Biblos geneseōs Iēsou Christou… (Matthew 1:1)

It’s a new year! And so I thought I might try blogging my way through Matthew’s Gospel. I make no promises about how regularly these little installments might come–certainly not as frequently as Phil’s fantastic sacred text-ings. When I initially started blogging, I declared I would blog at least weekly, and I certainly never managed that. So enough of the overly-ambitious promises. But however (in)frequently they come, whosoever reads this blog can, for the foreseeable future, look forward to occasional expositions of the Gospel according to St. Matthew. Interspersed with the other oddities it pleases my fancy to write about. So here we go…

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matt1-1Biblos geneseōs Iēsou Christou
Book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ…
Matthew 1:1

‘Book’?
The classic English (KJV, RSV, ESV) translation of the first words of Matthew’s gospel begins by introducing the object of our attention as ‘the book…’. Except it wasn’t what we today would call a book. It would have been a scroll. A rolled up piece of papyrus. In fact the Greek word Biblos, that attention-worthy first word of Matthew’s gospel, comes from the Greek name of the Phoenician city Byblos through which papyrus was first exported.

So, as I begin disseminating my meditations on Matthew’s account of the Gospel into the ethereal environs of cyberspace, we should begin by deconstructing this notion that the Bible is fundamentally book-ish — though perhaps it is (primarily) scroll-ish.

History of the written word
A flash history of the written word is in order. We begin with primitive clay tablets, which seem to have originated in Mesopotamia in the 3rd millennia BC. We then have papyrus scrolls being invented in Ancient Egypt. These rule the world until the creation of the parchment codex in the early centuries AD. Gutenberg’s printing press allowed paper to be made into printed books with astonishing speed. Astonishing at least until the advent of personal computers and internet protocols made anything less than immediate seem astonishingly slow.

Technology’s role in Christianity’s development
It’s noteworthy that biblical religion begins with old Father Abraham, who of course came from Mesopotamia, land of the clay tablets. And let’s note that it has been suggested that the repeated refrains of ‘the book of the generations (toledoth)’ in Genesis indicate that it was compiled from clay tablets.

Then Moses, the first great biblical writer, just so happened to grow up in the courts of one of Ancient Egypt’s Pharaohs.

Fast-forward a few thousand years, and Paul, the New Testament’s main authorial voice, is – in his last recorded words! (2 Tim. 4:13) – hankering for Timothy to bring him not just his scrolls, but “above all the [new technology!] parchments”. Parchment was also what was used in the production of the world’s oldest remaining copy of the text of the New Testament, the Codex Sinaiticus (which was, needless to say, a codex).

Much has already been said about how the printing press made possible Martin Luther’s Reformation.

And now we find ourselves in the internet era, and could it just be that a technological breakthrough of such biblical proportions might trigger some phenomenal revolution in Christendom? Better start blogging then!

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