Magazine

How the Bible became

a holy book

By fernando G. baptista

and matt W. chwastyk

The Bible took shape—in form and word—over centuries of study,

debate, technological progress, and worship. From handwriting

on papyrus and parchment to words printed by mechanical press,

these sacred texts have been passed on in many formats. The “divine

library” is the work of more than 35 authors spanning at least a

millennium. Determining which writings should be included in the

official canon of holy Scripture took hundreds of years.

Translation or

religious text

Era of

writing

Point of

divergence

RELIGION OF ANCIENT ISRAEL

Moses and the

Ten Commandments

SCROLL

OLD TESTAMENT

Hebrew Scriptures are

written. Agreement on

authoritative books takes

several more centuries.

The Apostles decree

at the Jerusalem Coun-

cil that obeying Jewish

ceremonial law isn’t es-

sential for non-Jewish

followers of Jesus.

JUDAISM

*ca 6 B.C.

Jesus of Nazareth

is born.

NEW TESTAMENT

Accounts of Jesus’ life

and teachings and rec-

ords of followers are

ascribed to his Apostles

and their associates.

CODEX

Claiming hidden

knowledge of the

divine, the “Gnostics”

write additional books

under the names of

Jesus’ Apostles.

The Council of

Laodicea (in modern

Turkey) rules that

only texts confirmed

to be Scripture can

be used in worship.

The Council of Hippo

(in modern Algeria)

issues a list of the 27

books of the New

Testament—in use

today—as canon.

CHRISTIANITY

JUDAISM

Medieval scribes were often monks

who could spend weeks, months, or

years working by hand on

a single manuscript.

The rift between the

eastern patriarch

and western pope

reaches a climax,

leading to the Great

Schism in 1054.

ROMAN CATHOLICISM

Reformers object

to some Catholic

doctrine and

plead for changes

in practice, ritual,

and theology.

EASTERN

ORTHODOXY

PRINTED

BOOK

Martin Luther

writes his 95

Theses.

ROMAN

CATHOLICISM

PROTESTANTISM

MANUSCRIPT EVOLUTION

For thousands of years sacred Scripture was laboriously copied character by

character. Tradition and location influenced what materials were used.

SCROLL

Sheets were sewn

together, end to end.

Hebrew is read right to left.

24 ft

HEBREW

Great Isaiah Scroll

Dead Sea Scrolls

Second century b.c.

CODEX

Early codices

Early Christian texts were written mostly on papyrus and bound into single- or

multiquire codices, often with one column of text per page.

Single quire

Leather stay

Multiple quires

Stitching

GREEK

Gospels and Acts Codex

Chester Beatty Papyri

Third century A.D.

Later codices

Parchment grew more popular in the fourth century. Manuscripts tended to be larger,

longer, and, starting in the fifth century, ornamented.

A variety of pigments, as well

as gold leaf, were used to

illustrate and illuminate text.

LATIN

Codex Amiatinus

Early eighth century

*THE SYSTEM OF DATING USING A.D.—ANNO DOMINI, OR“IN THE YEAROF OUR LORD”— WAS DEVISED

IN THE SIXTH CENTURY AND ESTABLISHED THE BIRTH OF JESUS AS THE PIVOT POINT OF HISTORY. MORE RECENT

SCHOLARSHIP SUGGESTS THAT JESUS WAS BORN A FEW YEARS EARLIER.

FERNANDO G. BAPTISTA, MATTHEW W. CHWASTYK, EVE CONANT, and TAYLOR MAGGIACOMO, NGM STAFF;

AMANDA HOBBS; LAWSON PARKER; MATTHEW TWOMBLY

SOURCES: CRAIG A. EVANS, HOUSTON BAPTIST UNIVERSITY; LARRY HURTADO, PROFESSOR EMERITUS, UNIVERSITY OF

EDINBURGH; BRENT NONGBRI; LAWRENCE H. SCHIFFMAN, NEW YORK UNIVERSITY; THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS BIBLE,

MARTIN ABEGG, JR., PETER FLINT, AND EUGENE ULRICH; ALAMY STOCK PHOTO; CHESTER BEATTY LIBRARY; BIBLI-

OTECA MEDICEA LAURENZIANA DIGITAL REPOSITORY

How the Bible

became a

holy book

The Bible took shape—in form

and word—over centuries of

study, debate, technological

progress, and worship. From

handwriting on papyrus and

parchment to words printed by

mechanical press, these sacred

texts have been passed on in

many formats. The “divine lib-

rary” is the work of more than

35 authors spanning at least a

millennium. Determining which

writings should be included in

the official canon of holy Scrip-

ture took hundreds of years.

The Bible took shape—in form

and word—over centuries of

study, debate, technological

progress, and worship. From

handwriting on papyrus and

parchment to words printed by

mechanical press, these sacred

texts have been passed on in

many formats. The “divine lib-

rary” is the work of more than

35 authors spanning at least a

millennium. Determining which

writings should be included in

the official canon of holy Scrip-

ture took hundreds of years.

Era of writing

Translation or

religious text

Point of

divergence

RELIGION OF ANCIENT ISRAEL

Moses

and the Ten

Commandments

OLD TESTAMENT

Hebrew Scriptures are

written. Agreement on

authoritative books takes

several more centuries.

JUDAISM

*ca 6 B.C.

Jesus of Nazareth

is born.

The Apostles decree at the

Jerusalem Council that obey-

ing Jewish ceremonial law isn’t

essential for non-Jewish follow-

ers of Jesus.

NEW TESTAMENT

Accounts of Jesus’ life and teach-

ings and records of followers are

ascribed to his Apostles and

their associates.

Claiming hidden knowledge of

the divine, the “Gnostics” write

additional books under the

names of Jesus’ Apostles.

CHRISTIANITY

The Council of Laodicea (in modern Turkey) rules that only texts confirmed to be Scripture can be used in worship.

The Council of Hippo (in modern Algeria) issues a list of the 27 books of the New Testament—in use today—as canon.

Medieval scribes were often monks who could spend weeks, months, or years working by hand on

a single manuscript.

The rift between the

eastern patriarch

and western pope

reaches a climax,

leading to the Great

Schism in 1054.

ROMAN

CATHOLICISM

EASTERN

ORTHODOXY

Reformers object

to some Catholic

doctrine and

plead for changes

in practice, ritual,

and theology.

PROTESTANTISM

Martin Luther

writes his 95

Theses.

MANUSCRIPT

EVOLUTION

For thousands of years sacred

Scripture was laboriously copied

character by character. Tradition

and location influenced what

materials were used.

SCROLL

Hebrew Scriptures were copied onto scrolls

of animal-skin parchment or, occasionally,

papyrus. Synagogues today continue to use

handwritten scrolls.

Hebrew is read right to left.

Sheets were sewn

together, end to end.

HEBREW

Great Isaiah Scroll

Dead Sea Scrolls

Second century b.c.

CODEX

Early codices

Early Christian texts were written mostly on

papyrus and bound into single- or multi-

quire codices, often with one column

of text per page.

Single quire

Leather stay

Stitching

Multiple quires

GREEK

Gospels and Acts Codex

Chester Beatty Papyri

Third century A.D.

Later codices

Parchment grew more popular in the fourth

century. Manuscripts tended to be larger,

longer, and, starting in the fifth cen-

tury, ornamented.

A variety of pigments, as well

as gold leaf, were used to

illustrate and illuminate text.

LATIN

Codex Amiatinus

Early eighth century

*THE SYSTEM OF DATING USING A.D.—ANNO DOMINI, OR

“IN THE YEAR OF OUR LORD”— WAS DEVISED IN THE SIXTH

CENTURY AND ESTABLISHED THE BIRTH OF JESUS AS THE

PIVOT POINT OF HISTORY. MORE RECENT SCHOLARSHIP

SUGGESTS THAT JESUS WAS BORN A FEW YEARS EARLIER.

FERNANDO G. BAPTISTA, MATTHEW W. CHWASTYK, EVE

CONANT, and TAYLOR MAGGIACOMO, NGM STAFF;

AMANDA HOBBS; LAWSON PARKER; MATTHEW TWOMBLY

SOURCES: CRAIG A. EVANS, HOUSTON BAPTIST UNIVERSITY;

LARRY HURTADO, PROFESSOR EMERITUS, UNIVERSITY OF

EDINBURGH; BRENT NONGBRI; LAWRENCE H. SCHIFFMAN,

NEW YORK UNIVERSITY; THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS BIBLE,

MARTIN ABEGG, JR., PETER FLINT, AND EUGENE ULRICH;

ALAMY STOCK PHOTO; CHESTER BEATTY LIBRARY; BIBLI-

OTECA MEDICEA LAURENZIANA DIGITAL REPOSITORY

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