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Holman Bible Dictionary

Paper, Papyrus

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(puh pi' rass) Popular writing material invented by the Egyptians and used by scribes from 2500 B.C. to A.D. 700.

The English word paper is derived from the word papyrus. The papyrus plant once grew in abundance along the Nile delta (“Can the papyrus grow tall where there is no marsh?” [ Job 8:11 NIV]), providing the Egyptians with an inexpensive writing material which was exported throughout the Mediterranean world. The papyrus plant is a tall, aquatic reed which grows as high as fifteen feet and becomes as thick as a person's wrist. Its triangular stalk was cut into twelve-inch sections. The center section of each stick of papyrus, the pith, would be sliced into thin one inch strips. A sheet of paper was made by arranging these one-by-twelve-inch strips vertically and placing another layer of strips horizontally on top. The two layers of green fibrous strips were then mashed together and dried by the sun, which bonded the double-layered sheet of papyrus. The horizontally lined side of the papyrus sheet was scraped smooth, obviously providing the best writing surface for horizontal script. Several sheets were glued together to form a papyrus roll, which was called a biblos (bible or book).

By A.D. 100, papyrus was used to make codices (books). The codex format—a stack of papyrus sheets, bound at one end—proved to be more economical than the roll since a scribe could only write on one side of the roll. A codex was also less cumbersome, considering the transportation of rolls and the difficulty of cross-referencing. Eventually, papyrus was replaced by the more expensive and yet more durable parchment (animal skins). Aged papyrus became brittle, literally causing words to fall off the page. Furthermore, unlike papyrus, parchment could be “erased” and used again. The only biblical reference to papyrus paper is found in 2 John 1:12 , where the Elder writes: “Having many things to write unto you, I would not write with paper and ink” (author's italics).

New Testament manuscripts produced before the fourth century were written exclusively on papyrus; after the fourth century almost all New Testament documents were preserved on parchment. See Bible, Text and Versions; Library ; Writing .

Rodney Reeves

Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Paper, Papyrus'. Holman Bible Dictionary. 1991.

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