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Codex & Bookroll: New Videos

April 23, 2016

I announce two newly-produced, short videos in which I explain the basics of the ancient bookroll and the codex, and the curious early Christian preference for the latter bookform:  here.  These videos were produced by/for the University of Edinburgh Centre for the History of the Book, as part of a series of videos about various history-of-book matters.

For a more extended discussion of questions about the early Christian preference for the codex, see the chapter in my book, The Earliest Christian Artifacts:  Manuscripts and Christian Origins (Eerdmans, 2006), pp. 43-93.

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  1. Larry, Mary Beard has written to me twice on the subject of the codex.

    On the first occasion, she said that “the whole history of the transition from roll to codex is more complicated than people often imagine”.

    On the second occasion, she said “For me the Martial is enough to justify the complexity claim. One can’t simply make codices third century AD and later. The main references are, I think, in E Turner, The typology of the Early codex. And in C H Roberts, famous 1954 paper “The Codex”.

    • Geoff: Please don’t try to lecture me on the codex. I’ve studied the matter for over 20years and written on it in various venues, explicitly indicating the subtlety and complexity of the data. But the facts stand that Christians appropriated the codex more enthusiastically than others of the 2nd-3rd centuries; that the codex became dominant only in the 4th century when Christianity (and then most extant codices are Christian ones). Scholars disagree over why they did so; but there’s no denying that they did so. Read my chapter in my Artifacts book, Geoff. The data (and all the relevant scholarly works by Turner, Roberts, Skeat, et alia) are all there.

  2. Timothy Joseph permalink

    Dr. H.,
    I continue to be amazed by the amount of knowledge that I gain about book rolls and codex, I have read much of what you and others have written, yet these short videos gave fullness to what I guess I constructed in my head! Thanks for enlightening at least me.


  3. Larry your videos do not say that the codex was a Roman invention. Why?

    • There was a good deal more that I said and that was taped, including reference to Martial’s reference to use of small leather codices. But the Hist of the Book people edited and chose what they found most relevant for their programme.
      In any case, Geoff, the historical curiosity isn’t who “invented” the codex, but why the early Christians uniquely preferred it for their most prized literary texts. You would see this if you read my book.

      • Larry, I can’t help feeling that, in the clouds of time, the inventors of the codex and the early Christians were related, ie the inventors of the codex were the Christians.

      • Geoff, “feeling” doesn’t count for much. Evidence does. And the earliest references to the use of the codex (Martial’s Epigrams) describes small hand-size items in which his poems are published, and he recommends them for taking on a journey. Likewise, the earliest examples of the codex are pagan texts (astrological tables, medical recipes, etc).
        The codex originated as a simple note-taking device and was being experimented with for more serious purposes by the late lst century CE. The Christians seized upon this bookform and developed it much more enthusiastically and ambitiously than others of the time.

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