“The Bible” & Papyrus


Egyptian writing in the 2000s BCE was done on the pith of a plant called “papyrus”. The Egyptians called the plant “paperaa” which meant “of the Pharaoh” since apparently he owned a monopoly on its production.

Papyrus RouteThe Greeks, in importing papyrus products, called the food products of this plant “papuros” but the nonfood products (scrolls, baskets …) they called “bublos” after the Phoenician city of Byblos from where it was exported. The Phonecians, pronouncing it correctly of course, called their city “Gubal” (currently Jubayl) which meant “well” or “origin”.

Papyrus was used for written materials until it was replaced by parchment in the 1st century BCE.  But with the Church being conservative, expensive papyrus was used for all papal bulls until 1057.

“Paper”, interestingly, also comes from the greek work “papuros” even though the papyrus plant is not used to make paper but instead, di  Paper producing was developed in China in the 2nd Century BC and only made it to Europe in the 1200 CE to replace both papyrus and parchment eventually.

The word “bible” is from the Greek word for the papyrus writing material they used, which as I said above was called “bublos”.  And since Christianity has a book they value above all others, that book was simply called “The Bible” or “The Book” (keeping the pretentious Greek flavor).  The phrase “the Bible” means:

  1. sacred collection of books used by Christians and Jews
  2. and by extension: the sacred collection of books of any religion

Since the Bible is the source of Christian theology and doctrine — the source of thinking and authority — it is for this reason that the word “Bible” has also come to have a general usage 3rd usage of:

3. any authoritative book (Oxford dictionary)

    • a book considered authoritative in its field
      (The Free Dictionary)
    • a publication that is preeminent especially in authoritativeness or wide readership
    • any book, reference work, periodical, etc.,accepted as authoritative, informative, or reliable

Reader Challenge:  Give some examples of this general use of the word “bible”.


See other “Word!” posts, here.



Filed under Linquistics

4 responses to ““The Bible” & Papyrus

  1. I’ve heard a collection of all the information needed for a project called the production bible (for a film etc). And also with coding and other reference works, a definitive guide can be referred to as a bible.

  2. The CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics is called the “rubber Bible” because it’s extremely thick, printed on extremely thin paper, and is authoritative.

  3. When I was in trade school for carpentry, the code book was referred to as ‘the Carpenter’s Bible’.

  4. Great examples, thanks folks! Post coming with “Bible of …” in the title.

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