Monday, November 13, 2006

Parchment: How many sheep to make a Bible?

I gave a short talk at my men's group on Saturday morning on the Canon of theBible. In the course of the talk the subject of the type of media used to create the bibles came up.

The Old Testement and other early types of manuscripts were written as we know, on papyrus (dried reed). At some point the cumbersomeness of Scrolls and the very short lived material of the papyrus lead to the use of parchment.

Parchment is made from animal skins, either sheep or even calf (hence vellum); and that's where I mentioned that it could take as much as 425 sheepskins to create one bible.

This drew some skeptics in the group and some mumbled comments about how "...this sounds kind of a little large a number." That's all very well. One should question information and sources.

Well, I should have had my marbles in a row to address this, but alas, I didn't. So I decided I would do some additional research and present my findings at next Saturday's meeting.

This exercised actually proved to be very informative, so I thought I'd like to share what I found.

This first website gives a pretty lengthy breakdown of the process from Materials and Techniques of the Manuscript Production to the Technique of Illumination.

This next website points out "Manuscript Bibles required three years of work to create..."

I found this information on a Loyola Marymount University, Theology resource link. This lead me to an entry entitled "A Brief Background in Old English Manuscripts."

This site has some short movie clips that show the process, writing and illuminating the manuscript.

Another link..

"For these reasons, when Gutenberg produced his first Bible around 1456, Europe was still predominantly using parchment and vellum for printing, rather than paper. Parchment is the skin of a sheep or goat that's been prepared for writing; vellum is a fine parchment made from the skins of calves, lambs or kids.

Gutenberg printed several copies of his Bible on parchment; to print just one, he had to use the skins of 300 sheep. Now with that kind of resource demand, obviously there weren't enough goats and sheep and calves in Europe to allow the mass production of books. So here was this grand new technology - the printing press - and no way to realize its potential, until entrepreneurs saved the day by improving and expanding the technology of making paper from linen rags. At first, paper was called "cloth parchment."

There's ton's of information out there on parchment book making. As far as how many sheepskins it took to make a bible, I found numerous attempts at selecting a number. Obviously it depends on what size the book was put together. If a lectionary type book was made it was bigger of course to allow for easier reading. If it were a private reading book (..if you could read and if you had the money to purchase one, which the majority of people at that time couldn't) then the amount of skins would be fewer.

Anyway, 425 or at least hundreds of sheepskin to make one bible isn't out of the question.

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