Get yourself some Ancient Scribery


As ancient scribes copied manuscripts of Scripture, they sometimes wrote little notes to the reader in the margins or at the end of the document. Just read some of these “colophons” as they’re called. Some point out the difficulties of being a scribe:

“As travellers rejoice to see their home country, so also is the end of a book to those who toil [in writing].”

“The end of the book; thanks be to God!”‘

There wasn’t any talking allowed in the “Scriptorium” where the Scribes sat in groups to copy Scripture, so at times they would jot some notes to their neighbor in their own native tongue.  At Princeton Theological Seminary there is a 9th century manuscript of a commentary on Psalms (from a Latin Scriptorium which apparently hired people from many regions) where we see written in the margins, in Irish, the following:

“It is cold today.”

“That is natural, it is winter”

“The lamp gives bad light”

“I feel quite dull today; I don’t know what’s wrong with me”

“It is time for us to begin to do some work”

Some things don’t change, I guess.  But nevertheless, many scribes saw themselves doing God’s work and making it possible to have the Bible we have today.  Thus, their work became worship.

“What happy application, what praiseworthy industry, to preach unto people by means of the hand, to untie the tongue by means of the fingers, to bring quiet salvation to mortals, and to fight the Devil’s insidious wiles with pen and ink! For every word of the Lord written by the Scribe is a wound inflicted on Satan. . . . Man multiplies the heavenly words, and in a certain metaphorical sense, if I may dare so to speak, three fingers are made to express the utterances of the Holy Trinity. O sight glorious to those who contemplate it carefully! The fast-travelling reed-pen writes down the holy words and thus avenges the malice of the Wicked One, who caused a reed to be used to smite the head of the Lord during his Passion.”
— Cassiodorus, 6th century

“O reader, in spiritual love forgive me, and pardon the daring of him who wrote, and turn his errors into some mystic good. . . . There is no scribe who will not pass away, but what his hands have written will remain for ever. Write nothing with your hand but that which you will be pleased to see at the resurrection. . . . May the Lord God Jesus Christ cause this holy copy to avail for the saving of the soul of the wretched man who wrote it.”
— anonymous, possible 2nd century

I hope you enjoyed this little lesson in textual criticism of the New Testament.

–p

One thought on “Get yourself some Ancient Scribery

  1. Pingback: Introducing Marginalia: a new part of this blog | the long way home | Prodigal Paul

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