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The first writing was done on clay, wax, lead or stone tablets by scratching into the material with some hard pointed instrument. For this purpose bodkins of bronze, iron, bone or ivory were used (Job 19:24; Isa 8:1; Jer 17:1). In Jer 17:1 a diamond is also mentioned as being used for the same purpose. In Jer 36 Baruch, the son of Neriah, declares that he recorded the words of the prophet with ink in the book. In Jer 36:23 it says that the king cut the roll with the penknife (literally, the scribe’s knife). This whole scene can best be explained if we consider that Baruch and the king’s scribes were in the habit of using reed pens. These pens are made from the hollow jointed stalks of a coarse grass growing in marshy places. The dried reed is cut diagonally with the penknife and the point thus formed is carefully shaved thin to make it flexible and the nib split as in the modern pen. The last operation is the clipping off of the very point so that it becomes a stub pen. The Arab scribe does this by resting the nib on his thumb nail while cutting, so that the cut will be clean and the pen will not scratch. The whole procedure requires considerable skill. The pupil in Hebrew or Arabic writing learns to make a pen as his first lesson. A scribe carries a sharp knife around with him for keeping his pen in good condition, hence, the name penknife. The word used in 3 Joh 1:13 is kalamos, "reed," indicating that the pen described above was used in John’s time (compare qalam, the common Arabic name for pen).

See Ink; Ink-horn; WRITING.

Figurative: "Written with a pen of iron," i.e. indelibly (Jer 17:1). "My tongue is the pen of a ready writer" (Ps 45:1; compare Jer 36:18). As the trained writer records a speech, so the Psalmist’s tongue impresses or engraves on his hearers’ minds what he has conceived.

James A. Patch

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