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November 30, 2020

Paris Pocket Bible

The Bibles you find at the bookstore today are not like the Bibles of ancient times. For one thing, there’s what you find inside the Bible—in ancient times, Bibles were copied by hand; there were no chapter or verse divisions, no study notes, and the sentences stretched in a single column all the way across the page in large words. For another thing, there’s what you found on the outside. The oldest biblical manuscripts come from scrolls. But even after the advent of the codex, or book, it took many large volumes to encompass the entire Bible. For over 2,000 years, innovations have continually changed how people read the Bible. And, arguably, some of the biggest innovations came out of thirteenth-century France. Two streams of innovation merged around the University of Paris. The first concerned the interior of the book, adding an established order of books, page headings and chapter numbers, dividing the page into two columns, and book introductions. Bibles with these features became known as “Paris Bibles.” The second trend was the development of a smaller-sized format, or “pocket Bibles.” By the 1200s, the technologies of bookmaking led to the creation of better materials and smaller script. It still took painstaking work to produce handwritten Bibles, but the vibrant university in Paris supplied an educated workforce. The demand for the new Bible was extraordinary. The new size allowed for itinerant priests and teachers to carry a copy while traveling. Standardized chapter-breaks made it easier for students and teachers to study the Bible together. Many thousands of Paris Pocket Bibles, like the ones you see before you now, spread across Europe and were passed down through generations.

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