Passing Notes in Class Goes All the Way Back to Ancient Biblical Copyists

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I just love this quote from Bruce Metzger’s book The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration (4th Edition)

Though scribes were forbidden to talk to one another in the scriptorium, the more irrepressible found devious ways to communicate with each other. One such means was to jot remarks in the margin of the page being transcribed and to show it to one’s neighbor. The margins of a ninth-century Latin manuscript of Cassiodorus’ commentary on the Psalms contain a variety of commonplace remarks written in Irish. For example: ‘It is cold today.’ ‘That is natural; it is winter.’ ‘The lamp gives a bad light.’ ‘It is time for us to begin to do some work.’ ‘Well this vellum is certainly heavy!’ ‘Well, I call this vellum thin!’ ‘I feel quite dull today; I don’t know what’s wrong with me.’

(p. 20-21).

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