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September 26, 2022

What Is Parchment?

The history of the Bible is tied to the history of technology. As new technologies of communication and transportation emerged, they accelerated the spread of the Bible around the globe. But we’re not talking about technology in terms of bytes and tweets. This technology was something much more basic . . . parchment. Parchment is a form of animal skin that is treated and used as a writing surface. And according to the ancient historian Pliny the Elder, the invention of parchment springs from a conflict between two kingdoms. In about 190 BC, Eumenes II, king of Pergamum in modern-day Turkey, was assembling a magnificent library. Ptolemy V, king of Egypt, feared it might surpass his own legendary library in Alexandria. But Ptolemy possessed one distinct advantage. Manuscripts at the time were written primarily on papyrus, which was made from a type of reed that grew along the Nile River. The Lord of the Nile was the lord of papyrus, so Ptolemy blocked the trade of papyrus so no library could rival his own. King Eumenes was forced to innovate. Some had begun to use animal skins as writing surfaces, so craftsmen in Pergamum perfected the practice and filled his library with parchment manuscripts. Parchment, it turns out, is much more durable than papyrus and easier to bind into books. Parchment, bound into a codex, became the medium by which many ancient biblical texts were passed down and survived through the ages.

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