Illustrated Bible Glossary
As you browse this website, you will come across a number of terms that are often used in the world of the Bible, and especially in connection with early editions of the Bible. We have gathered these terms together into this helpful visual Glossary, which will bring you up to speed quickly, as well as providing a superb introduction to the work we do at the Bible Manuscript Society.
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Languages of the Bible
Hebrew, of course, is the language spoken in Israel today. It is also the language of the Tanakh, or Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament - all terms which are used interchangeably. Hebrew uses its own script, which we will discuss later. Hebrew goes back to the very beginning of human history, and is the language which God chose to reveal His message to the Jewish people through the pages of the Old Testament.
Aramaic is a Semitic language which is closely related to Hebrew. It too, has a long history, going back at least 4000 years. It is the language in which the Peshitta Old Testament and Peshitta New Testament were written in. Aramaic forms an inherent part of the Old Testament, and is found in the Law (in Genesis), in the Prophets (in Jeremiah) and in the Writings (Daniel and Ezra). Aramaic is also Judaism's second Holy Language, alongside Hebrew. If you are interested in learning Aramaic, make sure you visit JesusSpokeAramaic.com!
The word "Targum", on its own, means "translation". But more specifically, the Aramaic Targums were the officially sanctioned translations of the Hebrew Bible into Aramaic, used by Jews. You can find out more at JesusSpokeAramaic.com.
Syriac is an important Aramaic dialect, used by the Peshitta Old Testament and the Peshitta New Testament. Again, JesusSpokeAramaic.com is the place to go if you want to study the Peshitta, Syriac, or the Aramaic Targums.
Latin was the official language of the Roman Empire, and the official language of the Roman Catholic Church. Latin was the language in which Jerome wrote the Vulgate, and is an important Biblical language, having been used for the past 2000 years.
The New Testament, in Greek, is familiar to all Bible students. The LXX or Septuagint is also well known - it is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament. Like Latin, Greek is an important Biblical language. It, too, goes back more than 2000 years.
Alphabets and Scripts used by the Bible
Hebrew 'Ashuri' script
The Hebrew 'Ashuri' is widely recognised everywhere. It is the official script used in Israel today, and is intimately associated with the Bible. It is used in all manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible, all printed Hebrew Bibles, as well as everything related to Judaism - including Prayer Books, the Aramaic Targums, the Mishnah, and nearly everything else. It is also commonly used to print Aramaic. Hebrew Ashuri script is also used in the Dead Sea Scrolls, although there are some minor differences in some of the letters.
Estrangela is an Aramaic script closely associated with the Peshitta Old Testament and the Peshitta New Testament. It is an adaptation of the Hebrew Ashuri script.
Serta is also an Aramaic script, used for the Peshitta New Testament and resources related to it. It is an adaptation of the Estrangela script. The website JesusSpokeAramaic.com is the place to go if you want to learn the Hebrew Ashuri, Estrangela or Serta scripts.
Returning to the Greek world, Uncials are early Greek manuscripts written entirely in capital Greek letters, with no lower case. They were often written with little or no space between words, making the text more difficult to read than modern printed editions of the Greek Bible.
In contrast to Uncials, Miniscules are late Greek manuscripts written primarily in lower case cursive Greek letters, often written on parchment. The spaces between words are much easier to see, making them easier to read than Uncials.
Latin, in both manuscripts and printed Bibles, has consistently used the same style of writing for centuries. The Latin script is what the English alphabet is based on, making Latin Bibles easy to read - even ones which are very old.
Although the English Alphabet itself hasn't changed, the style of writing or script used for English Bibles has changed dramatically over time. In the 1500s and 1600s, typography at the time meant that Old English lettering or Dutch Old Style fonts were used. This means that some effort and practice is required to read early English Bibles, quite apart from the language itself being different to modern English.
Materials and Formats used for the Bible
Papyrus was the material which early fragments of the Bible were written on. Papyrus gave rise to our modern word 'paper'.
Papyrus gave way to the use of parchment, which is animal skin scraped or dried under tension. Parchment lasts for around 1000 years - much longer than modern paper. But paper is cheaper and, when the printing press came along, parchment could not keep up with demand.
In contrast to papyrus, from ancient times Jews used leather to write on, usually strips bound together into a scroll, which was rolled onto wooden rollers. Leather copies of the Bible produced this way last for many centuries, until they become unreliable to copy from, after which they are buried. Despite the convenience of the Codex and modern printed books, Jews still use scrolls today, especially for the Torah or Law.
A Codex is a similar format to the modern book, where pages are written on both sides, and stitched together to form a binding. Pages can then be turned, making it easier and faster than a Scroll to find passages. A codex can be written on leather or other materials. A Codex is hand-written, and therefore produced as one-of-a-kind.
A Manuscript is a hand-written copy of a Bible text. Before the invention of the printing press, this of course was the only way to produce a Bible. Each one had to be copied by hand. By definition, a Manuscript is a one-of-a-kind production, with only one copy existing.
An Illuminated Manuscript is a manuscript where the Bible text has been hand-written, but artwork is created alongside the Bible text. Illuminated Manuscripts are one-of-a-kind productions which are often highly ornate and very beautiful. They are most commonly associated with monasteries.
A Lectionary is a book which contains Bible text produced alongside a reading schedule appointed for worship. They are often important witnesses of the text.
A Printed Bible is a Bible which has been produced by a Printing Press. The invention of the Printing Press fundamentally revolutionised the way that Bibles were produced, in that it made possible many exact copies during a single print run, it made it easier for new editions to be produced, and a printed Bible could be printed relatively inexpensively.
A Polyglot is a printed Bible produced in several languages or translations, usually in columns alongside each other for comparison. Examples could be Greek and Latin, or Hebrew, Latin and Greek. Some Polyglots contain as many six languages or translations.
By definition, a Manuscript is a unique production, and therefore probably sitting in a museum or library somewhere. Similarly, early printed Bibles may only have had a few hundred copies, and obtaining an original is either not possible, or financially out of the reach of most people. A Facsimile Edition of a Bible is a photographically reproduced copy, printed on modern high-quality paper, and therefore visually nearly identical to the original. Facsimile Bibles are as close as you are likely to get to actually owning the original. Facsimile editions of many important early Bibles are available, making them available to ordinary people.
Although Facsimile editions of famous Bibles are available, they are still relatively expensive, and take up valuable shelf space. The modern computer age has made it possible to scan or photograph old Bibles (and books) digitally, often at very high resolution, and turn these into PDF documents - a digital format which can be read by all modern computer systems. This allows literally hundreds of old Bibles to be made available at very low cost. Many are available for purchase on DVD at our Bible Shop, usually bundled with videos from the Bible Manuscript Society telling you all about them, and related books about their history. These Scanned PDFs allow you to view early and important Bibles on your computer screen and reduce or enlarge them at will, often making it easier to see detail than looking at the original.