepters (rods of authority) and herald's wands.

2. Image Writing:

It was a very long step in the history of handwriting from object to image, from the trophy record to the trophy image record. The nature of this step may perhaps be seen in the account of the leopard-tooth necklace of an African chief described by Frobenius. In itself this was merely a complex trophy record--the tribal record of leopards slain. When, however, the chief took for his own necklace the actual trophy which some members of the tribe had won, while the hunter made a wooden model of the tooth which served him as trophy, this facsimile tooth became an image record. This same step from object to image is most familiar in the history of votive offerings, where the model is substituted for the object, the miniature model for the model, and finally a simple written inscription takes the place of the model. It is seen again in sympathetic magic when little wax or clay images are vicariously buried or drowned, standing for the person to be injured, and taking the place of sample parts, such as the lock of hair or nail-parings, etc., which are used in like manner by still more primitive peoples.

3. Picture Writing:

It was another long step in the evolution of symbols when it occurred to man that objects worn for record could be represented by paint upon the body. The origin of written characters is often sought in the practice of tattooing, but whatever truth there may be in this must be carried back one step, for it is generally agreed and must naturally have been the fact that body painting preceded tattooing, which is a device for making the record permanent. The transition from the object trophy to the image on the skin might easily have come from the object causing a pressure mark on the skin. There is good reason to believe that the wearing of trophies was the first use of record keeping.

It is of course not proved that body ornaments or body marks are the original of image writing or that trophies are the earliest writing, nor yet that models of trophies or votive offerings were the first step in image writing. It may be that the first images were natural objects recognized as resembling other objects. The Zuni Indians used for their chief fetishes natural rock forms. The first step may have been some slight modification of natural stone forms into greater resemblance, such as is suggested by the slightly modified sculptures of the French-Spanish caves. Or again the tracks of animals in clay may have suggested the artificial production of these tracks or other marks, and the development of pottery and pottery marks may have been the main line of evolution. The Chinese trace the origin of their symbols to bird tracks. Or again smear marks of earth or firebrand or blood may have suggested marks on stone, and the marked pebbles of the Pyrenean caves may have reference to this. Or yet again the marks on the animals in the Pyrenean caves may have been ownership marks and point back to a branding of marks or a primitive tattooing by scarification.

Whatever the exact point or motive for the image record may have been, and however the transition was made, the idea once established had an extensive development which is best illustrated by the picture writing of the American Indians, though perhaps to be found in the Bushmen drawings, petroglyphs, and picture writing the world over. It is almost historic in the Sumerian and the Egyptian, whose phonetic symbols are pictographic in origin at least and whose determinatives are true pictographs.

4. Mnemonic Writing:

The transition from pictorial to conventional or mnemonic takes place when the sign ceases to suggest the meaning directly, even after explanation. This happens in two ways: (1) when an object or image stands for something not directly related to that naturally suggested, e.g., when a stuffed fox stands for a certain man because it is his totem, or an ox's head stands for divinity or for the sound "a," or when the picture of a goose stands for "son" in the Egyptian because the sounds of the two words are the same; (2) when by the natural process of shorthanding the object or image has been reduced beyond the point of recognition. Historically, the letter a is ox (or goat?); actually it means a certain sound.

When this unrecognizable or conventional sign is intended to suggest a visual image it is called an ideogram, when an ear picture, a phonogram. Anybody looking casually over a lot of Egyptian hieroglyphics can pick out kings' names because of the oval line or cartouche in which they are enclosed. This cartouche is ideagraphic. On the other hand the pictures of a sun, two chicks, and a cerastes within the cartouche have nothing to do with any of these objects, but stand for the sounds kufu--who is the person commonly known as Cheops. This is phonetic. Both old Babylonian and Egyptian show signs of picture origin, but the earliest Babylonian is mainly ideographic, and both developed soon into the mixed stage of phonetic writing with determinatives.

5. Phonetic Writing:

Phonetic writing seems to have developed out of the fact that in all languages the same sound often has many different meanings. In English "goose" may mean the fowl or the tailor's goose. In Egyptian the sound "sa" or "s", with a smooth breathing, means "goose" or "son," and the picture of a goose means either.

Whether the word-sign is an ideogram or a phonogram is a matter of psychology. Many modern readers even glimpse a word as a whole and jump to the visual image without thinking of sounds at all. To them it is an ideagram. Others, however, have to spell out the sounds, even moving their lips to correspond. To them as to the writer it is a phonogram. The same was true of the ancient picture or ideagraphic sign. The word-sign was ideagram or phonogram according to intention or to perception.

With the transition to syllabic writing, record became chiefly phonetic. The transition was made apparently by an entirely natural evolution from the practice of using the same word-sign for several different objects having the same sound, and it proceeded by the way of rebus, as shown in Mexican and Egyptian hieroglyphics.

Syllabic writing implies a symbol for every monosyllable. It was a great step therefore when it was discovered that the number of sounds was small and could be represented by individual symbols, as compound words could by syllable signs. At first only consonants were written. In the Semitic languages vowels were at first not written at all--possibly they were not even recognized, and one might use any vowel with a particular combination of consonants. However that may be, what many prefer to call consonantal writing seems to have existed for 2,000 years before the vowels were recognized and regularly introduced into the Phoenician alphabet. It is at this stage that alphabetic writing, as usually reckoned, began.


Phonetic consonantal writing has now been in use some 5,000 years and strict alphabetic writing some 3,000 years, almost to the exclusion of other forms. The characters in use today in several hundred alphabets are probably the historical descendants, with accumulation of slight changes through environment, of characters existing from near the beginning.

Alongside the development of the historic system of symbols, there has been, still within the field of alphabetic writing for the most part, a parallel line with multitudes of shorthand and cryptographic systems. An equally great multitude of code systems are in effect phonetic words or sentences and cryptographically or otherwise used for cable or telegraph, diplomatic letters, criminal correspondence and other secret purposes.

III. Methods.

Roughly speaking, the ways of making symbols, apart from the selection of the ready-made, may be reduced to two which correspond to art in the round or in three dimensions and art in the flat or in two dimensions. The former appeals to eye or touch, affording a contrast by elevation or depression, while the latter produces the same effect by contrasting colors on a flat surface.

Written symbols in three dimensions are produced either by cutting or by pressure. In the case of hard material superfluous matter is removed by sculpture, engraving or die cutting. In the case of plastic or malleable material, it is modeled, molded, hammered or stamped into the required form. To the first form belongs the bulk of stone inscriptions, ancient metal inscriptions, scratched graffiti, wax tablets, etc., to the later clay tablets, votive figurines, seal impressions, hammered inscriptions, minted coins, also molded inscriptions, coins and medals, etc. Several of the Hebrew and Greek words for writing imply cutting (chaqaq, charaT, charash, etc.; grapho).

Symbols in two dimensions are produced either by drawing or printing, both of which methods consist in the applying of some soft or liquid material to a material of a contrasting color or cutting from thin material and laying on. Drawing applies the material in a continuous or interrupted line of paint, charcoal, colored chalk, graphite, ink or other material. Its characteristic product is the manuscript. This laying on is implied, as some think (Blau, 151), in the commonest Hebrew word for writing (kathabh). Tattooing (De 14:1; Le 19:28, etc.), embroidery (embroidered symbolic figures, Ex 28:33,34) and weaving belong in this class (embroidered words in Palestine Talmud 20a, quoted by Blau, 165).

Printing consists in laying the contrasting color on by means of stencil or pressure, forming symbols in two dimensions at one stroke. Perhaps the most primitive form of printing is that of the pintadoes, by which the savage impresses war paint or other ceremonial forms on his face and body. Branding also belongs in this class (Ga 6:17, figuratively; 3 Macc 2:19; branding on the forehead, Code of Hammurabi, section 127; branding a slave, Code of Hammurabi, sections 226, 227).

These processes of cutting, molding, drawing and printing roughly correspond with inscriptions, coins, medals, seals, manuscripts, and printed documents--epigraphy, numismatics, sigillography, chirography, typography.

IV. Instruments.

The commonest instruments of ancient writing were the pen, brush and style. Other instruments are: the various tools for modeling, molds, stencils, dies, stamps, needles, engraving tools, compass, instruments for erasure, for the ruling of lines, vessels for ink or water, etc. Several of these are mentioned and others are implied in the Bible. The chisel which cuts and the stylus which scratches are both called stylus or simply the "iron" (the iron pen). The graving tool of Ex 32:4, the iron pen of Job 19:24, the pen of Isa 8:1, the pen of iron of Jer 17:1, and, with less reason, the pencil of Isa 44:13, are all commonly interpreted as stilus or style, but they are sometimes at least cutting rather than scratching tools. References to wooden tablets also imply the style, and references to clay tablets either the style proper or a similar instrument for pressure marks. The point of a diamond in Jer 17:1, whether it is joined with the pen of iron or not, seems to refer to the use of corundum in the engraving of precious stones. The passages which refer to blotting out (see below) or writing on papyrus (see below) or refer to an ink-horn or ink (see respective articles) imply a pen or brush rather than style, and presumably the writing of the New Testament implied in general a reed pen. The wide house "painted with vermilion" (Jer 22:14) implies the brush, but there is no direct evidence of its use in writing in the Bible itself. The existing ostraca from Ahab's palace are, however, done with the brush. The pencil (seredh) mentioned in Isa 44:13 certainly means some instrument for shaping, but is variously translated as "line" (the King James Version), "red ochre" (Revised Version margin), and even "stilus," or "line-marking stilus" (paragraphis Aquila). The compass, often referred to in classical times, is found in Isa 44:13. The line ruler (paragraphis), referred to by Aquila (Isa 44:13), and the simple plummet as well were probably used, as in later times, for marking lines. The needle is referred to in late Hebrew and needlework in the Bible (see III, above). The ink-horn or water vessel for moistening the dry inks is implied in all papyrus or leather writing.


The Hebrew term translated "weight of lead" in Zec 5:8, and "talent of lead" is precisely equivalent to the Greek term for the circular plate of lead (kuklomolibdos) used for ruling lines, but something heavier than the ruling lead seems meant.

Erasure or blotting out is called for in Nu 5:23, and often figuratively (Ex 32:32,33; Re 3:5, etc.). If writing was on papyrus, this would call for the sponge rather than the penknife as an eraser, but the latter, which is used for erasure or for making reed pens, is referred to in Jer 36:23. For erasing waxed surfaces the blunt end of the style was used certainly as early as the New Testament times. Systematic erasure when vellum was scarce produced the palimpsest.

V. Materials.

The materials used in writing include almost every imaginable substance, mineral, vegetable, and animal: gold, silver, copper, bronze, clay, marble, granite, precious gems, leaves, bark, wooden planks, many vegetable complexes, antlers, shoulder-blades, and all sorts of bones of animals, and especially skins. The commonest are stone, clay, metal, papyrus, paper and leather, including vellum, and all of these except paper are mentioned in the Bible. Paper too must be reckoned with in textual criticism, and it was its invention which, perhaps more even than the discovery of printing with movable type, made possible the enormous multiplication of copies of the Bible in recent times.

1. Clay:

Whatever may be the fact as to the first material used for record purposes, the earliest actual records now existing in large quantities are chiefly on clay or stone, and, on the whole, clay records seem to antedate and surpass in quantity stone inscriptions for the earliest historical period. After making all allowances for differences in dating and accepting latest dates, there is an immense quantity of clay records written before 2500 BC and still existing. About 1400 or 1500 BC the clay tablet was in common use from Crete to the extreme East and all over Palestine, everywhere, in short, but Egypt and it seems perhaps to have been the material for foreign diplomatic communications, even in Egypt. Hundreds of thousands of these tablets have been dug up, and undoubtedly millions are in existence, dug or undug. These are chiefly of Mesopotamia. The most famous of these tablets were for a long time of the later period from the library of Ashurbanipal at Nineveh. See LIBRARY OF NINEVEH. Recently, however those from Tell el-Amarna in Egypt, Boghaz-keui in the Hittite country, and a few from Palestine itself vie with these in interest. Most of these tablets are written on both sides and in columns ruled in lines. They measure from an inch to a foot and a half in length and are about two-thirds as wide as they are long. Many of these tablets, the so-called "case tablets," are surrounded with another layer of clay with a docketing inscription. See TABLETS. Other clay forms are the potsherd ostraca; now being dug up in considerable quantities in Palestine Ezekiel (4:1) and perhaps Jeremiah (17:13) refer to this material.


2. Stone:

Stones were used for record before image writing was invented--as cairns, pillars, pebbles, etc. Many of the early and primitive image records are on the walls of caves or on cliffs (Bushmen, American Indians, etc.). Sometimes these are sculptured, sometimes made by charcoal, paint, etc. The durability rather than the more extensive use of stone makes of these documents the richest source for our knowledge of ancient times. Besides natural stone objects, stone pillars, obelisks, statues, etc., stone-wall tablets, the sides of houses and other large or fixed surfaces, there are portable stone-chip ostraca and prepared tablets (tablets of stone, Ex 24:12; 31:18). These latter might be written on both sides (Ex 32:15). Job seems to refer to stone inscriptions (19:24). The famous trilingual inscription of Behistun which gave Rawlinson the key to the Assyrian was on a cliff and refers to King Darius (Rawlinson, Life, 58 ff, 142 ff). Two of the most famous of stone inscriptions are the Rosetta Stone, which gave the key to the Egyptian hieroglyphics, and the Moabite Stone (W. H. Bennett, Moabite Stone, London 1911), and both have some bearing on Jewish history. An especially interesting and suggestive stone inscription is the Annals of Thutmose III of Egypt, about 1500 BC, inscribed on the walls of the temple at Karnak. This gives a long account of campaigns in Syria and Palestine (Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt, 163-217). The Siloam Inscription, and in general all the recently discovered inscriptions of Palestine, have their more or less important bearings on Biblical history (Lidzbarski, Handb. and Ephem.). Moses provided (De 27:2-8) for writing the Law on stone (or plaster), and Joshua executed the work (Jos 8:21,32).

Another form of record on stone is the engraving of gems, which is referred to in Ex 28:9,11,21; 39:6,14, etc., and possibly Zec 3:9.

3. Lead:

One of the commonest materials, on account of the ease of engraving, probably, is lead. Used more or less for inscriptions proper, it is also used for diplomatic records and even literary works. It was very commonly used for charms in all nations, and is referred to in Job (19:24), where it perhaps more likely means a rock inscription filled with lead, rather than actual leaden tablets. For the text of Ps 80 on lead see Gardthausen, p. 26. Submergence curses were usually of lead, but that of Jer 51:62 seems to have been of papyrus or paper (compare W. S. Fox in American Journal of Phil., XXXIII, 1912, 303-4).

4. Bronze:

Bronze was used for several centuries BC, at least for inscribed votive offerings, for public records set up in the treasuries of the temples and for portable tablets such as the military diplomas. In the time of the Maccabees public records were engraved on such tablets and set up in the temple at Jerusalem (1 Macc 14:27). There were doubtless many such at the time when Jesus Christ taught there.

5. Gold and Silver:

Gold and silver as writing material are most commonly and characteristically used in coins and medals. References to money, mostly silver money, are numerous in the Old Testament, but these are not certainly coins with alphabetic inscriptions. In New Testament times coins were so inscribed, and in one case at least the writing upon it is referred to--"Whose is this image and superscription?" (Mt 22:20). The actual inscription and the actual form of its letters are known from extant specimens of the denarius of the period.


The use of the precious metals for ordinary inscriptional purposes was, however, frequent in antiquity, and the fact that rather few such inscriptions have survived is probably due to the value of the metal for other purposes. The Hittite treaty of Khetasar or Chattusil engraved on silver and sent to the king of Egypt, has long been known from the Egyptian monuments (translation in Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt, III, 165-74), and recently fragments of the Hittite version of this treaty have been discovered at Boghaz-keui (Winckler, MDOG, XXXV, 12 ff). This has very close relations to Biblical history, whether it was made before or after the Exodus. The famous Orphic gold tablets (Harrison, "Orphic Tablets," in Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion, 573-600, 660-74) have a bearing on a comparative study of Biblical doctrine. Direct reference to engraving on gold is found in the account of the inscription on the high priest's miter (Ex 28:36). Writing on the horns of the altar is referred to in Jer 17:1, and these horns too were of gold (Ex 30:3). Queen Helena of Adiabene is said to have presented an inscribed gold tablet to the temple at Jerusalem (Blau, 67). The golden shrines of Ptolemy V--with their inscribed golden phylacteries--are mentioned on the Rosetta Stone.

Silver, and more especially gold, have also been very extensively used for the laying on of contrasting colors, either furnishing the background or more often the material laid on. The history of chrysography is a long and full one (Gardthausen, I, 214-17; Blau, 13, 159-63). The standard copy of the Old Testament at Jerusalem, which was loaned to Alexandria, was apparently in gold letters (Josephus, Ant, XII, ii, 10) (see SEPTUAGINT), and many of the famous Biblical manuscripts of the Middle Ages were written wholly or in part with gold, either laid on as gold leaf or dissolved and used as an ink or paint (Gardthausen, 216).

6. Wood:

Leaves of trees were early used for charms and writing. Some of the representations of writing on the Egyptian monuments show the goddess of writing inscribing the leaves of growing trees. Jewish tradition (Tosephta' Gittin 2 3-5; Mishna, Gittin 2 3, etc., quoted by Blau, 16) names many kinds of leaves on which a bill of divorcement (De 24:1,3) might or might not be written. Reference to the use of leaves is found in early Greek, Latin, and Arabic sources--and they are still used in the East.

Bark also has often been used: both liber in Latin and "book" in English, according to some, are thought to refer to the bark of the lime or beech tree, and birch bark was a common writing material among the American Indians. It is in the form of wrought wood, staves, planks or tablets however, that wood was chiefly known in historical times. These wood tablets were used in all early periods and among all nations, especially for memorandum accounts and children's exercises. Sometimes the writing was directly on the wood, and sometimes on wood coated with wax or with chalk. See TABLETS. Writing on staves is referred to in Nu 17:2. Mr 15:26 seems perhaps to imply that the "superscription" of the cross was on wood, unless Joh 19:19 contradicts this.

Woven linen as a writing substance had some fame in antiquity (libri lintei), and many other fibers which have been used for woven or embroidered writing are, broadly speaking, of wood. So too, in fact, when linen or wood is pulped and made into paper, the material is still wood. Most modern writing and printing is thus on wood. See 10, below.

7. Bones and Skins:

Diogenes Laertius (vii.174) tells that Cleanthes wrote on the shoulder-blades of oxen, but he was preceded by the cave-dwellers of the Neolithic age, who wrote on reindeer horns and bones of many kinds (Dechelette, Archeological Prehistory, 1908, 125, 220-37, et passim). Ivory has often been used and was a favorite material for tablets in classical times. The Septuagint translates "ivory work" of So 5:14 as "ivory tablets." Horns are given in late Hebrew (Tosephta', quoted by Blau, 16) as a possible material for writing. They have been used at all times and are well illustrated in modern times by the inscribed powder horns.

The hides of living animals have served for branding, and living human skin for painting, branding and tattooing extensively in all lands and all times. The literature of ceremonial painting and tattooing is very extensive, and the branding of slaves was common in many lands.


The use of skins prepared for writing on one side (leather) was early and general, dating back as far at least as the IVth Dynasty of Egypt. The Annals of Thutmose III in Palestine were written on rolls of leather. Its use was common also in Persia (Diodorus ii.32; Herodotus v.58; Strabo xv.1), and it was a natural universal material. It has been much used by modern American Indians. It was the usual material of early Hebrew books, and the official copies at least of the Old Testament books seem always to have been written on this material (Blau, 14-16), and are so, indeed, even to the present day.

8. Vellum:

Vellum is simply a fine quality of leather prepared for writing on both sides. The autographs of the New Testament were most likely written on papyrus, rather than leather or vellum, but most of the earliest codices and all, until recent discoveries, were on this material, while very few of the long list of manuscripts on which the New Testament text is founded are on any other material. This material is referred to as parchment by Paul (2Ti 4:13). Almost every kind of skin (leather or vellum) has been used for writing, including snake skin and human skin. The palimpsest is secondhand or erased vellum, written upon again.


9. Papyrus:

Papyrus was not only the chief of the vegetable materials of antiquity, but it has perhaps the longest record of characteristic general use of anything except stone. The papyrus was made from a reed cultivated chiefly in Egypt, but having a variety found also in Syria, according to Theophrastus. The papyrus reed grows in the marshes and in stagnant pools; is at best about the thickness of one's arm, and grows to the height of at most from 12 to 15 feet. It was probably a pool of these papyrus reeds ("flags") in which Moses was hidden (Ex 3:3), and the ark of bulrushes was evidently a small boat or chest made from papyrus reeds, as many of the Egyptian boats were. These boats are referred to in Isa 18:2.

Papyrus was made by slicing the reed and laying the pieces crosswise, moistening with sticky water, and pressing or pounding together. The breadth of the manufactured article varied from 5 inches, and under, to 9 1/4 in., or even to a foot or a foot and a half. The earliest Egyptian papyrus ran from 6 to 14 in. Egyptian papyri run to 80, 90 and even 135 ft. in length, but the later papyri are generally from 1 to 10 ft. long. The use of papyrus dates from before 2700 BC at latest.

Many Bible fragments important for textual criticism have been discovered in Egypt in late years. These, together with the light which other papyri throw on Hellenistic Greek and various paleographical and historical problems, make the study of papyri, which has been erected into an independent science, one of very great importance as to Biblical history and Biblical criticism (compare Mitteis u. Wilcken, Grundzuge .... d. Papyruskunde, Leipzig, 1912, 2 volumes in 4). It has been argued from Jer 36:23 that the book which the king cut up section by section and threw on the fire was papyrus. This argument is vigorously opposed by Blau (14, 15), but the fact of the use of papyrus seems to be confirmed by the tale that the Romans wrapped the Jewish school children in their study rolls and burned them (Ta`anith 69a, quoted by Blau, 41). Leather would have been poor burning material in either case. Certainly "papyrus" is freely used by the Septuagint translators and the word biblion is (correctly) translated by Jerome (Tobit 7:14) by charta. It is referred to in 2 Joh 1:12, "paper and ink," as the natural material for letter-writing.


10. Paper:

The introduction of paper was from Western Asia, possibly in the 8th century, and it began to be used in Europe commonly from the 13th century. While few Western manuscripts of any importance are on paper, many of the Eastern are. It was the invention of paper, in large measure, which made possible the immense development in the multiplication of books, since the invention of printing, and the enormous number of Bibles now in existence.

11. Ink:

Of the many materials used in order to lay one contrasting color on another, the flowing substances, paint and ink, are the most common. In general throughout antiquity the ink was dry ink and moistened when needed for writing. Quite early, however, the liquid inks were formed with the use of gall nut or acid, and many recipes and formulas used during the Middle Ages are preserved. See INK, INK-HORN. The reading of a palimpsest often depends on the kind of ink originally used and the possibility of reviving by reagents.

VI. Forms.

The best known ancient forms of written documents are the tablet or sheet, the roll, the diploma and the codex. These may be analyzed into one-face documents and many-faced documents--page documents and leaf documents. The roll, the diploma and the usual folding tablet or pleated document are forms of the one-page document, while the codex or bound book (English "volume") is the typical leaf document. The roll is the typical form of the Old Testament, the codex of the New Testament, extant manuscripts.

A book as regards its material form consists of a single limited surface suited for writing, or a succession of such surfaces. This single surface may be the face of a cliff or house wall, a broken piece of pottery, a leaf, a sheet of lead, papyrus, vellum or paper, a tablet of clay, stone or wood, a cylinder, prism, cone, pyramid, obelisk, statue or any one of the thousands of inscribed objects found among votive offerings. The typical form is the flat surface to which the term "tablet" or "sheet" is applied, and which is called "page" or "leaf" according as one or both surfaces are in mind.

These single flat leaves are characteristically quadrilateral, but may be of any shape (circular, oval, heart-shaped, etc.) or of any thickness, from the paper of an Oxford Bible or equally thin gold foil up to slabs of stone many inches thick.

When the document to be written is long and the sheet becomes too large for convenient handling, space may be gained by writing on both sides or by making still larger and either folding or rolling, on the one hand, or breaking or cutting up into a series of smaller sheets, on the other. This folding or rolling of the large sheet survives still in folded or rolled maps and the folded or rolled documents (diplomas) of medieval and modern archives. The use of the tablet series for long works instead of one overgrown tablet was early--quite likely as early as the time of actual writing on real "leaves."

These smaller tablets or sheets were at first, it would seem, kept together. by numbering (compare Dziatzko, Ant. Buchw., 127), catchwords, tying in a bundle, or gathering in a small box (capsa). This has indeed its analogy with the mnemonic twig bundle of object writing. The Pentateuch gets its name from the five rolls in a box, jar, or basket (Blau, 65; Birt, Buchrolle, 22).

The next step in the evolution of book forms was taken when the various leaves or sheets were fastened to each other in succession, being strung, pasted or hinged together.

The stringing together is as early and primitive as the leopard-tooth trophy necklace of the African chief or the shell and tooth necklaces of quaternary Europe (Dechelette, Arch., 208-9). It was perhaps used with annual tablets in the first dynasties of Egypt and is found in oriental palm-leaf books today.

1. The Roll:

The roll consists normally of a series of one-surface sheets pasted or sewed together. Even when made into a roll before writing upon, the fiction of individual tablets was maintained in the columns (deleths, Jer 36:23 = "doors"). It was the typical book form of antiquity. It was commonly of leather, vellum, papyrus, and sometimes of linen, It might rarely be as much as 135 ft. long X 1 1/2 ft. wide for papyrus, and leather rolls might be wider still. It was the form traditionally used by the Hebrews, and was undoubtedly the form used by our Lord in the synagogue. It is still used in the synagogue. It was possibly the form in which the New Testament books also were written, but this is much more doubtful.

The roll form is rounded on the one-surface tablet, and, as a matter of fact, neither leather nor papyrus was well suited to take ink on the back; it developed from the sewing together of skins and the pasting together of sheets of papyrus. Although papyrus is found written on both sides, it is in general not the same document on the back, but the old has been destroyed and utilized as waste paper. This writing on both sides of the roll (opisthography) is referred to in Eze 2:10 (Re 5:1), where the roll is written within and without.

2. The Codex:

Wood and metal tablets, not being flexible, could not be rolled, but were hinged and became diptychs, triptychs, polyptychs. The typical method of hinging these tablets in Roman times was not the codex or modern book form proper, where all are hinged by the same edge, but a folding form based on a series of one-surface tablets hinged successively so as to form a chain (Gardthausen, Greek Palestine, I, 129, figure 12). They were strictly folding tablets, folding like an accordion, as in some Far Eastern manuscripts of recent times. The modern hinging was used but rarely.

It is commonly said that it was this folding or hinged wooden tablet which produced the codex of the Latins and the "book" of modern Germanic races. Some, however, prefer to trace the origin to the folded document. The wood or waxed tablet was commonly used in antiquity for letters, but even more commonly the sheet of papyrus or vellum. It is quite natural to fold such a sheet once to protect the writing. Whether this was suggested by the diptych, or vice versa, the form of a modern sheet of note paper was early introduced. Either the diptych or the folded single sheet may have suggested the codex.

Whether the first codices were wood and metal or papyrus and vellum, the hinging at one edge, which is the characteristic, is closely connected with the double-face (or multiple-face) tablet. With suitable material the simplest way of providing space, if the tablet is too small, is to turn over and finish on the back. The clay tablets lend themselves readily to writing on both sides, but not to hinging. It developed, however, to a certain degree the multiple-face idea by use of prisms, pyramids, hexagonal and other cylinders, but it was early forced into the numbered series of moderate-sized tablets.

Wood and metal tablets would be hinged, but the wood tablets were too bulky and metal tablets too heavy for long works, and the ring method of joining actually led away from the book to the pleated form. Papyrus and leather, however, while they might be used (as they were used) as single tablets were thin enough to allow of a long work in a single codex. They soon developed, therefore, perhaps through the folded sheet, into the codex proper and the modern bound book. The codex, as Thompson remarks, was destined to be the recipient of Christian literature, as the papyrus roll had been the basis of the pagan literature, and there is some evidence to show that the form was, historically, actually developed for the purposes of the Christian writings, and in papyrus, while the pagan papyri continued to be in roll form. Since the invention of the codex is placed at the end of the 1st century, and the earliest codices were especially the New Testament writings, there is a certain possibility that at least the historical introduction of the codex was in the New Testament books, and that its invention comes perhaps from combining the New Testament epistles on papyrus into a volume. In the West at least the roll is, however, the prevailing form of the New Testament until the 3rd or 4th centuries (Birt, Buchrolle, passim).

VII. Writing.

1. Writers:

The chief Hebrew words for the professional "writer" are copher and shoTer, both akin to Assyrian words for "writing" and used also for kindred officers. The word copher seems closely connected with the cepher, "book," and with the idea of numbering. This official is a military, mustering or enrolling officer (Jud 5:14; 2Ch 26:11; 2Ki 25:19), a numbering or census officer for military purposes or for taxation (Isa 33:18)--and a royal secretary (2Sa 8:17).

The shoTer appears as a herald (De 20:5,8; Jos 1:10; 3:2), as overseer of the brick-making in Egypt, and as overseer of the outward business of Israel (1Ch 26:29). He is associated with the elders (Nu 11:16; De 29:10 (Hebrew 9); 31:28; Jos 8:33; 23:2; 24:1) or with the judges (Jos 8:33; 23:2; 24:1; De 16:18).

The two terms are often, however, used together as of parallel and distinct offices (2Ch 26:11; 34:13). If any such distinction can be made, it would seem that the copher was originally the military scribe and the shoTer the civil scribe, but it is better to say that they are "evidently .... synonymous terms and could be used of any subordinate office which required ability to write" (Cheyne in EB). There seem to have been at least 70 of these officers at the time of the Exodus, and by inference many more (Nu 11:16), and 6,000 Levites alone in the time of David (1Ch 23:4) were "writers."

Another kind of professional scribe was the Tiphcar (Jer 51:27, "marshal"; Na 3:17 margin), or tablet writer, a word apparently directly borrowed from the Assyrian. This too seems to be a real synonym for both of the other words. In brief, therefore, all three terms mean scribe in the Egyptian or Assyrian sense, where the writer was an official and the official necessarily a writer.

Still another word, rendered in the Revised Version (British and American) as "magicians," is rendered in its margin as "sacred scribe" (charTom). This word being derived from the stilus recalls the close connection between the written charm and magic. None of these words in the Old Testament refers directly to the professional copyist of later times whose business was the multiplication of copies.

Sayce argues from the name Kiriath-sepher that there was a university for scribes at this place, and according to 1 Chronicles (2:55) there were Kenite families of professional scribes at Jabez.

The professional scribe, writing as an amanuensis, is represented by Baruch (Jer 36:4) and Tertius (Ro 16:22), and the calligraphist by Ezra (Ezr 7:6). In later times the scribe stood for the man of learning in general and especially for the lawyer.

It would seem that Moses expected that kings should write with their own hands (De 17:18; 31:24), and the various letters of David (2Sa 11:15), Jezebel (1Ki 21:9), the king of Aram (2Ki 5:5), Jehu (2Ki 10:2,6), Jeremiah (chapter 29), Elijah (2Ch 21:12-15), the letters of the Canaanite and Hittite princes to one another in the Tell el-Amarna Letters and Boghazeui tablets, etc., while they may sometimes have been the work of secretaries, were undoubtedly often by the author. For the prevalence of handwriting in Biblical times and places see LIBRARIES. Its prevalence in Old Testament times may be compared perhaps to the ratio of college graduates in modern life. In New Testament times the ratio was probably much greater, and it appears not only that Zacharias, the priest, and the educated Paul and Luke could write, but even the poorer apostles and the carpenter's Son. It is assumed that all of a certain rich man's debtors could write (Lu 16:7). This general literacy was due to the remarkable public-school system of the Jews in their synagogues, which some good Jewish scholars (Klostermann, quoted by Krauss, Talmudic Archaeology, III, 336, note 1) trace as far back as Isaiah. In Vespasian's time it is said there were in Jerusalem alone 480 synagogues each with its school, and the law that there must be primary schools in every city dates at latest (63-65 AD) from this time and more likely from 130 BC. The compulsory public-school law of Simeon ben Setach (circa 70 BC), although it has been labeled mythical, is nevertheless entirely credible, in view of the facts as they appear in New Testament times and in Josephus. The tale that there were in Bether, after the fall of Jerusalem had crowded full this seat of learning, "400 synagogues each with 400 teachers and 400 pupils," carries fiction on its face, but there is little doubt that there were public schools long before this in nearly every town of Palestine and compulsory education from the age of 6 or 7 (compare Krauss, III, chapter xii, "Schule," 119-239, 336-58).

2. The Writing Art:

Writing in the Hebrew as in Semitic languages in general except Ethiopic is from right to left and in Greek from left to right as in modern western usage. On the one hand, however, some Sabean inscriptions and, on the other hand, a number of early Greek inscriptions are written alternately, or boustrophedon, and suggest the transition from Semitic to western style. The earlier Greek manuscripts did not separate the words, and it is inferred from text corruptions that the earliest Hebrew writing did not. As early as the Mesha and Siloam inscriptions, the dot was used to separate words, and the vertical stroke for the end of a sentence. Vowel points were introduced somewhere from the 5th to the 8th centuries AD by the Massoretes, but are not allowed even now in the synagogue rolls. Some of the inscriptions employ the Palestinian or Tiberian system of vowel points, and others the Babylonian (above the line). Accents indicate not only stress but intonation and other relations. Very soon after Ezra's day, and before the Septuagint translation, the matter of writing the Biblical books had become one of very great care, the stipulations and the rules for careful correction by the authorized text being very strict (Blau, 185-87). The manuscripts were written in columns (doors), and a space between columns, books, etc., was prescribed, as also the width of the column. All books were ruled. Omitted words must be interlined above. The margins were frequently used for commentaries. For size, writing on the back, etc., see above, and for the use of abbreviations, reading, punctuation, etc., see Blau, Gardthausen, Thompson, the Introductions to textual criticism and the articles on textual criticism in this Encyclopedia.

VIII. History of Biblical Handwriting.

1. Mythological Origins:

Mythologically speaking the history of handwriting dates from the beginning when the Word created the heavens. The firmament is a series of heavenly tablets, the hand writing of God, as conceived by the tablet-using Babylonians, or a scroll in the thought of prophets, the New Testament writers, and the rabbis. Whether the idea that "the heavens declare the glory of God," etc. (Ps 19:1-4), refers to this notion or not, it was one extensively developed and practiced in the science of astrology. In any event the doctrine of the Creator-Word reaches deep into the psychology of writing as a tangible record of invisible words or ideas, and this philosophizing stretches some 3,000 years or so back of the Christian era.

For writing among the gods in the mythologies of non-Biblical religions, see BOOK; LIBRARIES.

2. Earliest Use:

When and why the very simplest kind of writing began to be used has been the subject of much conjecture. The Encyclopedia Britannica (11th edition) (XVI, 445) suggests that "the earliest use .... of inscribed or written signs was for important religious and political transactions kept by priests in temples," but the memorial pillar is older than the temple, and the economic or social record is perhaps older than the sacred, although this is less clear. Three things seem rather probable:

(1) that the first records were number records, (2) that they concerned economic matters--although it is not excluded that the occasion for first recording economic matters was religious, (3) that they were not used memorially for important transactions, but rather as utilitarian or business records.

The original mnemonic record was probably a number record. The Hebrew words for "book" and "word" both seem to mean a setting down of one thing after another, and various words in various other languages point in the same direction, as do also in a general way the nature of the primitive situation and the evidences of history. Many of the oldest records are concerned with numbers of animals. Immense quantities of very old Sumerian records are simply such lists, and the still earlier cave drawings (whether they have numbers or not) are at least drawings of animals. One use of the primitive quipu was for recording sales of different kinds of animals at market, and the twig bundle and notched records are in general either pure number records or mnemonic records with a number base. What these animal records were for is another matter. If they were records of ownership for mere tally purposes (a natural enough purpose, carrying back even to hunting trophies) the use was purely economic, but as a matter of fact the early Babylonian lists seem generally to have been temple records, and even the cave records are commonly thought to be associated with religion. The early Egyptian lists too have religious associations, and the somewhat later records are largely concerned with endowment of temples or at least temple lists of offerings--votive offerings or sacrifices. This points perhaps to a religious origin and possibly leads back to the very first felt need of records for a tithing for religious purposes. But it may equally lead to the sharing of spoils socially rather than religiously, although the history of the common meal and sacrifice shared by worshippers points to a very early religious sanction for the problem of equitable sharing of spoils, and it may have been precisely at this point and for this purpose that number record was invented. However that may be, the evidence seems to point to a number-record origin even back of the cave drawings (which are said to be chiefly of domestic rather than wild animals) at a period variously figured as from 6,000 or 8,000 years ago, more or less, to millions of years ago.

3. Biblical History:

The pseudepigraphic books of the Old Testament variously represent writing as invented and first practiced by Yahweh, Adam, Cain, or Seth. Taking the Biblical narrative as it stands, the earliest allusion to true writing is the sign of Cain (Ge 4:15), if indeed this refers to a body mark, and particularly if it has analogy with the "mark upon the forehead" of the Book of Revelation (17:5; compare 13:16; 14:1) and the tattoo marks of ownership or tribal marks of primitive tribes, as is thought by many.

The setting of the rainbow as a permanent sign (Ge 9:12-17) for a permanent covenant is quite in line with the recognized mnemonic writing. Noah's building of an altar had the same character if it was built for a permanent memorial. More obviously akin to this primitive form of writing was, however, the dedication of a memorial altar or pillar as a memorial of a particular event in a particular place, as in Jacob's pillar (Ge 28:18,22).

For perhaps 2,000 years before Abraham, image writing had been practiced in both Babylonia and Egypt, and for more than 1,000 years a very highly developed ideographic and phonetic writing had been in use. There were millions of cuneiform documents existing in collections large and small in Babylonia when he was there, and equal quantities of hieroglyphic and hieratic papyri, leather and skin documents in Egypt when he visited it.


Abraham himself presumably used cuneiform writing closely parallel to the writing on Hammurabi's statue. A similar script was presumably also used by his Hittite allies. In Egypt he met with the hieroglyphics on the monuments, but for business and common use the so-called hieratic cursive forms were already developed toward, if not well into, the decided changes of the middle hieratic period (circa 2030-1788 BC; compare Moller, Hierat. Palaeog., VI, 1909, 3, etc.). It is a question whether the boundary heap, which Laban "called" the heap of witness in Aramaic and Jacob by the same name in Hebrew, was inscribed or not, but, if inscribed, both faces or lines of the bilingual inscription were presumably in cuneiform characters. The cuneiform remained, probably continuously, the prevailing script of Syria and Palestine until about 1300 BC, and until, some time well before 1000, the old Semitic alphabet began to be employed.

The question of the relation of the writing in Mosaic times and in the time of the Judges to the cuneiform or the hieratic on the one side and the alphabet on the other is too much mixed up with the question of the Pentateuch to allow of much dogmatizing. Some scholars are convinced that the Pentateuch was written in cuneiform characters if not in the Babylonian language. The old Semitic-Greek, "Phoenician," alphabet was, however, probably worked out in the Palestinian region between 1400 and 1100 BC (wherever the Hebrews may have been at this time), and it remained the Hebrew writing until the introduction of the square characters.


At the beginning of the Christian era there had been a long period of the use of Greek among the educated, and long before the New Testament was written there was a large body of Palestinian-Greek and Egyptian-Greek literature. Latin for a time also had been used, more or less, officially, but the Aramaic, development of whose forms may be well traced from about 500 BC in the inscriptions and in the Elephantine papyri, was the prevailing popular writing. Greek remained long the language of the educated world. It was after 135 AD that R. Simeon ben Gamaliel was said to have had 500 students in Hebrew (New Hebrew) and 500 in Greek (Krauss, III, 203).

Latin, Greek, and Aramaic (New Hebrew) characters were all needed for the inscription on the cross. Hebrew had at this time certainly passed into the square form long enough ago to have had yodh pass into proverb as the smallest letter (jot) of the alphabet (Mt 5:18). Through the abundance of recent papyrus and inscriptional discoveries, it is now possible to trace the history of the varying forms of the bookhand and cursive Greek letters, and even of the Latin letters, for several centuries on either side of the year of our Lord and up to the time of the longer known manuscripts (see works of Gardthausen and Thompson). One may get in this way a good idea of how the most famous of all trilingual inscriptions may have looked as to its handwriting--how in fact it probably did look, jotted down as memorandum by Pilate, and how transcribed on the cross, assuming that Pilate wrote the Roman cursive (Thompson, facsimile 106 (AD 41), 321), and the clerks a fair epigraphic or rather for this purpose perhaps bookhand Greek (Thompson, facsimile 8 (AD 1), 123; Latin, facsimile 83 (AD 79), 276). See TITLE.



Edward Clodd, Story of the Alphabet, New York, 1912 (popular); Fritz Specht, Die Schrift u. ihre Entwicklung, 3. Ausg., Berlin, 1909 (popular); I. Taylor, History of the Alphabet, London, 1899, 2 volumes, 8vo; H. Wuttke, Geschichte der Schrift, Leipzig, 1874-75 (rich and comprehensive on primitive writing); Philippe Berger, Histoire de l'ecriture dans l'antiquite, 2nd edition, Paris, 1892; Karl Paulmann, Illustrirte Geschichte der Schrift, Wien, 1880 (uncritical but comprehensive and very useful for illus.); W. M. Flinders Petrie, The Formation of the Alphabet, 1912.


Leo Frobenius, The Childhood of Man, Philadelphia, 1908 (casual but useful aggregation of primitive examples); Frederick Webb Hodge, ed., Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico, Washington, 1907-10, 2 volumes (dictionary form); G. Mallery, Smithsonian Inst. Reports, IV (1882-83), 3-256, X (1888-89), 1-822; M. Beuchat, Manuel d'archeologie americaine, Paris, 1912; M. H. Kingsley, Travels in West Africa, London, 1897; R. E. Dennet, At the Back of the Black Man's Mind, 1906; A. W. Howitt, Native Tribes of South-East Australia, London, 1904 (especially chapter xi); E. C. Richardson, The Beginnings of Libraries, London and Princeton, 1914.


Dechelette; Archeologie prehistorique. 1908; Arthur J. Evans, Scripta Minoa, Oxford, 1909; Angelo Mosso, The Dawn of Mediterranean Civilization, London, 1910.

Hebrew, Greek and Latin:

Frederic G. Kenyon, Our Bible and the Ancient manuscripts, 3rd edition, London, 1898; George Milligan, The New Testament Documents, 1913, Ludwig Blau, Studien zum althebraischen Buchwesen, Strassburg, 1902 (scholarly; first rank); Leopold Loew, Graphische Requisiten und Erzeugnisse bei den Juden, Leipzig, 1870-71, 2 parts; Samuel Krauss, Talmudische Archaologie, Leipzig, 1910-12, 3 volumes, III, 131-239, 300 ff (full critical notes and references); Mark Lidzbarski, Handbuch d. nordsemitischen Epigraphik, 1902-8 (also Ephemeris); Alvin Sylvester Zerbe, Antiquity of Hebrew Writing and Literature, Cleveland, 1911 (controversial); V. Gardthausen, Griechische Palaeographie, 2nd edition, Leipzig, 1911-13, 2 volumes (remarkable for comprehensiveness, exhaustive bibliographic reference and critical scholarship); Sir Edward Maunde Thompson, An Introduction to Greek and Latin Paleography, Oxford, 1912 (expansion of his Handbook with greatly improved facsimiles, better treatment of papyri and a good working bibliography of palaeography); F. G. Kenyon, The Paleography of Greek Papyri, Oxford, 1899, 8vo; Ludwig Mitteis and Ulrich Wilcken, Grundzuge und Chrestomathie der Papyruskunde, Leipzig, 1912, 2 volumes in 4 (Encyclopaedia of the subject); Theodor Birt, Das antike Buchwesen, Berlin, 1882; idem, Die Buchrolle in der Kunst, Leipzig, 1907 (of first usefulness, especially in matter of illus. and refs.); E. S. Roberts, Greek Epigraphy, part I, "The Archaic Inscriptions and the Greek Alphabet," Cambridge, 1887, 8vo; Karl Dziatzko, Untersuchungen uber ausgewahlte Kapitel des antiken Buchwesens, Leipzig; 1900; Ernest Christian Wilhelm Wattenbach, Das Schriftwesen im Mittelalter, Leipzig, 1896 (has an immense mass of original quotations of authorities).

Sources for Latest Literature:

W. Weinberger, "Beitrage zur Handschriftenkunde," Sitzungsber. Akad. Wien, 159, 161 (1908-9), pp. 79-195; Zentralblatt f. Bibliothekswesen, Leipzig (monthly); Hortzschansky, Bibliographie des .... Buchwesens (annual cumulation of the Zentralblatt material).

For inward writing see modern general psychologies and the books and articles in Rand's bibliographical supplement to Baldwin's Dictionary of Psychology. For continuation literature see the Psychological Index. For various aspects of writing consult also books on general Biblical archaeology (e.g., Nowack and Benzinger), general introductions and articles on "Alphabet," .... "Book," "Library," "Manuscripts," "Textual Criticism," and other special topics in this or other Biblical and general encyclopedias.

E. C. Richardson

© Levend Water