THE MATERIAL USED FOR WRITING
IN ANCIENT TIMES
At the request of a dear friend,
who requested definitions for the materials used in ancient times for
writings. I list the following:
term “inscriptions” means any written documents, whether on stone, clay,
papyrus, or any other material.
is defined as pottery fragments commonly used as writing material, since
they were cheaper than papyrus. The term is sometimes loosely used to
include flakes of limestone. Inscribe with ink, potsherds were widely used
for letters, receipts, school texts, etc. Important finds of ostraca have
been made at Samria and Lachish.
is a tall, aquatic reed plant, Cyperus Papyrus, noted especially for its
use for ancient writing material. The papyrus plant, so abundant in
ancient Lower Egypt, is no longer found there. Plural: Papyri
The earliest use mention of leather documents is found in a text of the
Fourth Egyptian Dynasty (2550 B.C.). A collection of Aramaic letters to
Persian officials in Egypt dating from the fifth century B.C. is all on
leather. Mr. Kifa correctly says that leather in Mesopotamia could not
survive. In Palestine the Dead Sea Scrolls survived, they were all written
on leather, except the Copper Scroll. The Talmudic law required copies of
the Hebrew Torah, which were intended for public worship to be inscribed
on leather rolls.
is a writing material made from the skins of sheep or goats, which
gradually supplanted papyrus because of its durability. Parchment began to
replace leather in the third century A.D. Parchment differs from leather
in not being tanned. A superior quality of parchment known as vellum was
made from the skin of calves or kids. You may see a reference to
parchments in II Tim. 4: 13. The Aramaic language, written in a cursive
alphabetic script, was used in Mesopotamia during the Neo-Assyrian period,
as is attested by Aramaic notations on some cuneiform tablets. Since
papyrus or leather would be the usual writing materials in this case, they
have long since perished in the dam Mesopotamian soil as mentioned
correctly by Mr. Kifa. The dry weather conditions in Egypt made it
possible to preserve the Aramaic Papyri of Elephetine.
In all ages stone has been used for inscriptions when a high degree of
permanence was desired. Since stone was relatively scarce in Mesopotamia,
however, so that cuneiform inscriptions on this material are confined
almost exclusively to royal texts or public stelae like that which bears
the Code of Hamurabi (Aramaic: ‘Amo-Ur-Rabi=leader of the city dwellers=in
Arabic: ra’iss sukkan almudun). In Syria-Palestine stone was likewise used
for inscriptions in Aramaic or Canaanite intended for public display, such
as the Moabite Stone, Siloam Inscriptions, etc.
was much less common than stone. To this belongs the copper scroll
discovered at Qumran, popularly know as The Dead Sea Scrolls. Cuneiform
inscriptions in Sumerian, Akkadian, and Old Persian were incised on
objects made of gold, silver, copper, and bronze.
Was the most readily available and thus the cheapest material for writing
purposes in Mesopotamia. To this material belong the Sumero-Akkadian
pictographic signs, which were written in peculiar cuneiform shapes. It
later spread to the Hittites, Hurians, and Elamites. The use of clay was
not confined to Mesopotamia and Anatolia, but spread to Syria-Palestine
and Egypt when Akkadian became the language of international diplomacy.
The best evidence of this is the correspondence between the Egyptian
Pharaoh and the Babylonian, Mitannian, Hittite, and Atzawan rulers, as
well as the local governors of the dependent states in Syria-Palestine
between the fifteenth and thirteenth centuries B.C. that came to light by
the discovery of Tell El-Amarna in Egypt.
Is the use of pieces of broken and discarded pottery as a writing
material. These Ostraca were available and less costly. We find them in
Egypt from the Old Kingdom (2664-2155 B.C.). Texts written on Astraca have
been found in Egyptian (hieratic, demotic, and Coptic), Aramaic, and
Greek. In Mesopotamia, Ostraca was used for Aramaic, which was written
with pen and ink.
Was another material used for writing. No trace of Linen writing was found
in Western Asia, if indeed it was used. It was employed in Egypt, Italy.
There is no indication of its use in biblical literature.
and BARK, found in Egypt. It was used in Mesopotamia, but perished.
We know that from the depiction of scribes in the Assyrian reliefs of
700B.C. An eighth century B.C. relief from Zinjirli in N. Syria shows a
similar scene. There are many references in the Bible to the use of wood
fro carving, they are found in the books of Num., Eze., Isa., Exod., and