MANUSCRIPT. “Manuscript” (Latin manus, “hand,” and scriptus, “written”) means “written by hand.” Prior to the invention of printing, any document, whether a work of lit. or a private writing, was written by hand and was thus a “manuscript.”
Manuscripts have been made of many materials, including clay tablets, wax tablets, leather, broken pieces of pottery, cloth, and the bark of trees. The Jews commonly used scrolls of leather for the MSS of their Scriptures. For 4,000 years, papyrus scrolls were used as MSS. The scroll form was replaced by the “codex” or modern book form near the beginning of the Christian era. About the 4th Christian cent., papyrus was replaced largely by parchment (or vellum). Paper, invented in China and introduced into the Western world through the Arabs, began to replace parchment about the 12th cent.
MSS of the Bible are more numerous than those of any other ancient lit. Whereas most works of ancient lit. have survived in from one to a few hundred MSS, the Bible is extant in thousands of MSS, varying from small fragments to complete Bibles, both in the original languages and in numerous ancient trs. (See Text and Manuscripts of the Old Testament; Text and Manuscripts of the New Testament.)