layout: page
title: “Lab 3: Simulating the Scriptorium”
author: “Megan”
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# Textual Transmissions: The Bible

The Bible is an ancient work, written by a number of authors in several different languages at different time periods throughout history. Its importance as a religious document means that the medieval church would want copies of it available to their priests, thus necessitating the scribes to create these copies.

In these chains of translation and copying, there is room for both scribal error and deliberate scribal changes. The main four gospels of the New Testament contain several of the same stories told in different ways, with different wordings and details. Scribes would often choose one version to streamline the others toward. Having just copied one version of the text, it might have been an unconscious action of the scribe to make details align. Additionally, details, especially time spans, ages, and other numbers, were changed, erroneously remembered or misread. In passages with a number of pronouns and obscurity as to which subject the multitude of “he” s or “they” s referred to, a scribe might try to clarify. However, that scribe would only have their own interpretation of what the pronouns referred to, and so their opinion would become concrete in the text.

Later, in further copyings and translations of the text, the decision has to be made whether to retain the error, correct it, or interpret it as not being an error at all and instead explaining away the incongruity. In something as complex as religion, which has differences of interpretation when looking at the same passages of the same text, these differences are impactful. In the case of the streamlining of passages, an original version can generally be understood to be that which is found by backtracing translations and manuscripts to find a version where differences are present in the text rather than congruous versions.

Of course, given the example of the Wicked Bible, it isn’t just scribal handwritten mistakes that cause issues. Across mediums, human error remains.

# My Class Time as a Scribe

It’s very easy for me to see how any text, as copied by scribes, could become corrupted. In several instances, while I was copying my manuscript - even though mine was the one that the class agreed was easiest to read! - I could not understand what a word was supposed to be. I simply left it blank and perhaps, if I was copying a full text, I might forget to come back to that blank, or I would gloss over it while proofreading. Or I might make my best guess or choose a word that I thought could fit, and any incorrect guess or synonym has different connotations that could change the meaning of a passage.

And I was only working as a scribe for half an hour, at most, not eight hours every day for the course of much of my life. We imagine monks as being highly skilled and dedicated workers, but they can’t all have been. I have more questions about what the life as a monk would have been.

  1. What is the learning curve for writing with a quill pen?
  2. Is parchment easier or harder to write on than paper?
  3. How many years of straining to copy words in the dim candlelight did it take for a monk’s eyesight to deteriorate to the point of affecting their work?
  4. There had to have been at least a few dyslexic monks, right?