Scrolls, seals and codices (Revelation 5)

Bilderesultat for codex

Illustration: an ancient codex

What is the “book” mentioned in Revelation 5? Codices (singular codex) are similar to modern books, having spines and leaves. They existed at the time John was writing and were particularly popular within the Christian community. Sheets of either payrus or parchment were folded over and stitched together to produce the codex.

But in John’s time a book still generally referred to a scroll, made either of papyrus or parchment, and this is slmost certainly what John was referring to in Revelation 5. Sheets of papyrus (usually 20 or so) were glued together to form a roll approximately 9 m long. From the expression “with writing on both sides” (5:1, cf. Ezekiel 2:10), to which John was alluding, we may gather that this was an opisthograph (a scroll with writing on both the front and the back).

To prevent tampering and unwanted reading, scrolls were often sealed with clay impressed with the owner’s mark. John may have had in mind Roman wills, which were sometimes written (and sealed) by seven witnesses and put in effect only upon the death of the testator. It is also possible, however, that the number seven (“seven seals“, Revelation 5:1) in this context may simply have allowed for a dramatic unfolding of events.


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