Core Curriculum : Contemporary Civilization

Bibles > Introduction

The Hebrew Bible, and later the Christian Bible, have taken diverse shapes over the centuries, each object an indication of how the text was read and understood at a given time and within a particular community.

The codex format (what we now call “the book,” folded sheets sewn together or otherwise attached) and Christianity became dominant cultural forms at about the time and place (between the first and fourth centuries A.D. in the Eastern Mediterranean). Some scholars have argued that early Christians preferred the codex form to the scroll in order to assert their difference from Jewish religious practice.  Others argue that the codex format was already being used by Jewish scholars to record the teachings of important religious leaders.   While Jewish tradition mandates that the Torah be produced as a scroll, several other important genres of Jewish religious writing, such as the Mishnah and Talmud, are more commonly codices.  Over the centuries, the types of Christian texts proliferated as well: those associated with the mass, such as missals, lectionaries, and antiphonals, and those associated with devotional practice, such as books of hours.

While the Bible presents a narrative that proceeds more or less forward in time chronologically, and even in the Christian tradition proceeds from “the beginning” in Genesis 1 to the Apocalypse in the Book of Revelations, for the most part the Bible has been read discontinuously.  During the thirteenth century Bibles were highly indexed to aid in the composition of sermons. The current order of books and the chapter divisions was also determined in the thirteenth century.  Gutenberg produced the first book with movable type—the 42-line Bible—during the middle of the fifteenth century. Many later landmarks of printing would be Bibles as many notable fine printers produced them. The sixteenth century saw the production of both polyglot Bibles, including the text in the original language as well as the Vulgate, and Bibles in the European vernaculars within the Protestant tradition.

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