This article is also available in text-only format.
John L. Sharpe and Kimberly Van Kampen, eds. The Bible as Book: The Manuscript Tradition. London: The British Library, 1998; New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press, in association with The Scriptorium: Center for Christian Antiquities, 1998. Pp. xi+ 260 + 32 plates. US $55.00. ISBN 0-7123-4522-1, 1-884718-38-8.
1. This book contains something for almost anyone who reads in the area of biblical studies. At the same time, its diversity may well lead to its specific contributions being quickly lost from the view of people with those specific interests. It is the kind of book that will have its contents cited in the bibliographies of teachers in various fields; it is not a book that many will read from cover to cover, with the exception of reviewers, of course.
2. The book begins with a table of contents, a listing of the contributors and their academic affiliations, and a list of the thirty-eight illustrations, which appear on glossy paper between pages 228 and 229. These are followed by Kimberly Van Kampen's foreward and an introduction by Sharpe, Scot McKendrick, and Van Kampen that gives an overview of the volume's contents. All of this is much appreciated by a reader.
3. The contributions to the volume are: "Scribal Practices and Physical Aspects of the Dead Sea Scrolls," by Emanuel Tov (pp. 9-33); "The Christian Book in Egypt: Innovation and the Coptic Tradition," by Stephen Emmel (pp. 35-43); "Early Christian Libraries," by Bastiaan Van Elderen (pp. 45-59); "The Creation of the Great Codices," by Thomas S. Pattie (pp. 61-72); "Gospel Harmony and the Names of Christ in the Book of Kells," by Jennifer O'Reilly (pp. 73-88); "The Psalms in the Irish Church: The Most Recent Research on Text, Commentary, and Decoration, with Emphasis on the So-Called Psalter of Charlemagne," by Martin McNamara (pp. 89-103); "A Northumbrian Text Family," by Christopher Verey (pp. 105-122); "Cultural Transmission: Illustrated Biblical Manuscripts from the Medieval Eastern Christian and Arab Worlds," by Lucy-Anne Hunt (pp. 123-136); "Books of Hours: 'Imaging' the Word" by Christopher de Hamel (pp. 137-143); "'Ask What I Am Called': The Anglo-Saxons and Their Bibles," by Richard Marsden (pp. 145-176); "Lay Literacy, the Democratization of God's Law, and the Lollards," by Christina von Nolcken (pp. 177-195); "Some Representations of the Book and Book-Making, from the Earliest Codex Forms through ["to," p. 197] Jost Amman," by Christopher Clarkson (pp. 197-203); "The Armenian Bookmaking Tradition in the Christian East: A Comparison with the Syriac and Greek Traditions," by Sylvie L. Merian (pp. 205-214); "The Image as Exegetical Tool: Paintings in Medieval Hebrew Manuscripts," by Gabrielle Sed-Rajna (pp. 215-221); "The Theology of the Word Made Flesh," by Andrew Louth (pp. 223-228). The book concludes with an extensive bibliography (pp. 229-250), an index of manuscripts (pp. 251-253), and a general index (pp. 254-259).
4. One might note that the typing block is fairly large on the page and the typeface fairly small, so that the book represents a dense bit of reading. Most of the articles are extensively notated; these notes appear as endnotes immediately following the text of each contribution. I found myself going back and forth constantly.
5. The Introduction states that the theme of the book is "the relationship between the form or shape of the Word and its contents, as expressed by the scribe, illuminator, binder, translator, or theologian" (p. 2). This is an ambitious undertaking and covers the whole process of writing through the stage of bookmaking. The book's diverse contents make an easy summary impossible. What I will do here is call attention to various details that struck me as I read through the entire collection. Since the readers of this review are primarily interested in the text of the Bible, my brief remarks will be limited to a number of contributions related to that area.
6. Tov's article, "Scribal Practices," is an excellent description of the physical characteristics of the Dead Sea Scrolls. He discusses first the background of the documents, then the question of local production of texts in Qumran and Masada. Next follows an explanation of writing materials used, then technical data, like ruling, the length of scrolls, lines, columns, and patching. Among other things he points out that many Dead Sea Scrolls were copied elsewhere in Israel, so that scribal practices found at Qumran are typical for Palestine as a whole (p. 10).
7. Emmet's contribution, "The Christian Book in Egypt," discusses the history of the Christian book in Egypt in terms of three innovations: the emergence of the codex, translation into Coptic, and the spread of the communal monastic movement (p. 35).
8. Van Elderen's article, "Early Christian Libraries," provides a useful summary of what is found in the Chester Beatty papyri, the Nag Hammadi papyri, and the Bodmer papyri, this last collection being the largest Christian library so far discovered (p. 55).
9. Pattie's contribution, "The Creation of the Great Codices," is of genuine interest to all of us who have worked with the great uncial manuscripts, i.e., Vaticanus, Sinaiticus, and Alexandrinus. He offers an extensive treatment of each one. On the practical level, he points out that a large, fine book on parchment required several hundred animal skins. One skin provided one gathering of eight folios; therefore, 32 gatherings of eight (i.e., 256 folios) required 32 sheep. Reckoned in this way, Sinaiticus required the perfect skins of 365 sheep or goats (pp. 64-65)!
10. A book like this contains intriguing surprises, such as the contribution of de Hamel, "Books of Hours." As he points out,
A Book of Hours was a book for a lay person, not a priest or monk. It was not a liturgical book, in the sense that it was not for use in church or as part of a public service, but was a text for private contemplation. When one comes to look, however, it is in fact almost entirely biblical [p. 137].Almost all of this biblical text is from the Old Testament. Further, it was the text from which children first learned to read, hence a "Primer," which is the Middle English for a Book of Hours (p. 139). So it was that the text of a Book of Hours was known by heart by everyone of any educational advantage in late medieval Europe.
11. I also found the article by Marsden, "'Ask What I Am Called': The Anglo-Saxons and Their Bibles," of note. Comments about riddles lead him into the subject of Anglo-Saxon Bibles. These (Latin Bibles) were at first, he points out, imports from Italy and Ireland (pp. 147-148).
12. But now I am digressing from my stated purpose! This is a book that contains something for almost everyone interested in the biblical text. If it is a somewhat sprawling landscape that beckons the reader, that follows from the ambitious nature of the attempt to provide a larger picture of the Bible as book.
© TC: A Journal of Biblical Textual Criticism, 2000.
Claude Cox McMaster Divinity College