Lab 3 - Simulating the Scriptorium

…Picture This

The door opens slowly and at first, there is nothing. Our eyes adjust but the light is so dim. The long table in view is neatly organized. Candlelight. That’s it. A script, lined paper, and a wood pencil sit in front of every placement. We all take out seats, awaiting further instructions. “Start copying,” he says, and off we go.

First, the date in the top right corner. 1848. Then neat, normalized cursive meets my eye. Handwriting, individualized through the author’s lifetime. Off I went, never thinking about the biological complexity of the process. Until now. Words on a page, written by hand. Through my eyes, reworked by my brain into a series of commands, sent through my muscles, out my right hand, into words on a different page nearly 200 years later.

Errors are inevitable. Unavoidable when dealing with the transfer of information. Therefore, the message can change. And change it does. Words get spelled incorrectly in one manuscript then changed completely in the next. Then a sentence does not make sense so scribes alter them to reestablish meaning. It’s a laborious process, undoubtedly plagued with human error by even the most skilled scribes. But messages, letters, poems, literature, manuscripts, biblical teachings, songs, and much much more were transcribed by hand - page by page - word by word - letter by letter - for longer than most of us realize. Printing, in terms of technology, is new. Brand new even. Script…pen (quill) to paper handwriting, tells us much much more about our literary history.

The Conflict of Adam and Eve with Satan

Textual Details and Analysis

The Conflict of Adam and Eve with Satan is a Christian extracononical text, meaning that it is not a part of the canon of any known church, but it is chronologically placed in a broad family of Old Testament Psuedepigrapha. Psuedepigrapha is literature with no author or a falsely ascribed author. There are no claims to an author of The Conflict of Adam and Eve with Satan, therefore making it psuedepigrapha. The oldest existing copy of this work was found translated in Ge’ez (a language native to Ethiopia) from an Arabic original. It was later translated to German around the 1850’s, then translated into English almost a decade late (from a different German translation). The English translator, S.C. Malan, deemed the first half of the text “The First Book of Adam and Eve” and the second half “The second book of Adam and Eve.” This distinction was never included in the original transcript found in Ge’ez, but the Ethiopic translation is divided into sections of different lengths and subject matter. These books are now part of a larger collection of works, “The Lost Books of the Bible and the Forgotten Books of Eden.”

The textual origin of this work is hard to pin down, however a Syriac work known as The Cave of Treasures contains many similar tales. Also, according to Malan, a slew of stories expanding on the Old Testament are found in the Talmud, the Koran, and other late antique texts. While extracononical, The Conflict of Adam and Eve with Satan is still assumed to have been copied by monks in religious scriptoriums. However, its importance in the Catholic church was far less relevant when compared to books definitively included in the Bible, of which many manuscripts have been uncovered. There are very very few copies of The Conflict of Adam and Eve with Satan at all, indicating that it was rarely transcribed or poorly preserved (not well attended to).


Our readings this week spoke to the transfer of text through human hand, whether that be a translation or a direct copy in order to produce another replica. Like I mentioned earlier, handwritten manuscripts are riddled with human influence, lost with the power of a machine. Trithemius praises scribes and their connection to text. Ælfric worries about his influence over a biblical translation, because he realizes the impossibility of translating sans influence. Print has come a long way. Recent technology has people typing more words per minute than anyone could ever write by hand, which has lead to the mass production of text, like Harlequin Romance novels. But some of us still see the value in handwriting, much like Trithemius, because of a connection to the text and the words and letters we force our muscles to print - a connection unattainable without a pen in hand.