Building the Bible

Early Translations and Transcriptions

In the Middles Ages, how did people obtain copies of the Bible?

In the Middles Ages, every aspect of putting together a copy of the Bible was time-consuming, labor-intensive, and expensive. Ink and parchment were made by hand. Scribes copied the text by hand. In some copies, artists filled margins with elaborate, colorful images called illuminations. The copied manuscripts were bound by bookbinders. So, copies of the Bible were expensive but demand was high. Because there was so much poverty and books were expensive, owning an entire Bible was out of the question for most people. Besides this, the Church prohibited Bibles from being written in any language except Latin, even though Latin was no longer the language of regular people. There is evidence, however, that some people ignored the prohibition. Bibles dating from this era have been found in which, between the Latin text, someone wrote literal translations in another language. Some scholars think that this might be the origin of the modern-day saying “reading between the lines.”


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