This essay is in hypertext. It includes many references to works, which have been quoted, without permission, as primary sources. In order to utilize the efficiency of hypertext, links have been given for original web sources if further research is warranted. In the bibliography a broad list of resources and links are given, including those from which the web images have come. Therefore, this primary essay is the only writing done by me. All linked quotations are by other authors, where you will find links to the original text from which the material is taken. This is not possible for those excerpts transcribed from books. The selections are based on relevance to the essay, and are not necessarily continuous. The focus of this document is two fold: to discuss the transition from scroll to codex, and to link this transition to the rise of the Early Church, and the conversion of Roman Empire to Christianity. It tells a story of struggle and warfare, during which there was massive destruction of literature, usually perpetrated by those who sought control, so that very few original records survived. The fate of the scroll had already been grim by the beginning of the Common Era. The massive library of Alexandria, the largest and most venerable of ancient literary institutions, is said to have been burned by Julius Caesar in his 47BCE battle against Pompey. The wooden boxes of rolls were said to have caught fire from burning ships as the library was in the process of being looted, and lit their way back to the great stone building, which ceased to exist. While the story is legend, the destruction is not. There has been a long deliberate history of burning libraries throughout the ages. However, burning libraries as censorship was not common until the establishment of the Holy Roman Empire. Prior to this, literary destruction was a function of power relationships, as texts had not entered a prescribed Canonical phase.
Another focus of research is on the forms of destruction of texts, a habit that has characterized every literate era of mankind. The significance of the transition to the codex is that it quickly became symbolic of Christianity. From the time of the Roman destruction of the Essene Monastery in Qumran 68 CE and the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 by Titus, to the conversion of Constantine in 312 and the Council of Nicaea in 325, represents a roughly 250 year period of during which the image of the spiritualized missionary carrying his codex of scriptures took root in Western religion. This transition also marked the shift from Polytheism to Monotheism in the Western World. However, the Romans introduced the codex, and as Paul was a traveler, scribe and an orator, he needed to transport documents easily, so he may have used them. Paul also is the first biblical encounter with book burning (Acts 19: 19). With the spread of Christianity, both Early Catholic Church and the Gnostic (Aryan) Church, used the codex form, as is evident from the find at Nag Hammadi. While the documents from the Essene Monastery are scrolls (the Dead Sea Scrolls), those created by the Gnostic scribes at Nag Hammadi 100 years later are entirely in codex format. The codex form had begun to signify Christian texts.
Because alternate versions of the history of the period, the canonical efforts of the early Fathers of the Church were ruthless in the suppression of unfit gospels, and documents which betrayed the antagonistic nature of the relationship between gentile Christians and the Jewish heritage of Jesus. Saint Paul said ³to the Jews I became a Jew in order to win Jews (1 Cor. 9:20) but to many Jews, Paul was a traitor and sell-out to their Arch Enemy, the Romans. This history of rivalry between Gentile Hellenic Christians and Jewish Essene, Pharisee, Zealot, Gnostic¹ proto-Christian sects in the first century of our era marked the schism of the Early Church. As Asia Minor remained powerful during this time, the Manicheans were able to have a large influence, as well as the related Gnostic sects. Both religions had a base in the Jewish literary legacy, now considered the Old Testament, which was the foundation of the New Testament. Much had been altered in these texts in translation (p.13-14 Allegro). The literary legacy of the monastic Jews is of particular relevance, as many adult males were literate, and they considered the Hebrew script itself have come from God. This meant they had high literacy combined with extreme reverence around books and the acts of reading and writing, which were done under divine inspiration. They also had a highly organized administration, the structure of which was copied more or less directly in the organization of the Church.
Most importantly, these contemporaries of Jesus considered themselves the Elect, those through whom the messianic age would arrive, ushered the conquering and re-establishment of the Temple as a site of rigorous worship and lawful devotion. They had left Jerusalem during the Alexander Jannaeus period, when desecration of the temple and massive crucifixion of fellow Jews around BC 88 by the Maccabean Priest King had become too much to bear. Largely due to a Pharisee uprising, the unprecedented crucifixion (a Persian invention) was a revenge killing and ³the Great Teacher² of the Jewish orthodox was killed at this time. The many religious extremists (approx. 4000) returned to a site on the famous passage to the holy land where Moses and his tribe were made to wait in the desert, before arriving at the holy land. There they prepared for the coming Messiah who would deliver the Law to a lawless land. The lived ascetic lives in a closed community without possessions performing religious ceremonies, leading devout lives, and learning and commenting on the holy works of their library. The monastery has a scriptorium, some porcelain inkwells were found still in place when it was excavated. After Jannaeus, the entire Roman Empire expanded to circle Mediterranean Sea, and the Jewish kingdoms never reclaimed control of their prized Temple.
The library of the Qumran Monastery must have contained thousands of manuscript rolls. The inhabitants predicted the demise of their community, and above the library hollowed out a chasm in the limestone. At some point they set about shredding their manuscripts so that their precious and secretive documents would not fall into Roman hands. Bedouin workers in the mid-1900s found the fragments of about 400 scrolls. One silver jeweled case was found with a copper scroll. The treasure scroll contains information regarding the treasure of the late Temple, hidden by the Zealots, some of which (a jar of newly minted silver coins) was also found at Qumran. Especially precious texts therefore retained the scroll-format, but the used more durable materials than papyrus, a legacy possibly adopted from Egypt. The destruction of this community in many ways represented the beginning of a change in book production. The voluntary destruction of their library is one of the few examples where library destruction is reversible. The means of destruction is particularly significant. Only an extremely dry climate could perform this act of preservation: the climate, and their anticipation of ensuing theft and devastation. The scroll was here at its apex, among these desert peoples.
Specific to their literate faith is the interdiction that no Torah is to be copied on anything other than a scroll of parchment. Parchment was more expensive than papyrus, and so most other texts were copied on papyrus scrolls. Parchment survived much longer also provided a taller column for the writing surface (between 8-12in. as opposed to 6-8in. with papyrus). This regulation regarding the production format for the Jewish holy book would have been most stringently abided by Orthodox Jews (it is not true of Egyptian Jews however). In order to identify itself, the new writings, often letters, often more philosophical and musing than the mystical religious experience expressed through sacred poetry and tribal history of the textual predecessors, were usually created in the new roman form of the Codex. The codex began to become popular almost right away in Asia Minor, though Greece took much longer, as its culture had developed with the papyrus scroll. The Both the Gnostic Christians and the Early Church used codex form. By AD 247 the Judaized Christian Prophet Mani who, besides traveling and converting Christians throughout Asia, also wrote copiously, produced his work in codices which later became the source of ³Aryan heresy² first hereticated by Constantine, and resulting in vicious persecution of Gnostics, who had until that time held favor over their Christian fellows, even though their favor could turn on them with every change of state.
The political disruption of the Far East caused other bloodshed from intolerance of the Buddhist Manicheans who saw Mani, Jesus, and Buddha as manifestations of the same personal divine inspiration. These people were similarly slaughtered and their libraries brought to ruin at this time. The Manichean Library of Chinese Turkestan would have represented the furthest penetration of the codex publishing form at the time, where it was translated. Originally a Manichean, St. Augustine and others joined the growing Orthodox Church while the Roman Empire struggled under very poor leadership, and the Visigoths and Britons and Germanic lords hammered the taxed empire. Constantine was opportune in using his popularity to rise up ranks of the Roman hierarchy after successful battle in Briton. After a mysterious (Paul-like) Christian revelation by which he won the battle for Rome in AD 312, Constantine began a ruthless persecution of all the non-Christian faiths, a practice that has included both the burning of books and the burning of peoples as a means of cleansing¹ history, and gaining ideological domination. This terrible state of affairs continues into our present day.
The Holy Roman Church, among others have always considered it their duty to suppress what is not deemed fit for the lay public, and the most common form of suppression is the burning or looting of books. Once the Bible had been translated and canonized, other forms of it were quickly destroyed. As well prohibition went out against all books dealing with magic, medicine, astronomy, divination, philosophy, and other variants of free thought. The destruction of the Pagan literature throughout the empire was vast, but by 364 Emperor Flavius ordered the destruction Antioch library. This marked the end of many of the last remaining scrolls of Classical Greece, along with their temples and artworks, etc. After this period during the late fourth century there was a massive shift of the western world toward Roma as the spiritual center, as represented by the codex of Christianity in its catholic mission. It also to some degree marks the systematization of censorship. Due to the massive destruction of literary artifacts the oldest remaining complete version of the Old Testament in Hebrew, the Leningrad Codex (1010 CE), is in the Roman format.
Most of the western world had remained in the grip of polytheistic belief from time immemorial, which predominated throughout the great civilizations of Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, and Rome. Yet in the first three hundred years of the Common Era, the transition of power between Polytheistic and Christian empires carried with it the change from scroll to codex. The laws of Theodosius II, written in codex 435, helped to turn the Church into the engine of imperial politics. This transition brought with it a new form of administration, and a silent relationship to text as a result of education and mass production by scribes of quartos of texts. The scroll did not entirely disappear (it has now reappeared, tenaciously, in this very hypertext format, just as the Dead Sea Scrolls themselves reappeared!), but it took a more secondary role in book publishing to the codex. Little of the product of these industrious times remains. What does remain has been recaptured in an unprecedented fashion in the last century. Never before could we have seen the transition, so clearly as presented by the two discoveries of Qumran and Nag Hammadi: While one is scroll-based, the other is composed of codices. There is less than a century dividing the destruction of the Essene library and the building of the Gnostic one. This was as much due to the advent of Christianity, and the changing relationship to Rome after the last Jewish hold out against the Romans was destroyed in AD 73.
Other reasons are offered for this shift from scroll to codex:
To which I would add (being a southpaw), the time requirements of drying ink and left-handedness.