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LIBRARIES. A library is a collection of books, large or small, purposely brought together by, and in the possession of, an individual or an institution (as contrasted with an accumulation of books in a book store, which is not a library). Often a library possessed by an individual ultimately becomes part of an institution more or less public, such as the J. Pierpont Morgan Library of New York. While books frequently are mentioned in the Bible, and sometimes in detail, from “the book of the generations of Adam” (Gen 5:1) to the “books, and above all the parchments” which Paul requested Timothy to bring to him in Rome (2 Tim 4:13), nowhere is there a reference to a library of books existing in Israel. Solomon, however, did complain that “of making many books there is no end” (Eccl 12:12), which would imply that he was well acquainted with an existing body of lit.

There are numerous individual allusions in the Bible to the writing of books and to the places where they were deposited. The books of Moses are mentioned more frequently than any others. As early as Israel’s victory over Amalek Moses was commanded to “Write this as a memorial in a book” (Exod 17:14). Though nothing is said as to where it should be deposited, it is interesting to note that the next line reads, “and Moses built an altar.” This antedated the building of the Tabernacle. Soon after the giving of the Decalogue “Moses wrote all the words of the Lord,” and, apparently on the next day, “he took the book of the covenant, and read it in the hearing of the people” (Exod 24:4, 7). The NT adds the comment that Moses “sprinkled both the book itself and all the people” (Heb 9:19). Again, it is here recorded that Moses built an altar. In the great code of Deuteronomy there is a famous passage that Israel’s future king should “write for himself in a book a copy of this law, from that which is in charge of the Levitical priests” (Deut 17:18). The priests and Levites were definitely acknowledged as the keepers of these sacred volumes. There is a similar statement toward the end of the Decalogue: “When Moses had finished writing the words of this law in a book, to the very end, Moses commanded the Levites...[to] take this book of the law, and put it by the side of the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God” (Deut 31:24-26).

In an earlier period, when the Israelites had enthusiastically received Saul as their anointed king, Samuel “told the people the rights and duties of the kingship; and he wrote them in a book and laid it up before the Lord” (1 Sam 10:25). Both Jeremiah and Isaiah were admonished frequently to write certain warnings sent of God in books (Isa 30:9; Jer 25:15; 30:2; 36; 51:60).

From these allusions one thing seems clear: these writings commanded by God were in some way identified with the Ark, and later with the Tabernacle, and generally were under the care of the priests and Levites. This would seem naturally to imply that there was a library in the Temple in Jerusalem, but of this the Scriptures say nothing. The famous Ger. scholar, Sellin, supposes that there were temple archives at Ophra, Dan, Shiloh, Shechem, and Gibeon, but concerning this the Scriptures are silent.

For many generations there was no record of the book of Moses or of any other Biblical books. After the destruction of Jerusalem Daniel, far away in Babylon, “perceived in the books the number of years which, according to the word of the Lord to Jeremiah the prophet” must pass (Dan 9:2). Perhaps Daniel had memorized these passages, but it is more likely that he had a copy of Jeremiah with him or accessible to him.

In the middle of the 5th cent. b.c., when some of the Jews returned from captivity, the people asked Ezra to read to them from “the book of the law of Moses” (Neh 8:1ff.; and 13:1ff.). This implies that not only did Ezra possess a copy of the law of Moses, but that the people knew that he had it. Nothing is said of priests and Levites.

In spite of all these references to the writing of the books and sometimes of the assignment of them to the care of the Levites, there is no specific reference to a library, nor even a hint that there must have been extensive collections of books in Israel. Not only were there copies of the lit. which is now included in the OT, but these Scriptures refer also to other books not included in the canon, such as the Book of the Wars of the Lord (Num 21:14), the Book of Jasher (Josh 10:12, 13); the Book of Nathan the prophet and the Book of Gad the seer (1 Chron 29:29) and the Chronicles of the Seers (2 Chron 33:19). Besides all these, there must have been collections of treaties, genealogies, business transactions, etc. The first eleven chapters of 1 Chronicles demand an extensive collection of genealogical records.

The NT gives no hint of actual collections of books, but from our Lord’s experience in the synagogue at Nazareth (Luke 4:17) it is clear that the synagogues then, as today, had copies of the OT writings.

The fact that no libraries or archives of Israel have thus far been found is more amazing in consideration of the fact that vast collections of records, narratives, and other texts were amassed by Israel’s neighbors. Few have been found that could be called Israelite. In the 1930s eighteen ostraca in a Heb. script from about 588 b.c., relating to the siege of Lachish, were discovered. They related to the siege of the city, but were really emergency correspondence, not a library. North of Lachish, on the southern edge of the Valley of Jezreel, twelve cuneiform tablets were discovered at Taanach that could be dated about 1450 b.c. before the arrival of Israel. Albright said in 1944 that he hoped there would be “a rich harvest of written documents at Megiddo and Lachish,” but such a hope has not been fulfilled. Farther N, at Ras Shamra, forty m. SW of Antioch, was found a large collection of texts and letters, mostly religious, from the middle of the 2nd millennium b.c. In southeastern Syria in this generation 2000 tablets of the 18th cent. b.c. came to light, and 370 clay tablets of the 14th cent. b.c. were found at Tell el-Amarna in Egypt.

Probably the greatest collection of tablets yet found are those which composed the library of Sargon (722-705 b.c.) and which are now in the British Museum, 25,000 in number. In the Royal Library of Ashurbanipal (662-626 b.c.), 20,000 tablets representing 10,000 different texts, also rest there. It was called by Sir Frederic Kenyon “the first great private collection of books known to history” (The Bible and Archaeology [1940], p. 4). More recently archeologists unearthed a large number of tablets, estimated at 20,000, inscribed during the first half of the 2nd millennium b.c. at Nuzi. Fifty m. SE of Babylon in the temple area at Nippur, some 50,000 tablets dating from the 4th and 5th centuries b.c. were found. Dr. Oppenheim has stated that “A library in our sense, a systematic collection of texts, copied for the purpose of being in a collection, existed only in Mesopotamia.” E. C. Richardson, in his work on Biblical Libraries, written in 1915, wrote, “The fact is that there were thousands or even tens of thousands of collections, containing millions of written books or documents in Biblical places in Biblical times.”

The large libraries of the Gr. and Rom. world were gathered after the close of the OT period. Most of the LXX prob. was produced at the great library of Alexandria in the middle of the 3rd cent. b.c. The libraries of the Early Church, such as the one used by Origen at Caesarea in the 3rd cent. a.d., do not belong within the Biblical period, and are consequently outside the scope of this article.

In the year 1947 occurred what has been designated as “the greatest manuscript discovery of all times.” For the most part, the thousands of tablets found in different libraries of the Near E do not relate directly to Israel or to the OT records of Israel. From the caves in the hills at the NE end of the Dead Sea were recovered a large number of complete and fragmentary scrolls dealing with the lit. of the inter-testamental period, and containing specimens from every book of the OT except Esther. This body of MSS was gathered or produced by the pious men of the Qumran community between 200 b.c. and a.d. 50. Some of these MSS, such as Daniel and Isaiah, were written as early as 165 b.c. Some of them had never been seen before, or at least not in entirety: the Manual of Discipline, the Damascus Document, the War of the Sons of Light Against the Sons of Darkness, etc. The library contained a very interesting Aram. work, A Description of the Heavenly Jerusalem. The greatest treasure was the Isaiah Scroll, which is almost identical with the Heb. text of Isaiah that has been used by Jews and Christians alike for centuries. The relation of all this material to the history of Israel, to the origin of the Early Church, to textual criticism of the OT, etc., will be occupying scholars for years to come.


In 1914 the famous authority on bibliography, Dr. E. C. Richardson, librarian of Princeton University, wrote a work on Biblical Libraries, which carried the sub-title, “A Sketch of Library History 3400 b.c. to a.d. 150.” In an abbreviated form, this became the basis of his article on this subject in the ISBE, Vol. III, pp. 1882-1886. Nearly sixty years have passed, so that this work needs careful revision. A great deal of valuable material can be found in the article on “Archaeology” by D. J. Wiseman in the New Bible Commentary, 66-71. See also the article by O. Betz, “Dead Sea Scrolls,” in the Interpreter’s Bible Dictionary, Volume I, pp. 790-802. There is also valuable material in A. L. Oppenheim, Ancient Mesopotamia (1964), and in Sir F. Kenyon, The Bible and Archaeology. There is much detailed information in G. F. Owen, Archaeology and the Bible (1961), and in an article by M. Jastrow, “Did the Babylonian Temples Have Libraries?” JAOS (1906), 27:147-182.

The lit. on the DSS is enormous. The following are suggested: F. M. Cross, Jr., The Ancient Library of Qumran; J. Van der Ploeg, The Excavations at Qumran; M. Mansoor, The Dead Sea Scrolls (1964).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

li’-bra-riz, li’-brer-iz:

1. The Bible a Library

2. Mythological and Apocryphal Libraries

3. Libraries for the Dead

4. Memory Libraries

5. Prehistoric and Primitive Libraries

6. Mesopotamian Period

7. Patriarchal Period

8. Egyptian Period

9. The Exodus

10. Palestine at the Conquest

11. Period of the Judges

12. Saul to the Maccabees

13. New Testament Times

14. Bookcases and Buildings


A library is a book or books kept for use, not for sale. A one-book library is just as much a library as a one-cell animal is animal. The earliest libraries, like the earliest plants and animals, were very simple, consisting of a few books or perhaps only a single tablet or manuscript. An archive is a library of official documents not in active use; a registry, a library of going documents.

1. The Bible a Library:

The Bible is itself a library. During the Middle Ages it was commonly called, first, "The Divine Library," and then, "The Library" (Bibliotheca), in the same exclusive sense as it is now known as "The Book" (Biblia as Latin singular). Even the word "Bible" itself is historically "Library" rather than "Book" (for it was originally the neuter plural Biblia, "The Books"; compare Da 9:2). The Bible is also a library in that it is an organized collection of books rather than a single work.

This fact that the Bible is itself a library is increasingly mentioned of late, especially in Old Testament studies (Kent, Narratives of the Beginnings of Hebrew History, 1, "The Old Testament as a Library"; Delitzsch, Babel and Bible, 4, "the Old Testament, that small library of books of the most multifarious kind"). Its profound bearing on the theory of the composition and inspiration of the Bible (compare BOOK) has given the fact new significance and makes an understanding of the nature of a library one of the best tools for the interpretation of the Bible in the face of modern problems. While it is not possible to elaborate this within these limits, it may be said briefly that the logical end of the application of the doctrine of evolution to books and libraries is that the Bible is, like man, the result of natural selection, and is as unique among books as man among the animals. And, whatever may be true of men, in the case of books the formation of a book-library by natural selection tends toward the elimination of error. The more numerous the individuals and the longer the period, the greater the reduction of error, so that the logical inference as to the Bible is that on purely natural grounds it may be, or is, the nearest approximation to inerrancy among books, because of its history as a library. This does not quite lead to the position that the Bible is as unique among books as Jesus Christ among men, but under the doctrine of a creative Providence, it does imply what may be called real superhuman authorship and authority.

2. Mythological and Apocryphal Libraries:

Somewhat apart from historical libraries, but closely connected with Bible study, are the alleged superhuman libraries, libraries of, or written by, the gods, libraries for the dead and apocryphal libraries. The Vedas are said to have existed as a collection even before the Creator created Himself (Manu 1 21). All religions have their book-gods--Thoth and Seshait, Apollo, Hermes, Minerva, Ida, Bridget, Soma, Brahma, Odin, Kvasir, Ygdrasil and many others. To the ancient Babylonians the whole firmament was a library of "celestial tablets." The mythological ideas often have important bearing on Biblical doctrines, e.g. the Creation, the Word, the Tree of Life, the Book of Life, the Holy Spirit. Apocryphal libraries include the library which Yahweh is alleged to have formed on the 7th day of creation on a mount East of the Garden of Eden, and other libraries ascribed to Enoch, Noah and Seth. See for this the Old Testament pseudepigrapha.

3. Libraries for the Dead:

Another class of collections of real books, written or gathered for mythological purposes, is what may be called libraries for the dead. It is well known that in most countries of antiquity, at one time or another, and among primitive people like the American Indians, in modern times, it has been the custom to bury with the dead the things which friends thought would be useful in the Elysian fields or happy hunting grounds, or on the way thither--the bow and horse of the warrior, the ushabti servants, children’s playthings, the models of food objects, and so on. This same motive led also to the burying of books with the dead. For long periods in the history of Egypt every Egyptian of any position was buried with one or more books. These books were not his chance possessions, buried with him as, in some burials, all a man’s personal belongings are, but books selected for their usefulness to him after death. For the most part these were of the nature of guidebooks to the way to the heavenly world, magic formulas for the opening of doors, instruction as to the right method of progress toward, or introduction into, paradise, etc. These books were afterward gathered together and form what is now known as "the Book of the Dead" and other such books.

4. Memory Libraries:

In modern times the actor or professional story-teller often has in memory a collection of remembered books which is in effect a library. Among primitive peoples the medicine-man was literally a library of tribal traditions. The priests of India and the minstrels of Greece or of the Middle Ages often had a large repertory. By the prevailing theory of the origin of the books of the Old Testament such memory traditions, transmitted orally, were the chief source of the Hexateuch, but in view of what is now known of the library situation of the time, this must be doubted.

5. Prehistoric and Primitive Libraries:

In general terms it may be said that when man began not only to make but to keep records, libraries began. Even a memorial stone contains the germ of a mnemonic library. The primitive medicine-man’s collection of notched message sticks, tallies, quipus or wampum belts is a great advance in complexity on these, and the simplest collection of picture narratives of Hottentot or American Indian, an advance on this. A combination of pictures with signs is still another forward step, and this step is already to be found in the Pyrenean caves of the Stone Age (see Writing). Most of these earliest libraries were kept at the sanctuary. The gathering together of books in libraries had its origin in the ideas of

(1) preservation,

(2) gathering together like books in order to join together their contents, and

(3) circulation--the great modern expansion of the idea.

The owner of flocks and herds gathers together his lists of cattle or other possessions, his receipts for purchases and record of sales, whether these are recorded on the walls of his cave or on wooden tallies or on knotted cords or on clay tablets gathered in little jars and buried under the floor of his house. Large owners and sovereigns and the temples of Egypt and Assyria gathered large stores of these archival records and with them records of tribute, oracles, etc. As early as 2700 BC we have the account of King Dedkere Isesi, his archival library and his librarian Senezemib. The annals of Thutmose III were preserved in the palace library as well as cut in selections on the walls of the temple. A few years later, and we know that the archival records were kept in a special room in the palace at Amarna--and many of the records themselves were found there. All this was before the year 1300.

6. Mesopotamian Period:

Bible history through Genesis 10 covers the whole civilized world, but its main line up to about 2000 BC is almost wholly Mesopotamian. Up to the time of Abram’s migration from Haran, the history of Biblical libraries and the history of Babylonian and Sumerian libraries are one. Most of the cities mentioned in this period are now known to have had collections of books in those days. At the time when Abram left Haran there were hundreds of collections of written documents in scores of different geographical localities and containing millions of tablets.

7. Patriarchal Period:

From Abram’s emigration out of Haran to Jacob’s emigration to Egypt was, on the face of Biblical data, mainly a time of wandering in Palestine, but this was not wholly nomad nor wholly Palestinian. Whether there were libraries in Palestine at this time or not, the Patriarchs were all in close personal contact with the library lands of Babylonia and Egypt. Abram himself was familiar with both Mesopotamia and Egypt. His son Ishmael married an Egyptian, his son Isaac a Mesopotamian. His grandson Jacob married two wives from between the rivers, and had himself 20 years’ residence in the region. While it does not appear that Isaac lived at any time either in Syria or in Egypt, during most of his life all the members of his nearest family, father, mother, wife, sons’ wives, had had from one to three score years’ life in the mother-country. Whether there were public records in this region at this time is another matter, but it would seem that the whole region during the whole period was under the influence of the Babylonian civilization. It was freely traversed by trading caravans, and the Hittite and Mesopotamian records extend at least a little back into this period.

8. Egyptian Period:

The Egyptian period of Bible history begins with the immigration of Jacob and his sons, but fringes back to the visit of Abram (Ge 12:10-20), if not to Mizraim of Ge 10:6. On the other hand, it ends properly with the exodus, but fringes forward through frequent points of contact to the flight of the Virgin and Pentecost. Whether the sojourn was 430 or 215 years, or less, it was a long residence at a time when libraries were very flourishing in Egypt. Already at the time of Abram’s visit, collections of books, not only of official accounts, but of religious texts, medical texts, annals, and the like, had been common in Egypt for nearly 1,000 years, and had perhaps existed for 1,000 years or more before that.

Under the older of the modern datings of the exodus, the period of the sojourn included the times of Thothmes III (Thutmose), and in this reign there are peculiarly interesting records, not only of the existence of temple and palace libraries, but of the nature of their contents. The official recorder of Thothmes III, accompanying him on his campaign in Syria and Palestine, set down each day the events of the day, while he or others also made lists of tribute, spoils, commissary matters, etc. These daily records were deposited in the palace library, as it appears, but a narrative compiled from these and written on a leather roll was deposited in the temple library, and from this roll in turn an abstract was engraved on the walls of the temple, where it remains to this day. This probably gives the library situation of the time in a nutshell:

(1) the simple saving of utilitarian documents, often on papyrus or wood tablets,

(2) the gathering of books written for information on more durable material,

(3) preserving choice books for posterity by a local series of inscriptions.

The rolls must have been kept in chests or small boxes, like the box containing the medical papyri of King Neferikere some 1,300 years before, or the "many boxes" at Edfu long after. Many pictures of these book-chests or bookcases are found in the monuments (Birt, Buchrolle, 12, 15 ff).

Again, the palace library of King Akhnaton (circa 1360 BC) at Amarna, which contained collections of the royal foreign correspondence on clay tablets, has been excavated. Its bricks bear the inscription, "Place of the records of the palace of the king," and some hundreds of tablets from this spot have been recovered.

At the time of the exodus there were thus probably libraries in all palaces, temples and record offices, although the temple libraries were by no means confined to sacred writings or the palace to secular. There were also at least archives, or registers, in the royal treasury and in all public departments. Schools for scribes were, it would seem, held in the palace, temple and treasury libraries. There were, therefore, apparently, at this time millions of documents or books, in hundreds of organized collections, which could be called archives or libraries.

9. The Exodus:

Supposing any exodus at all, Moses and Aaron and all the Hebrew "officers" ("scribes" or writers) under the Egyptian taskmasters (Ex 5:6,10,14,15,19), brought up as they were in the scribal schools, were of course quite familiar with the Egyptian ways of keeping their books. It is not surprising, therefore, to find the first and chief provision which Moses made for the Tabernacle was a book-chest for the preservation of the sacred directions given by Yahweh. It makes little difference whether the account is taken in its final form, divided horizontally into Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy and Joshua, or divided perpendicularly into J, E, D, the Priestly Code (P), the fact of the ark and enough of its details are given even in the very oldest sources to show that the authors understood the ark to be a glorified book-chest in or near which were kept written documents: the tables of stone, the inscribed rod, all the testimony given from the mercy-seat which formed its lid, and perhaps the Book of Deuteronomy. The ark is in fact much the size and shape of a portable bookcase, and the Septuagint translation renders the word by the ordinary technical Greek word for the book-chest (kibotos; compare Birt, op. cit., 248-49). It appears also to have been the later Hebrew word for book-chest (compare Jewish Encyclopedia, II, 107 ff). At the exodus, whenever that may have been, Moses is alleged to have made the ark the official library, and in it apparently he is thought to have kept the oracles as uttered from time to time and the record of his travels from day to day (as well as the tables of stone), precisely as the scribe of Thutmose recorded his Syrian campaigns from day to day. This record (if it was a record) was in all likelihood on a leather roll, since this became the traditional form of books among the Hebrews, and this too was like the annals of Thutmose. When the tribes separated to North and South, the books may have been either separated or copied, and doubtless they suffered much wear and tear from the harsh times until we find De turning up again in a temple library (2Ki 22:8 ff; 2Ch 34:14 ).

The evidence from Egyptian Babylonian, Mitannian, Amorite and Hittite documents shows the existence of official chanceries and by implication of archives throughout the whole region of Syria and Palestine at the time when the "Hebrew" invasion began (Winckler, Tell el-Amarna Tablets).

10. Palestine at the Conquest:

The Tell el-Amarna Letters and the tablets from the Hittite archives at Boghaz-keui (Winckler, Deutsche Orientalische Gesellschaft Mitt., 1907, number 35) include actual letters from the princes, elders and governors of dozens of places, scattered all over this region from Egypt to the land of the Hittites and the Mitannians. These places include among others Jerusalem, Damascus, Tyre, Sidon, Acco, Ashkelon, Gaza, Lachish, Keilah and Aijalon.

Remains of two of such archival libraries have been dug up--one at Lachish and one at Taanach near Megiddo, both dating back to the 14th century BC.

Whether there were temple libraries as well does not appear so clearly from external evidence but may probably be inferred from the names, Debir and (perhaps) Nebo, as well as from the well-known fact that each of the many city-lands must have had its center of worship. When it was thought that writing did not exist to any extent in Palestine before the time of David, it was the fashion to account for the name of the city of "Kirjath Sepher," the "City of Books," by curious tours de force of conjectural emendation (Sephur for Sepher, Tabor for Debir), but with the recent progress of excavation the possibility of the name has been fully established and the insight of Sayce probably justified.

11. Period of the Judges:

That the situation at the Conquest continued also during the period of the Judges appears from sundry considerations:

(1) The fact that all the surrounding nations, Moabites, Edomites, Amorites, Hittites, Mitannians, etc., were literate nations with public archives.

(2) The high state of organization under David requires an evolutionary background.

(3) Even the extreme (and quite untenable) theory that the Hebrews were illiterate wild Arab nomads and remained so for a long time would actually demonstrate the matter, for, as has been pertinently observed (Sellin, Einl, 7), many at least of the Canaanite cities were not destroyed or even occupied for a long time, but were surrounded by the Hebrews, and finally occupied and assimilated. It follows, therefore, that the archival system continued, and, under this theory, for a long time, until the Hebrews absorbed the culture of their neighbors--and, by inference, libraries with the rest.

(4) Taking the evidence of the documents as they stand, the matter is simple enough; various works were kept in or near the ark. Joshua added to these at least the report of a boundary commission (Jos 18:9,10) which was brought to the sanctuary, and Samuel "laid up" the book that he wrote "before Yahweh," i.e. at the ark. Moreover, the Books of Jasher, the Wars of Yahweh, etc., imply a literature which in turn implies libraries. Whenever or however composed, there is no good reason to distrust their historical existence.

(5) Even on the extreme critical hypothesis, "Most of the stories found in the first 8 books of the Old Testament originated before or during the age of song and story (circa 1250-1050)" (Kent, Beginnings, 17).

(6) To this may also be added, with all reservations, the mysterious metal ephod which appears only in this period. The ephod seems to have been either

(a) a case (BDB, 66) or

(b) an instrument for consulting an oracle (BDB, 65). The linen ephod had a pouch for the Urim and Thummim. The metal ephod seems to be distinguished from the image and may have contained the written oracular instructions (torah?) as well as the oracular instruments.

(7) The Kenite scribes of Jabez (1Ch 2:55); the simple fact that a chance captive from Succoth could write out a list of names and some one at least of the rudest 300 survivals of Gideon’s 32,000 primitive warriors in those bloody frontier times could read it, the reference to the staff of the muster-master, marshal or scribe, and the "governors" (inscribers), in Deborah’s Song, point in the same direction.

While, therefore, the times were doubtless wild, the political unity very slight, and the unity of worship even less, there is evidence that there were both political and religious libraries throughout the period.

12. Saul to the Maccabees:

Beginning with the monarchy, the library situation among the Israelites appears more and more clearly to correspond with that of the surrounding nations. The first act the recorded after the choice and proclamation of Saul as king was the writing of a constitution by Samuel and the depositing of this in the sacred archives (1Sa 10:25). This document Septuagint biblion) was perhaps one of the documents ("words") of Samuel whose words (1Ch 29:29, history, chronicles, acts, book, etc.) seem to have been possibly a register kept by him, perhaps from the time that he succeeded Eli, as later the high-priestly register (day-book) of Johannes Maccabeus was certainly kept from the beginning of his high-priesthood (1 Macc 16:24).

Whether these "words" of Samuel were equivalent to the technical register or "book of the words of days" or not, such registers were undoubtedly kept from the time of David on, and there is nothing so illuminating as to the actual library conditions of the times as the so-called chronicles, histories or acts--the registers, journals or archives of the time. The roll-register seems to be called in full "the book of the words of days," or with explanatory fullness "book of the records of the words of days," but this appears to be an evolution from "words of days" or even "words," and these forms as well as the abbreviations "book of days" and "book" are used of the same technical work, which is the engrossing in chronological book-form of any series of individual documents--all the documents of a record-office, general or local. The name is used also of histories written up on the basis of these register-books (the Books of Chronicles are in Hebrew, "words of days") but not themselves records. These charter-books, of course, so far as they go, mirror the contents of the archives which they transcribe, and the key to the public-library history of the period, both sacred and royal, as regards contents, at least, is to be found in them, while in turn the key to the understanding of this technical book-form itself lies in the understanding of the "word" as a technical book-form.

The "word" in Hebrew is used of books, speeches, sayings, oracles, edicts, reports, formal opinions, agreements, indictments, judicial decisions, stories, records, regulations, sections of a discourse, lines of poetry, whole poems, etc., as well as acts, deeds, "matters," "affairs," events and words in the narrowest sense. It is thus very exactly, as well as literally, translated in the Septuagint by logos, which as a technical book-term (Birt, Antikes Buchwesen, 28, 29) means any distinct composition, long or short, whether a law, an epigram, or a whole complex work. The best English equivalent for this "work-complete-in-itself," in the case of public records, is "document," and in the case of literary matters, it is "work or writing." The "words" of Samuel or David thus are his "acts" or "deeds" in the sense, not of doings, but of the individual documentary records of those doings quite in the modern sense of the "acts and proceedings" of a convention, or the "deeds" to property.

In the plural, dibhre and logoi or logia alike mean a collection of documents, works or writings, i.e. "a library." Sometimes this is used in the sense of archives or library, at other times as a book containing these collected works.

These collected documents in register-form constituted apparently a continuous series until the time when the Book of Chronicles was written and were extant at that time: the "words" of Samuel, "chronicles" and "last words" of David (1Ch 23:27; 27:24), the "book of the words (acts) of Solomon" (1Ki 11:41), the book of the words of days of the kings of Judah, and the book of the words of days of the kings of Israel--the kingdoms after division each having naturally its own records.

The general situation during the period as to archival matters is pretty well summarized by Moore in the EB. From the time of Solomon, and more doubtfully from the time of David, he recognizes that "records were doubtless kept in the palace," and that "the temples also doubtless had their records," while there may have been also local records of cities and towns. These records contained probably chief events, treaties, edicts, etc.--probably brief annals "never wrought into narrative memoirs." The temple records contained annals of succession, repairs, changes, etc. (EB, II, 2021-28). The records were, however, probably not brief, but contained treaties, etc., verbatim in full. To this should moreover be added the significant fact that these archives contained not only business records but also various works of a more or less literary character. Those mentioned include letters, prophecies, prayers, and even poems and Wisdom literature. The "words" of the kings of Israel contained prayers, visions and other matter not usually counted archival. The "acts" (words) of Solomon also contained literary or quasi-literary material. According to Josephus the archives of Tyre contained similar material and this was also true of the Amarna archives (circa 1380 BC) and those at Boghazkeui, as well as of the palace archives of Nineveh and the great temple archives of Nippur and Abu Habeh (Sippara). So, too, in Egypt the palace archives of King Neferikere contained medical works and those of Rameses III, at least, magical works, while the temple archives in the time of Thutmose III (Breasted, Ancient Records) contained military annals, and those of Denderah certainly many works of a non-registerial character. The temples of early Greece also contained literary works and secular laws as well as temple archives proper.

In short, the palace collections of Israel were no exception to the general rule of antiquity in containing, besides palace archives proper, more or less of religious archives and literary works, while the temple collections contained more or less political records and literary works.

This record system in Israel and Judah, as appears from the Old Testament itself, was the system of Persia in Old Testament times. It was the system of the Jews in Maccabean times, of Egypt during this whole period and for centuries before and after, and of Northern Syria likewise at about this time (Zakar-Baal, of Gebal, circa 1113 BC). The books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, whenever written, reveal the same system, Exodus to Numbers being in the form of a register, and De represented as an abstract prepared for engraving on stone, a use which Joshua is said to have made of it. We have, therefore, the same system existing before and after and on all sides geographically.

All this neighboring practice points to a system of

(1) archival collections,

(2) contemporary book registers,

(3) contemporary publication by inscription, and, in the light of these, the Old Testament method, from the time of David at least, becomes clear, certainly as to archival collections and registers and hardly less so as to the setting-up of inscriptions in permanent material. Even if D is not earlier than 621 BC, it assumes public inscription long before that time, quite comparable in extent to the inscriptions of Thutmose III or King Mesha of Moab, and, although few long inscriptions have been recovered thus far, there is at least the Siloam inscription (compare also Isa 30:8; Job 19:23,24; Isa 8:1; Jer 17:1; also the Decalogue). Each one of these three elements (even the collection of inscriptions in the temple) was, it must be remembered, called in antiquity a "library."

The reference to "the books" in Da (9:2) may possibly point to or foreshadow the synagogue library.

Little weight is generally and properly given to the statement of 2 Macc 2:13, that Nehemiah founded a library and gathered into it the writings "about the kings, the prophets and David, and the letters of the kings concerning votive offerings," but it is, as a matter of fact, evident that he, as well as Judas Maccabeus, who is linked with him in the statement, must have done just this.

From the time of the Septuagint translated, the idea of the library (bibliotheke) and even the public library ("books of the people," i.e. public records) was familiar enough, the Septuagint itself also, according to Josephus, linking the temple library of Jerusalem with the Alexandrian library through the furnishing of books by the former to the latter for copying.

13. New Testament Times:

With the Roman conquest and the rise of the Idumeans, naturally the methods developed in accordance with Roman practice. It appears from the frequent references of Josephus that the public records were extensive and contained genealogical records as well as official letters, decrees, etc. The triple method of record continues. It appears, further (Blau, 96; Krauss, III, 179), that there were libraries and even lending libraries in the schools and synagogues, not of Palestine only, but wherever Jews were settled. Josephus and Chrysostom with the Mishna confirm the already very clear inference from Luke’s account of our Lord’s teaching in the synagogue that at this time, and probably from the beginning of the synagogue, the books, the manner of their keeping and the ritual of their using were already essentially as in the modern synagogue. The first preaching-places of the Christians were the synagogues, and when churches succeeded these, the church library naturally followed, but whether in Bible times or not is a matter of conjecture; they appear at least in very early churches.

Whether the rich secular literature to which Josephus had access was in public or private libraries does not appear directly. It is well known that it was as much a part of Roman public policy in Herod’s time to found public libraries in the provinces as it was to restore temples. Twenty-four such provincial libraries, chiefly temple libraries, are known.

The Roman practice of the time still mixed literary with the archival material, and it is likely therefore that the public records of the Jewish temple had in them both Greek and Latin secular books in considerable quantity, as well as the Greek Apocrypha and a large amount of Aramaic or late Hebrew literature of Talmudic character.

14. Bookcases and Buildings:

As to the receptacles and places in which the books were kept, we have reference even in the Hebrew period to most of the main forms used among the nations: the wooden box, the clay box or pot, the pouch, and on the other hand, once, the "house of books" so familiar in Egyptian use and apparently referring to an individual chamber or semi-detached building of temple or palace. Most significant, however, is the statement that the books were kept in the palace and temple treasuries or storehouses.

The sacred ark (’aron), whatever it may have originally contained, was looked on when D was written as a sacred wooden book-chest, and the ark in which the teaching priests carried the law about for public reading was in fact likewise a chest.

Such chests were common among the Jews later, some with lids and some with side-opening (Jewish Encyclopedia, II, 107-108; Blau, 178). It is tempting to find in D, where the book is to be put "by (the King James Version "in") the side of the ark" (De 31:26), a chest having both lid and openings in the side, but more likely perhaps D means a separate chest, like the coffer or pouch with the golden mice, which was also put "by the side" (matstsadh) of the ark (1Sa 6:8).

In the New Testament the "cloak" which Paul left behind at Troas (2Ti 4:13) was probably (Wattenb., 614; see also Birt and Gardthausen), if not a wooden "capsa," at least some sort of bookcase or cover.

The earthen vessel in which Jeremiah (32:14) puts the two "books" (translated "deeds"), one sealed and one unsealed, was one of the commonest bookcases of the ancient world. This information has lately been widely reinforced and associated with Biblical history by the discovery of the Elephantine papyri, which were, for the most part, kept in such clay jars (Meyer, Papyrusfund, 15). The word Pentateuch perhaps harks back to a five-roll jar, but more likely to a basket or wooden box with five compartments (Blau, 65; Birt, Buchrolle, 21, 22). It was the collective label of a five-roll case, whether of earthenware, wood or basket work.

The pouch or bag bookcase has perhaps its representative in the phylactery (Mt 23:5), which was a sort of miniature armarium in that each of the four little rolls of its four compartments was technically a "book" (cepher). This name is commonly explained as an amulet guarding against evil spirits, but the term actually occurs in the papyri (Bibliophylax) of the preservation of books.

The "house of books" (Ezr 6:1 margin) or "place of books" is a very close parallel to bibliotheke, by which (in the plural) it is translated in the Septuagint. The phrase was a common term in Egypt for library, perhaps also sometimes for scriptorium or even registry, and it points to a chamber or semi-detached room or building where the book-chests, jars, etc., were kept. That at Edfu is a semi-detached room and contained many such cases.

While there is little record of libraries in Biblical times, the very formation of the Canon itself, whether by the higher critical process, or by natural processes of gathering whole literary works, implies the gathering together of books, and the temple libraries common to both Egypt and Assyria-Babylonia are almost inevitably implied wherever there was a temple or sanctuary, whatever may be the facts as to the temple libraries. According to Hilprecht there were certainly such libraries and from very ancient times. The palace library of Assurbani-pal, though itself a discovery of the last times, brings the story down to the times of the written history. For the rest of the story see literature below, especially Dziatzko, Bibliotheken, and the article on "Libraries" in the Encyclopedia Britannica (11th edition).


In the earlier period at least and including for the Jews the New Testament times, the particular locality in palace or temple seems to have been the treasury. In the Book of Ezra, search for the decree of Cyrus was to be made in the king’s treasure-house (Ezr 5:17), and was made in the "house of books where the treasures were laid up" (Ezr 6:1 m). The document was finally found in the palace at Ecbatana--so too in 1 Macc 14:49 the archives are placed in the treasury.

In New Testament times there had already been a good deal of development in the matter of library buildings. A general type had been evolved which consisted of

(1) a colonnade,

(2) a lecture-room, a reading-room or assembly room,

(3) small rooms for book storage.

Such accounts as we have of the Alexandrian libraries, with the excavations at Pergamus, Athens and Rome, reveal the same type--the book-rooms, the colonnade where masters walked or sat and talked with their pupils, the rooms for assembly where the senate or other bodies sometimes sat. In short, as long before in Egypt, whether in palace or temple, the place of teaching was the place of books.

It is significant thus that our Lord taught in the Treasury, which in Herod’s Temple was in the court of the temple proper--probably the porticos under the women’s gallery, some of the adjoining rooms being used for books. As this was within the barrier which no Gentile could pass, Herod must have had also a library of public records in the outer colonnade.



Ludwig Blau, Studien zum althebraischen Buchwesen, Strassburg i, E, 1902, 178-80: Sam. Krauss, Talmudische Archaologie, Leipzig, 1912, III, 193-98; J.W. Clark, Care of Books, Cambridge, 1901; E. C. Richardson, Biblical Libraries: A Sketch of Library History from 3400 BC to 150 AD. London. Oxford University Press, 1914.

See the literature under WRITING.