A number of years ago my wife purchased a Kindle e-reader from Amazon. Now, she reads a number of her books digitally. And she is not alone. It seems like our modern world has become to digest books more and more in a digital format–e-readers, ipads, digital phones, etc. Much of this technical innovation is positive. People can easily access material in ways never before available.
However, in the midst of this technological innovation, our modern concept of the “book” has been transformed. It has largely ceased to be a physical object that you can touch, hold, and smell, and now has become entirely digital. Books are merely words, and forgotten is the vehicle by which those words were delivered.
It is perhaps for this reason that the study of ancient biblical manuscripts is a lost art in many circles today. We tend to forget that it was these manuscripts that delivered God’s word to us. And rather than being a “husk” around the word that can be easily discarded, these manuscripts hold intriguing clues about the origins, development, and reliability of these books which we hold so dear. To study them is to study the history of God’s word.
It is for this reason that I wrote the article, “Manuscripts, Scribes, and Book Production in Early Christianity” which has just now come out in the newly released volume Christian Origins and Greco-Roman Culture: Social and Literary Contexts for the New Testament (eds. Stan Porter and Andrew Pitts; Leiden: E.J. Brill, 2012). This article is designed to introduce the reader to the world of ancient Christian manuscripts and to demonstrate their value for understanding the transmission of the New Testament writings.
I trust it will be useful for seminary students, pastors, and other scholars. I plan to assign it for my own classes here at RTS (so let my students take note!). Also, don’t forget to check out the many other fine articles in this new volume.