The Bookroll vs. the Codex
I’ve posted recently (and previously) about the early Christian preference for the codex. I’m currently working toward a commissioned article about earliest Christian reading (where, how, etc.), and was reminded of the wonderful study of the early bookroll (or “scroll) by William A. Johnson: Bookrolls and Scribes in Oxyrhynchus (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004).
Based on his PhD thesis, this work is certainly the most detailed, best informed, and most reliable analysis of pretty much everything you can think to ask about ancient bookrolls. And Johnson, thereby, corrects a number of common assumptions (and, unfortunately, assertions by insufficiently informed scholars). E.g., as to typical length of bookrolls, Johnson shows the range was mainly 3-15 meters (a good bit longer than some have asserted), but with some running considerably longer still.
As a related matter, he even shows how big an item a papyrus bookroll of varying length would be. As examples, he notes (p. 150), “a 7.5-metre roll is, then, roughly the same diameter as a can of soda pop; a 10-metre roll roughly the same as a wine bottle; a 20-metre roll slightly smaller than a 2-litre container of Coca-Cola.” So, contrary to some assertions, a goodly-sized bookroll wouldn’t at all have been “cumbersome” to carry.
Likewise, he observes that “mixed” rolls, i.e., containing more than one text, were common enough, containing, e.g., multiple books of Homer or various individual works (p. 151). So, as I wrote in an earlier posting, it is an error to think that the codex was preferred by Christians because of some supposed superiority in containing multiple texts.
There are lots of other fascinating observations (well, fascinating to geeks like me), and I hope that anyone interested in texts, transmission of them, reading, and the “manuscript culture” of the Roman era will work through Johnson’s book.