A scribe (or scrivener) is a person who writes books or documents by hand as a profession. The profession, previously found in all literate cultures in some form, lost most of its importance and status with the advent of printing. The work could involve copying books, including sacred texts, or secretarial and administrative duties such as taking of dictation and the keeping of business, judicial and historical records for kings, nobility, temples and cities. Later the profession developed into public servants, journalists, accountants and lawyers.

Ancient Egypt

(using both hieroglyphics and hieratic scripts, and from the second half of the first millennium BCE also the demotic script) and arithmetics. [Michael Rice, "Who's Who in Ancient Egypt", Routledge 2001, ISBN 0415154480, p.lvi ] [Peter Damerow, "Abstraction and Representation: Essays on the Cultural Evolution of Thinking", Springer 1996, ISBN 0792338162, pp.188ff. ] He was generally male, [The female form "" exists, (Ermann & Grapow, "Wörterbuch der ägyptischen Sprache", vol.3, 481.6-7) but is rarely used. e.g. Elisabeth Meier Tetlow, "Women, Crime, and Punishment in Ancient Law and Society", Continuum International Publishing Group 2005, ISBN 0826416292, p.265] belonged socially to what we would refer to as a middle class elite, and was employed in the bureaucratic administration of the pharaonic state, of its army, and of the temples. [Kemp, "op.cit.", p.163] Sons of scribes were brought up in the same scribal tradition, sent to school and, upon entering the civil service, inherited their fathers' positions. [David McLain Carr, "Writing on the Tablet of the Heart: Origins of Scripture and Literature", Oxford University Press 2005, ISBN 0195172973, p.66 ]

Much of what is known about ancient Egypt is due to the activities of its scribes. Monumental buildings were erected under their supervision, [Kemp, "op.cit.", p.180] administrative and economic activities were documented by them, and tales from the mouths of Egypt's lower classes or from foreign lands survive thanks to scribes putting them in writing. [Kemp, "op.cit.", p.296]

The profession, first associated with the goddess Seshat, became restricted to males in the later dynasties.

Scribes were also considered part of the royal court and did not have to pay tax or join the military. The scribal profession had companion professions, the painters and artisans who decorated tombs, buildings, furniture, statuary, and other relics with pictures and hieroglyphic text.


Writing in early Mesopotamia seems to have grown out of the need to document economic transactions, and consisted often in lists which scribes knowledgeable in writing and arithmetics engraved in cuneiform letters into tablets of clay. [Martin, "op.cit.", p.88] Apart from administration and accountancy, Mesopotamian scribes observed the sky and wrote literary works as well as the famous myth The Epic of Gilgamesh. They wrote on papyrus paper. [Carr, "op.cit.", p.39]

Ancient Israel

In 586 B.C., Jerusalem was captured by the Babylonians. The Temple was looted and then destroyed by fire. The Jews were exiled.

About 70 years later, the Jewish captives returned to Jerusalem from Babylon. According to the Bible, Ezra recovered a copy of the Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) and read it aloud to the whole nation.

From then on, the Jewish scribes solidified the following process for creating copies of the Torah and eventually other books in the Old Testament.

1. They could only use clean animal skins, both to write on, and even to bind manuscripts.
2. Each column of writing could have no less than forty-eight, and no more than sixty lines.
3. The ink must be black, and of a special recipe.
4. They must verbalize each word aloud while they were writing.
5. They must wipe the pen and wash their entire bodies before writing the word "Jehovah," every time they wrote it.
6. There must be a review within thirty days, and if as many as three pages required corrections, the entire manuscript had to be redone.
7. The letters, words, and paragraphs had to be counted, and the document became invalid if two letters touched each other. The middle paragraph, word and letter must correspond to those of the original document.
8. The documents could be stored only in sacred places (synagogues, etc).
9. As no document containing God's Word could be destroyed, they were stored, or buried, in a genizah - a Hebrew term meaning "hiding place." These were usually kept in a synagogue or sometimes in a Jewish cemetery.

The final item is why we have no original manuscripts of the Old Testament today.

After Jerusalem was sacked by Rome in the First Century, the process was lost. While a Hebrew version of the Old Testament continued to exist, the language wasn't spoken by many. Greek and eventually Latin versions continued to be copied.

How Accurate Were the Scribes?

Beginning in the Sixth Century and into the Tenth Century A.D., some European Jewish scribes continued a similar method for copying manuscripts of the Old Testament in the original Hebrew language as originated by the scribes before Christ.

Until 1948, the oldest manuscripts of the Old Testament dated back to 895 A.D. In 1947, a shepard boy discovered some scrolls inside a cave West of the Dead Sea. These manuscripts dated between 100 B.C. and 100 A.D. Over the next decade, more scrolls were found in caves and the discovery became known as the Dead Sea Scrolls. Every book in the Old Testament was represented in this discovery except Esther. Numerous copies of each book were discovered (For example, 25 copies of Deuteronomy).

While there are other items found among the Dead Sea Scrolls not currently in the Old Testament, the OT items that were found have few discrepancies to the versions from the Tenth Century. While not perfect, this is our best measuring stick to how accurate the Jewish scribes were throughout the centuries.


A Sofer ( _he. סופר סת”ם) are among the few scribes that still ply their trade by hand. Renowned calligraphers, they produce the Hebrew Torah scrolls and other holy texts by hand to this day. They write on parchment.

ee also

* Copying
* Elder (religious)
* Scrivener
* Scriptorium
* The Seated Scribe
* Transcription
* Transliteration
* Uncial
* Worshipful Company of Scriveners

Notable scribes

* Amat-Mamu
* Bartleby the Scrivener
* Baruch
* Dubhaltach MacFhirbhisigh
* Ibn Warraq
* Máel Muire mac Céilechair
* Michael William Balfe
* Sidney Rigdon
* Sin-liqe-unninni



* Barry J. Kemp, "Ancient Egypt: Anatomy of a Civilization", Routledge 2006, ISBN 0415235499, pp.166ff.
* Henri-Jean Martin, "The History and Power of Writing", University of Chicago Press 1995, ISBN 0226508366
* David McLain Carr, "Writing on the Tablet of the Heart: Origins of Scripture and Literature", Oxford University Press collyn anderson2005, ISBN 0195172973

External links

* [ Catholic Encyclopedia]

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • scribe — [ skrib ] n. m. • 1365 sens 3; lat. scriba « greffier », de scribere « écrire » 1 ♦ Anciennt Homme dont le métier était d écrire à la main. ⇒ copiste, écrivain (public), greffier. « Toute loi écrite est déjà périmée. Car la main du scribe est… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • SCRIBE (E.) — SCRIBE EUGÈNE (1791 1861) Fils d’un marchand drapier de la rue Saint Denis, Eugène Scribe ne vient au théâtre que par goût du vaudeville, qui le détourne d’une carrière d’avocat où le poussent ses parents. Il débute au théâtre des Variétés avec… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • scribe — [skrīb] n. [ME < L scriba, public writer, scribe, in LL(Ec), doctor of the Jewish law < scribere, to write < IE * skeribh < base * (s)ker , to cut, incise > SHEAR] 1. a professional penman who copied manuscripts before the… …   English World dictionary

  • Scribe — steht für: Eugène Scribe, ein französischer Dichter Scribe (Multicast), eine Application Level Multicast Infrastruktur …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Scribe — Scribe, v. i. To make a mark. [1913 Webster] With the separated points of a pair of spring dividers scribe around the edge of the templet. A. M. Mayer. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • scribe — Scribe. s. m. Parmy les Juifs on appelloit Scribes, Ceux qui escrivoient la loy de Moyse & l interpretoient au peuple. Les Scribes & les Pharisiens. On appelle Scribe, par raillerie, Un homme qui gagne sa vie à escrire, à copier. C est un bon, un …   Dictionnaire de l'Académie française

  • Scribe — (skr[imac]b), v. t. [imp. & p. p. {Scribed} (skr[imac]bd); p. pr. & vb. n. {Scribing}.] 1. To write, engrave, or mark upon; to inscribe. Spenser. [1913 Webster] 2. (Carp.) To cut (anything) in such a way as to fit closely to a somewhat irregular… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Scribe — (skr[imac]b), n. [L. scriba, fr. scribere to write; cf. Gr. ska rifos a splinter, pencil, style (for writing), E. scarify. Cf. {Ascribe}, {Describe}, {Script}, {Scrivener}, {Scrutoire}.] 1. One who writes; a draughtsman; a writer for another;… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • scribe — ► NOUN 1) historical a person who copied out documents. 2) informal, often humorous a writer, especially a journalist. 3) Jewish History a Jewish record keeper or, later, a professional theologian and jurist. 4) (also scriber or scribe awl) a… …   English terms dictionary

  • Scribe — Scribe, Augustin Eugène, geb. 24. Dec. 1791 in Paris, studirte Jurisprudenz, wandte sich aber bald der dramatischen Poesie zu, namentlich dem Vaudeville, aus dem er ein neues Genre schuf (s.u. Vaudeville); seit 1820 wurden diese Stücke zunächst… …   Pierer's Universal-Lexikon

  • Scribe — Scribe, Eugène, franz. Theaterdichter, geb. 24. Dez. 1791 in Paris, gest. daselbst 20. Febr. 1861, widmete sich anfangs dem Studium der Rechte, betrat aber bald die Laufbahn des dramatischen Dichters. Sein erstes Stück, das er in Gemeinschaft mit …   Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon

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