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The skins, chiefly of sheep, lambs, goats and calves, prepared so as to be used for writing on (
In Greek and Roman times parchment was much employed as a writing material. "At Rome, in the 1st century BC, and the 1st and 2d centuries AD, there is evidence of the use of vellum, but only for notebooks and for rough drafts or inferior copies of literary works. .... A fragment of a vellum MS, which may belong to this period, is preserved in British Museum Add. manuscript 34,473, consisting of two leaves of Demosthenes, De Fals. Leg., in a small hand, which pears to be of the 2nd cent." (F. G. Kenyon in HDB, IV, 947).
Paul directs Timothy that, when he comes from Ephesus to Rome, he is to bring "the books, especially the parchments." These, as well as the "cloak," which is also mentioned, had evidently been "left at Troas with Carpus." What were these parchments? They are distinguished from "the books," which were probably a few choice volumes or rolls, some portions of the Scriptures of the, some volumes of the Law of Moses or of the Prophets or of the Psalms. Among "the books" there might also be Jewish exegetical works, or heathen writings, with which, as is made evident by references in his Epistles, Paul was well acquainted.
The parchments were different from these, and were perhaps notebooks, in which the apostle had, from time to time, written what he had observed and wished to preserve as specially worthy of remembrance, facts which he had gathered in his study of the Old Testament or of other books. These notes may have been the result of many years’ reading and study, and he wished Timothy to bring them to him.
Various conjectures have been made in regard to the contents of "the parchments." It has been suggested by Kenyon (HDB, III, 673) that they contained the Old Testament in Greek; by Farrar, that the parchments were a diploma of Paul’s Roman citizenship; by Bull, that they were his commonplace books; by Latham, that the parchments were a copy of the Grundschrift of the Gospels, a volume containing the all-important narrative of the Saviour’s life and cross and resurrection. Workman (Persecution in the Early Church, 39) writes: "By tas membranas I understand the proofs of his citizenship."
Whatever their contents may have been, they were of such value that Paul wished to have them with him in his prison at Rome, so that, if life were spared for even a few weeks or months, the books and parchments might be at hand for reference. Perhaps in the fact that the books and the parchments and the cloak had been left at Troas with Carpus, there may be a hint that his final arrest by the Roman authorities took place at that city, and that was the suddenness of his arrest that caused him to be unable to carry his books and parchments and the cloak with him. "The police had not even allowed him time to find his overcoat or necessary documents" (Workman, op. cit., 39; see p. 1886, 14).
Be this as it may, he desired to have them now. His well-disciplined mind, even in the near prospect of death by public execution, could find the most joyous labor in the work of the gospel, wherever his influence reached, and could also find relaxation among "the books, especially the parchments."