The processes that gradually produced both the concept and the physical reality of “the Bible” in Christian history, as well as (somewhat differently) in Judaism, were extremely complex. The technology that permitted “the (plural) scriptures” to be gathered between one set of covers matured only in the 4th century of the common era. The very idea of a special “canon” of authoritative writings also developed over time in different community contexts with different concepts of what was considered “authoritative” and why. This presentation explores the preserved evidence relating to these events.

Estimated number of physical scrolls (46) needed to cover the traditional Greek Christian Bible canon

Scriptural Books with probable number of scrolls needed (46)
The order followed is roughly that of Athanasius
Vaticanus quire## Sinaiticus
quire ##

05 Pentateuch (Five Books of Moses)


02 Joshua, Judges+Ruth

06 Samuel-Kings, Chronicles
?? [29, 34]

01 Ezra+Nehemiah


03 Esther, Tobit, Judith

04 1-2 Maccabees, 3 Maccabees, 4 Maccabees
|39.3r-41.4v, xx,xx,42.1r-42.8v|

08 Psalms+Odes, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs

01 Job

02 Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach

01 "the Twelve"

01 Isaiah


01 Jeremiah+Lamentations+Baruch+Letter
46.3r-49.7r, xx, xx

02 Ezekiel, Daniel

04 Gospels


01 Acts


01 General Epistles

02 Epistles of Paul, Hebrews


01 Revelation (Apocalypse)


[Sinaiticus] Barnabas


[Sinaiticus] Hermas


8 leaves (16pp) to a quire, 95+ quires [ca 2-3 scrolls / quire]
(Vaticanus has 10 leaves (20pp) per quire)
(Athanasius) http://www.bible-researcher.com/athanasius.html [39th Festal/Easter Letter]

Differences between Vaticanus, Sinaiticus, and Athanasius:

Inclusion of Maccabees books (Sinaiticus);
Vaticanus, not mentioned by Athanasius
Inclusion of Esther (Vaticanus, Sinaiticus);
  excluded from main list (Athanasius)
Inclusion of Tobit & Judith (Vaticanus, Sinaiticus);
from main list (Athanasius)
Inclusion of Barnabas and Hermas (Sinaiticus);
  not Vaticanus or Athanasius
Inclusion of Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach (Vaticanus, Sinaiticus);
Location and order of the Jewish prophets
Location and order of NT epistles, Acts

Athanasius, 39th Festal/Easter Letter (367 ce)
4. There are, then, of the Old Testament, twenty-two books in number; for, as I have heard, it is handed down that this is the number of the letters among the Hebrews; their respective order and names being as follows.
The first is Genesis, then Exodus, next Leviticus, after that Numbers, and then Deuteronomy.
Following these there is Joshua the son of Nun, then Judges, then Ruth.
And again, after these four books of Kings, the first and second being reckoned as one book, and so likewise the third and fourth as one book.
And again, the first and second of the Chronicles are reckoned as one book.
Again Ezra, the first and second are similarly one book.
After these there is the book of Psalms, then the Proverbs, next Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs.
Job follows, then the Prophets, the Twelve ["Minor Prophets"] being reckoned as one book.
Then Isaiah, one book, then Jeremiah with Baruch, Lamentations and the Epistle, one book;
afterwards Ezekiel and Daniel, each one book. Thus far constitutes the Old Testament.

5. Again, it is not tedious to speak of the books of the New Testament. These are:
the four Gospels, according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
After these, The Acts of the Apostles, and the seven epistles called Catholic: of James, one; of Peter, two, of John, three; after these, one of Jude.
In addition, there are fourteen epistles of Paul the apostle, written in this order: the first, to the Romans; then, two to the Corinthians; after these, to the Galatians; next, to the Ephesians, then, to the Philippians; then, to the Colossians; after these, two of the Thessalonians; and that to the Hebrews; and again, two to Timothy; one to Titus; and lastly, that to Philemon.
And besides, the Revelation of John.
7. But for the sake of greater exactness I add this also, writing under obligation, as it were. There are other books besides these, indeed not received as canonical but having been appointed by our fathers to be read to those just approaching and wishing to be instructed in the word of godliness: Wisdom of Solomon, Wisdom of Sirach, Esther, Judith, Tobit, and that which is called the Teaching of the Apostles, and the Shepherd. But the former, my brethren, are included in the Canon, the latter being merely read; nor is there any place a mention of secret [apocryphal] writings. But such are the invention of heretics, who indeed write them whenever they wish, bestowing upon them their approval, and assigning to them a date, that so, using them as if they were ancient writings, they find a means by which to lead astray the simple-minded.

Josephus, Against Apion 1.38-41:

For we have not an innumerable multitude of books among us, disagreeing from and contradicting one another [as the Greeks have], but only twenty-two books, which contain all the records of all the past times; which are justly believed to be divine; and of them
five belong to Moses, which contain his laws and the traditions of the origin of mankind till his death…

the prophets, who were after Moses, wrote down what was done in their times in thirteen books.

The remaining four books contain hymns to God, and precepts for the conduct of human life.

Use of General Categories:

Sirach Prologue:
by the law and the prophets, and by others that have followed their steps
... the law itself, and the prophets, and the rest of the books

Dead Sea Scrolls, Manual of Discipline 1.1:
as he commanded through Moses and all his servants the prophets
the book of Moses and the books of the prophets and  David

Luke 24.44:
the Law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms

Melito's canon is found in Eusebius EH 4.26.13–14:

Accordingly when I went East and came to the place where these things were preached and done, I learned accurately the books of the Old Testament, and send them to you as written below. Their names are as follows:

of Moses, five books: Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Leviticus, Deuteronomy;
Jesus Nave, Judges, Ruth;
of Kings, four books;
of Chronicles, two;
the Psalms of David, the Proverbs of Solomon, Wisdom also,
Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Job;
of Prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah;
of the twelve prophets, one book ;
Daniel, Ezekiel, Esdras.

From which also I have made the extracts, dividing them into six books.

Costs of scrolls and codices

From the 4th century CE, there is some evidence of the prices of papyri, parchment, and skilled copying.
Bagnall, Early Christian Books in Egypt (Princeton University Press 2009) 62ff (after extensive calculations on the costs of materials and labor):

Let us imagine a reader [an official in a church] ... who received 10 solidi per year. A complete Bible would cost him half a year's income. Such a purchase would have been entirely out of reach. Even an unbound short book, a single gospel on papyrus of the sort that cost a third of a solidus ... would amount to one-thirtieth of a year's income.... People at that sort of incom level do not buy books at that price. Even the best paid academics do not buy many books at that price. ...
Now it is not a new observation that ancient books were expensive relative to incomes. ...
Books required a lot of skilled labor, and their raw materials were also expensive. ...

The Earliest Surviving non-Christian non-wooden Codices (Bagnall 87-88), 1st - 2nd centuries ce

Unidentified Latin Historical text [LDAB 4293]
Technical Manuals (astrological [4771], lexica & grammar [296, 1515, 7989], medicine [4934])
Music treatise [4867]
Pindar [371]
Plato [3790]
Menander [2648]
Hexameters (unidentified authorship) [4871]
Lollianus [2577]

Origen, Comm. in Matt. 15.14:

The differences among the manuscripts have become great, either through negligence of some copyists or through the perverse audacity of others; they either neglect to check over what they have transcribed, or, in the process of checking, they make additions or deletions as they please.

Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.3:  The Epistles of the Apostles.

1. One epistle of Peter, that called the first, is acknowledged as genuine. And this the ancient elders used freely in their own writings as an undisputed work. But we have learned that his extant second Epistle does not belong to the canon; yet, as it has appeared profitable to many, it has been used with the other Scriptures. 

2. The so-called Acts of Peter, however, and the Gospel which bears his name, and the Preaching and the Apocalypse, as they are called, we know have not been universally accepted, because no ecclesiastical writer, ancient or modern, has made use of testimonies drawn from them.
. . . .

5. Paul’s fourteen epistles are well known and undisputed. It is not indeed right to overlook the fact that some have rejected the Epistle to the Hebrews, saying that it is disputed by the church of Rome, on the ground that it was not written by Paul. But what has been said concerning this epistle by those who lived before our time I shall quote in the proper place. In regard to the so-called Acts of Paul, I have not found them among the undisputed writings.

6. But as the same apostle, in the salutations at the end of the Epistle to the Romans, has made mention among others of Hermas, to whom the book called The Shepherd is ascribed, it should be observed that this too has been disputed by some, and on their account cannot be placed among the acknowledged books; while by others it is considered quite indispensable, especially to those who need instruction in the elements of the faith. Hence, as we know, it has been publicly read in churches, and I have found that some of the most ancient writers used it.

Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent
The Fourth Session
Celebrated on the eighth day of the month of April, in the year 1546.

English translation by James Waterworth (London, 1848)

Decree Concerning the Canonical Scriptures
. . . .
(the Synod) following the examples of the orthodox Fathers, receives and venerates with an equal affection of piety, and reverence, all the books both of the Old and of the New Testament—seeing that one God is the author of both —as also the said traditions, as well those appertaining to faith as to morals, as having been dictated, either by Christ's own word of mouth, or by the Holy Ghost, and preserved in the Catholic Church by a continuous succession.

. . . . Of the Old Testament: the five books of Moses, to wit, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy; Josue, Judges, Ruth, four books of Kings, two of Paralipomenon, the first book of Esdras, and the second which is entitled Nehemias; Tobias, Judith, Esther, Job, the Davidical Psalter, consisting of a hundred and fifty psalms; the Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, the Canticle of Canticles, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Isaias, Jeremias, with Baruch; Ezechiel, Daniel; the twelve minor prophets, to wit, Osee, Joel, Amos, Abdias, Jonas, Micheas, Nahum, Habacuc, Sophonias, Aggaeus, Zacharias, Malachias; two books of the Machabees, the first and the second.

Of the New Testament: the four Gospels, according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; the Acts of the Apostles written by Luke the Evangelist; fourteen epistles of Paul the apostle, (one) to the Romans, two to the Corinthians, (one) to the Galatians, to the Ephesians, to the Philippians, to the Colossians, two to the Thessalonians, two to Timothy, (one) to Titus, to Philemon, to the Hebrews; two of Peter the apostle, three of John the apostle, one of the apostle James, one of Jude the apostle, and the Apocalypse of John the apostle.

. . . .
as sacred and canonical, the said books entire with all their parts, as they have been used to be read in the Catholic Church, and as they are contained in the old Latin vulgate edition

From Martial's Epigrams 14, on bookish gifts:

Pugillares citrei
Tablets/notebooks of citrus wood
Quinquiplices [cera]
Five-leaved tablets/notebooks [waxed]
Pugillares eborei
Ivory tablets/notebooks
Three-leaved tablets/notebooks
Pugillares membranei
Parchment tablets/notebooks

Esse puta ceras, licet haed membrana vocetur:
Suppose it to be wax, though it is called parchment

delebis, quotiens scripta novare voles.
You will erase whatever you want to write anew.
Vitellian tablets [for love notes]
The same [requesting money]
Chartae maiores
Large sheets of papyrus
Chartae epistulares
Papyrus sheets for letters

Homeri Batrachomyomachia
Homer's "Battle of Frogs and Mice"
Homerus in pugillaribus membraneis. Homer in hand-held parchments (notebooks?)

Ilias et Priami regnis inimicus Ulixes The Iliad and Ulysses, enemy of Priam's kingdom,

Multiplici pariter condita pelle latent. are there together, preserved in many folds of skin
Virgili Culex
Virgil's "Gnat"
14.186 Vergilius in membranis.  Vergil on parchment

Quam brevis inmensum cepit membrana Maronem! How small a quantity of parchment has comprised vast Maro!

Ipsius vultus prima tabella gerit. The first leaf bears his own countenance
Menandrou Qais [Greek]
Menander's "Thais"
14.188 Cicero in membranis.  Cicero on parchment

Si comes ista tibi fuerit membrana, putato If this parchment will be your companion, suppose

Carpere te longas cum Cicerone vias. yourself to be making a long journey with Cicero
Monobyblos Properti
The "Monobiblos" of Propertius
14.190 Titus Livius in membranis. Titus Livy on parchment.

Pellibus exiguis artatur Livius ingens
Compressed in tiny skins vast Livy, 

Quem mea non totum bibliotheca capit for whom complete my library has not room.
14.192 Ovidi Metamorphosis in membranis. Metamorphoses of Ovid on parchment

Haec tibi, multiplici quae structa est massa tabella, This mass that has been built up for you with multifold tablets

Carmina Nasonis quinque decemque gerit. contains the fifteen lays of Naso
Calvi de aquae frigidae usu
Calvus "On the Use of Cold Water"

Ulpian, writing between C.E. 211 and 217 is reported to have said (Digest 32.52):

Under the heading "books" (librorum) all volumes (volumina) are included, whether they are made of papyrus (in charta), of parchment (in membrana), or of any other material whatsoever; but even if they are written on wood-slabs (in philyra) (as is sometimes done), or upon any kind of prepared skins (in alio corio), they come under the same appellation. If, however, they are codices of parchment (in codicibus sint membraneis), or papyrus (vel chartaceis), or even ivory (vel etiam eboreis), or any other material, or are composed of wax tablets (in ceratis codicillis), let us determine whether they ought to be included? Gaius Cassius writes that where books (libris) are bequeathed, the parchments (membranas) are also included. Hence, it follows that everything relating to them will be included if the intention of the testator was not otherwise.

Then, after discussing the question whether a bequest of libri [books] covers unwritten papyrus rolls (chartae) and unwritten parchments (membranae), Ulpian  [211-217 ce] adds (Digest 32.52.5):

Wherefore, when books (libri) are bequeathed, the question is not inappropriately asked whether those are included which are not yet written upon (nondum perscripti). I do not think they are included, any more than cloth which is not yet entirely woven is included under the heading "clothing." But books which have been written (perscripti libri), but have not yet been beaten or ornamented [??], are included in such a legacy, as well as such as are not glued together, or corrected [repaired?], and also parchments (membranae) which are not sewed, are also included.

Paulus, who succeeded Ulpian as Praetorian Prefect  in 223 writes (Sententiae 3.6.87):

When books (libris) are bequeathed, volumes of papyrus (chartae volumina) , or of parchment (vel membranae) and wood-slabs (et philyrae) are included, and codices, as well (codices quoque). By the designagtion "books" (librorum) not merely volumes of papyrus (volumina chartarum), but also any kind of writing which is contained in anything is understood.

Also from Ulpian (Digest 32.52.1): 

If a hundred books (libri) are bequeathed, we must deliver to the legatee a hundred volumes (volumina), and not a hundred parts which anyone may select as he wishes, each of which constitutes a written book (ad libri scripturam); hence, when the works of Homer are all contained in a single volume (in uno volumine), we do not count them as forty-eight books (libros), but the entire volume of Homer (unum Homeri volumen) should be understood to constitute a "book" (pro libro).

Christian codices dated to 2nd century [from Roberts & Skeat]


Gamble, Harry Y. The New Testament Canon: Its Making and Meaning. New Haven/London: Yale University Press, 1985.
+__. Books and Readers in the Early Church: A History of Early Christian Texts (New Haven: Yale UP 1995)



Roberts, Colin H. The Codex. Proceedings of the British Academy 40 (1954) 169-204 [passim]
+__. "Early Christianity in Egypt." Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 40 (1954) 92-96
__. Manuscript, Society and Belief in Early Christian Egypt

(Roberts &) Skeat


40 label of codex fragment as Christian

Caesar passage

Suetonius, Divus Julius 56.6 describes the form of Julius Caesar's despatches to the Senate in the following words:

Some letters of his to the senate are also extant, and he seems to have been the first to convert such documents to pages and the format of a memorandum book, whereas previously consuls and generals did not send their reports except (on sheets) written against the papyrus fibers.

Epistulae quoque eius ad Senatum extant, quas primum videtur ad paginas et formam memorialis libelli convertisse, cum antea consoles et duces non nisi transversa charta scriptas mitterent.

Bagnall lectures

bibliog and sites