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  • Print publication year: 2008
  • Online publication date: June 2012

1 - The study of the manuscripts



The codex

Those writings which in time came to comprise the New Testament are almost without exception preserved in the manuscript form called the codex, the kind of book which is normative in western culture. In its simplest format, a codex is made by taking a pile of sheets of writing material, folding them in half, and then (starting at the top of the first sheet) writing the text on them. The whole pile is then stitched together through the centre fold. This is a single-quire codex. A more sophisticated version consists of making a number of such piles, four sheets (eight folios, sixteen pages) being the norm at most periods; each quire is folded separately, written on and laid aside. Each quire is bound with thread through its own centre fold, the whole set being finally bound together with cords through the threads holding the individual quires. This is a multiple-quire codex and is the form in normal use for anything larger than a pamphlet. Although books are often bound today using strong glues holding single sheets at the spine, there was no alternative in the ancient world to stitching them.

The transition from the roll form to the codex was a momentous change in ancient Mediterranean culture. Greek and Roman civilisation made copies of texts on papyrus rolls, which consisted of sheets of the material (a plant almost exclusively grown and processed in Egypt) glued together to make a long strip, on which the text was written in columns.