Practices of the Scribes
2) Practices in the profession of the Scribe
Initially anybody who wanted a copy of any document of the Bible, had to make his own copy or buy one from a professional scribe. To make a copy required an awful lot of the scribe. First he had to read carefully, remember clearly while he went from source copy to the copy in making. Then he had to carefully recall what was written in the source manuscript, and write it down accurately. A legible handwriting was of course also imperative.
After he had finished his copy, he himself or his overseer checked the whole document. Any alterations or mistakes were then corrected either by the scribe, or by the overseer. In this way scribes tried to ensure that their copy would be a true copy of the original.
If ever you had to copy a document, you would know how easily mistakes could be made. You would also know how blind we are to our own mistakes!
At a later date, sometimes centuries later, someone else might check the same manuscript against another copy. Alterations were often made, to bring both copies in agreement with one another. To take care that nothing gets lost, the shorter document was elaborated with synonyms from the other document. This caused inflation of documents. Often the older more correct document was corrupted in this way by the addition of the other’s mistakes or variations. In some manuscripts the work of four or even more correctors can be identified. Yet the original manuscript is of great value as it renders the text that had been available and in use at the time it was copied.
The cost of parchment, the preparation of the pages with marking of and drawing of writing lines, as well as the copying and final binding made such a copy of the Bible very expensive. It is calculated that for a complete copy of the Old as well as New Testaments a scribe would be paid around 30000 denarii. That was about the salary a Roman legionary would earn for forty years service, in addition to his maintenance.
After some time the professional copy center or scriptorium was founded. There several copies could be made simultaneously with one person reading while several scribes were writing. Now a fine ear and sound mind to distinguish between homophonic words was also needed.
About 331 A.D. Constantine wrote to Eusebius and requested the production of fifty parchment codices of high quality for the new churches he proposed to build in Constantinople. Such a large order could only be carried out in a scriptorium.
We are so blessed to be able to walk into a bookstore and purchase a bible, often for less than the cost of the paper it is printed on!
Enjoy and read your Bible!