THE MATERIAL USED FOR WRITING IN ANCIENT TIMES

At the request of a dear friend, who requested definitions for the materials used in ancient times for writings. I list the following:

INSCRIPTIONS:The term “inscriptions” means any written documents, whether on stone, clay, papyrus, or any other material.

OSTRACA: is defined as pottery fragments commonly used as writing material, since they were cheaper than papyrus. The term is sometimes loosely used to include flakes of limestone. Inscribe with ink, potsherds were widely used for letters, receipts, school texts, etc. Important finds of ostraca have been made at Samria and Lachish.

PAPYRUS: is a tall, aquatic reed plant, Cyperus Papyrus, noted especially for its use for ancient writing material. The papyrus plant, so abundant in ancient Lower Egypt, is no longer found there. Plural: Papyri

LEATHER: The earliest use mention of leather documents is found in a text of the Fourth Egyptian Dynasty  (2550 B.C.). A collection of Aramaic letters to Persian officials in Egypt dating from the fifth century B.C. is all on leather. Mr. Kifa correctly says that leather in Mesopotamia could not survive. In Palestine the Dead Sea Scrolls survived, they were all written on leather, except the Copper Scroll. The Talmudic law required copies of the Hebrew Torah, which were intended for public worship to be inscribed on leather rolls.

PARCHMENT: is a writing material made from the skins of sheep or goats, which gradually supplanted papyrus because of its durability. Parchment began to replace leather in the third century A.D. Parchment differs from leather in not being tanned. A superior quality of parchment known as vellum was made from the skin of calves or kids. You may see a reference to parchments in II Tim. 4: 13.   The Aramaic language, written in a cursive alphabetic script, was used in Mesopotamia during the Neo-Assyrian period, as is attested by Aramaic notations on some cuneiform tablets. Since papyrus or leather would be the usual writing materials in this case, they have long since perished in the dam Mesopotamian soil as mentioned correctly by Mr. Kifa. The dry weather conditions in Egypt made it possible to preserve the Aramaic Papyri of Elephetine.

STONE: In all ages stone has been used for inscriptions when a high degree of permanence was desired. Since stone was relatively scarce in Mesopotamia, however, so that cuneiform inscriptions on this material are confined almost exclusively to royal texts or public stelae like that which bears the Code of Hamurabi (Aramaic: ‘Amo-Ur-Rabi=leader of the city dwellers=in Arabic: ra’iss sukkan almudun). In Syria-Palestine stone was likewise used for inscriptions in Aramaic or Canaanite intended for public display, such as the Moabite Stone, Siloam Inscriptions, etc.

METAL: was much less common than stone. To this belongs the copper scroll discovered at Qumran, popularly know as The Dead Sea Scrolls. Cuneiform inscriptions in Sumerian, Akkadian, and Old Persian were incised on objects made of gold, silver, copper, and bronze.

CLAY: Was the most readily available and thus the cheapest material for writing purposes in Mesopotamia. To this material belong the Sumero-Akkadian pictographic signs, which were written in peculiar cuneiform shapes. It later spread to the Hittites, Hurians, and Elamites.  The use of clay was not confined to Mesopotamia and Anatolia, but spread to Syria-Palestine and Egypt when Akkadian became the language of international diplomacy. The best evidence of this is the correspondence between the Egyptian Pharaoh and the Babylonian, Mitannian, Hittite, and Atzawan rulers, as well as the local governors of the dependent states in Syria-Palestine between the fifteenth and thirteenth centuries B.C. that came to light by the discovery of Tell El-Amarna in Egypt.

POSTSCHRED:  Is the use of pieces of broken and discarded pottery as a writing material. These Ostraca were available and less costly. We find them in Egypt from the Old Kingdom (2664-2155 B.C.). Texts written on Astraca have been found in Egyptian (hieratic, demotic, and Coptic), Aramaic, and Greek. In Mesopotamia, Ostraca was used for Aramaic, which was written with pen and ink.

LINEN:  Was another material used for writing. No trace of Linen writing was found in Western Asia, if indeed it was used. It was employed in Egypt, Italy. There is no indication of its use in biblical literature.

WOOD and BARK, found in Egypt. It was used in Mesopotamia, but perished. We know that from the depiction of scribes in the Assyrian reliefs of 700B.C. An eighth century B.C. relief from Zinjirli in N. Syria shows a similar scene. There are many references in the Bible to the use of wood fro carving, they are found in the books of Num., Eze.,  Isa., Exod., and Luke.