Archive for October, 2018

Into the Unknown: The Voynich Manuscript

Megan F.

Cipher Manuscript, Folio 1r, courtesy of Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University Library

A medieval codex with an unknown author and an indecipherable language and script – where did the Voynich Manuscript come from and what does it mean?

Imagine this: you’re rifling through a box of unidentified documents – flipping past loose pages of sermons, financial records, and personal diaries. Suddenly, your hand rests on a thickly-bound codex. You pull it out of the box and run your hands over it, smoothing the centuries-old parchment with your fingertips. Opening it to reveal its pages, you see elegant but unrecognizable writing surrounded by colourful yet rudimentary illuminations. You don’t know it yet, but you’re holding what will soon become known as “The Most Mysterious Manuscript in the World” (Hurych).

What is it?

Held at Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library since 1969, the Voynich Manuscript (VM) remains one of the world’s most mysterious texts. It is officially named the Cipher Manuscript by Yale, and is classified under the shelf-mark “Beinecke MS 408” (Cipher Manuscript); however its more popular name refers to the rare book trader Wilfrid Voynich who discovered the manuscript in 1912 among miscellaneous texts sold by the Jesuit College of Villa Frascati, just outside of Rome (Hurych). Upon discovering the manuscript, Voynich began seriously studying it and launched what would become more than a century’s worth of public fascination with the enigmatic text (Hurych). Despite decades of research and several compelling discoveries from academics worldwide – including this 2018 study from the University of Alberta – no one has been able to definitively answer the fundamental questions regarding the manuscript:

  • Who wrote it?
  • What does it say?
  • What was its purpose?

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Biblical Papyri

Tyler L.

The use of papyrus as a writing material originated in Egypt and has been traced back to A.D. 2500. In the new testament days it was still a very popular writing material, making it the primary source of biblical writings (wikipedia) The papyrus “paper” was from the Egyptian papyrus plant and scrolls of papyrus were rolled out horizontally rather than vertically. The scrolls were approximately 10 inches high and up to 35 ft in length with texts written in columns of about 2 1⁄2 inches wide and just over 1⁄2 an inch apart from one another. Usually the text was written on only one side of the scroll (Coptic Orthodox Diocese 501) There are in fact over 130 biblical papyri known to date. But just where are these papyri held? In various places around the globe, to name a few places in which these manuscripts are held here is a short list: Bodmer Papyrus 11 in the Bodmer Library, Chester Beatty papyri at the Chester Beatty-museum in Dublin, and others in the Vatican Library, British Library, Cambridge University Library, and the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris etc. (Gerber 1). The earliest of these papyri is the gospel of Mark (P137) which dates back to 150-250 AD.

The papyri was relatively easy and cheap to produce which made it a popular use of writing material but its downside was that it was fragile and susceptible to both moisture and excessive dryness. This makes it so that the writings on early papyrus are few and far between. With this rarity there was bound to be collectors of sorts, the most notable and influential in regards to the old and new testament papyri collections is a man named Chester Beatty. He acquired the group of papyri over his lifetime most likely from dealers in illegal antiquities which made it difficult to decipher the exact circumstances of the findings of the artifacts.These third century papyrus codices Also known as “P45,” “P46,” and “P47,” are housed in Beatty’s gift to the world: the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin, Ireland. (Sheri Bell 1) There are eleven manuscripts in the group, seven Old Testament book and three of the New Testament. With this collection there is a large amount of worth that comes from a collection such as this. Chester Beatty Papyri was no doubt an important tool in relation to Uncial texts as to the more accurate dating of manuscripts (not just the biblical manuscripts) due to the sheer age and relation to many other manuscripts of similar age or later. It also allowed for a better pinpoint on the more minuscule writing as well as cursive techniques that were so common in New Testament manuscripts.

Papyrus “P46”, containing Romans 12: 11-13:1 (image Museum of the Bible)

For the Christian population these scripts hold even more significance in regards to the accuracy of the current bible as well as other manuscripts. The more texts that are found or gathered, the more precise and bonafide the writings can become. The image above is a papyrus manuscript of the book of Romans chapter 12 verses 11-13 and is one of the Chester Beatty collection. It truly is a magnificent piece of history. With the addition of this papyri along with so many others it validates the religious texts that believers affirm, at least towards the texts historical accuracy. Also, Israel’s biblical roots have been validated through archaeological discoveries dating back over 3,000 years. Time and again, another piece of history is found that proves the continuous Jewish connection to this land from ancient times until the modern era. This growing wealth of archaeological evidence validates Israel’s biblically mandated right to exist as a Jewish state (CUFI 1).

Maybe the most important of all is the contribution of the papyri to a deeper knowledge of ancient life. This is found in the writings about and by different biblical characters. Often a strong emphasis is cast on the social wrongs of the time, essentially detailing the social context of the ancient time. Included are accounts of different classes or types of people giving a plethora of resources on everyday life from the child, the prodigal, the Jewish money lender, etc. (James Orr 1) The inner workings of ancient societies is always a topic of debate and resources such as the biblical papyri help in decoding the ways of the past. It is no doubt that the worth of this historical interpretation is great.


Works Cited

“8 Ancient Manuscripts That Validate the Bible’s New Testament.” Josh.Org, 24 Jan. 2018,

“Biblical Basis.” Christians United for Israel, Accessed 19 Oct. 2018.

“List of New Testament Papyri.” Wikipedia, 19 Sept. 2018. Wikipedia,

Manuscripts – Early Bible Papyri. Accessed 12 Oct. 2018.

Papyrus Definition and Meaning – Bible Dictionary. Accessed 12 Oct. 2018.

Where Are the Original Manuscripts of the New Testament of the Bible Being Kept? Are They Still Existing? – Quora. Accessed 19 Oct. 2018.

“Writing Materials Used for the First Holy Bible – Interesting Facts – Resources.” Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States, Accessed 12 Oct. 2018.

More Than Just Paper: A Brief History of Parchment and the Process Behind its Creation

Erin M.

Image of the “Great Isaiah Scroll” a parchment document dated to approximately between 356-100 B.C.E. CC0 Jb344tul at English Wikipedia.

While preparing this article, I was dismayed to look around my study space and see bits of wasted loose-leaf strewn around. If my research on the topic of parchment has taught me anything, it is that writing materials have not always been so expendable. Before the widespread use of paper, parchment was a preferred material for the use of writing. In broad terms, parchment refers to a specially prepared animal skin which is used as a support for writing, printing and even painting. The earliest accounts of animal skin being utilized as a writing base date as far back as the Egyptian fourth dynasty (2550–2450 BC). Assyrian and Babylonian writing from the sixth century B.C.E. onward, as well as many early Islamic and Jewish texts, also used leather as a medium (Norman). While it is difficult to pinpoint when leather was first used as a writing material, the creation of processed parchment is often attributed to the Hellenistic period. One theory is that parchment was “developed under the patronage of Eumenes of Pergamum, as a substitute for papyrus, which was temporarily not being exported from Alexandria, its only source” (Norman). While it is doubtful that parchment was actually “invented” under Eumenes, he likely had a hand in introducing it to the Greek world (Johnson 118). The modern word “parchment” even derives from the Latin “pergamenum,” after the city in which Eumenes streamlined the process of making it.

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The Rise and Fall of Papyrus

Ali J.

Our modern word paper was derived from the word papyrus, and for good reason. Paper has not always been as advanced or as easy to come by as it is today. Ancient papyrus was a waxy material made from the Cyprus papyrus plant that grows along the Nile river in the freshwater marshes. While it was used by Greek, Roman, and Egyptian scholars it was strictly grown and produced in Egypt then shipped out to these places for a hefty price. While it is most popular use is for recording a written language this 10-foot-tall reed plant was also used for other things. These include, mattresses, furniture like chairs and tables, boxes, baskets, sandals, utensils, rope, and even boats, so it was very versatile. The plants stalk was not the only useful part of the plant either, as the root was used for food, perfume, and even medicine.

Papyrus baskets

Papyrus sandals

The making of papyrus was quite complicated. After harvesting the triangular plant, it is stripped to its core. The core is then sliced into very thin strips. These strips are soaked in water to remove some of the sugar content. Afterward, the water is slowly drained away as the strips are pounded flat. All these strips are then placed overlapping each other either into small sheets or long scrolls and finally pounded again. The second pounding releases a sticky substance which is the remaining sugar caused by the breaking down of the plants cellular structure that binds the sheets together. The sheet or sheets are then placed under a heavy rock to dry for six long days.

For places that were too far away to transport this luxury Egyptian good, parchment was used instead. By about 50 AD parchment had taken over the papyrus industry. Although one could not make scrolls with parchment one was able to make books out of this animal skin-based material. Ancient scholars found books to be a better way to record information because they could flip back and forth, instead of a long strip of paper where one would have to unroll and reroll many times to find the information they were looking for. After 400 AD papyrus was virtually out of the market and only being used by the Egyptians. Everyone wanted to use parchment, as it was more affordable and could be produced anywhere. After the fall of the Roman empire people were no longer interested in trading with the Egyptians, so papyrus was almost obsolete.


A fragment of an ancient papyrus


In 800 AD when the Chinese invented paper, not even the Egyptians were using papyrus anymore, because paper, like parchment, was easier to access. Finally, by 1200 AD almost every community developed their own way of making paper and it was being transported all around the world for a cheaper price then papyrus too.

The papyrus industry was demolished and almost lost to ancient civilizations and us but because of the dry climate of Egypt many remnants of papyrus documents have been left behind. From these artifacts we are able to not only get an insight into the ancient Egyptian culture, but also how the papyrus industry worked, and we can now make this material ourselves. Today the plant is still being grown in a controlled fashion by the Nile river for the production of modern papyrus. We are still able to make modern papyrus which is used today as a specialty paper by artists and calligraphers to make masterpiece pictures and even greeting cards. The Cyprus papyrus plant holds the status of a luxury once again.



Carr, Karen. “Parchment and the History of Books.” Study Guides, Publisher Name Study Guides Publisher Logo, 21 Apr. 2018,

Dunn, Jimmy. “Tour Egypt.” Egypt: Wadjet, Goddess of Lower Egypt, Papyrus, and Protector of Pharaoh,

“Egyptian Papyrus.” Egyptian Papyrus – Cyprus Plant – What Is Papyrus, 2008,

Szymanski, Terrence. “Papyrus Making 101: An Introduction to Papyrus.” U-M Library, 4 May 2004,

The Ruthwell Cross

Paityn C.

All images courtesy of Undiscovered Scotland.

St Paul and St Anthony Sharing Bread

In the 8th century, the Ruthwell Cross, a work of insular art, was created. Insular art is “the artistic tradition which flourished in Britain and Ireland after the departure of the Romans” (British Library). The Ruthwell Cross is a stone cross located in Dumfriesshire, Scotland; it rises about “5.2m or 17 feet tall” (Undiscovered Scotland). It is widely known as “an early Christian monument of international importance” because of the depictions of Jesus Christ engraved onto it (British Library).

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