(סֵפֶר, se'her; Gr. βιβλίον, Lat. liber). This Heb. term is more comprehensive than the corresponding English word with us. It signifies properly a writing, either the art (Isa 29:11-12) or the form (Da 1:4); then whatever is written, e.g. a bill of sale (Jer 32:12), of accusation (Job 31:35), of divorce (De 24:1,3); hence a letter or epistle (2Sa 11:14; 2Ki 10:6; 2Ki 19:14, etc.); and finally a volume (Ex 17:14; De 28:58; De 29:20,26; 1Sa 10:25; Job 19:23, and often), i.e. a roll (Jer 36:2,4; Eze 2:9), often with reference to the contents (e.g. of the law, Jos 1:8; Jos 8:34; 2Ki 22:8; 2Ch 34:14; of the covenant, Ex 24:7; 2Ki 23:2,21; of the kings, 2Ch 16:11; 2Ch 24:27; of annals, or of an individual reign or personal history), especially and by way of eminence of the sacred Word or Law (q.v.).
Books are mentioned as known so early as the time of the patriarch Job (Job 19:23). They were written on skins, or linen, or cotton cloth, or the Egyptian papyrus; the latter is commonly supposed to be the oldest material for writing on, whence our word paper is derived. Tablets of wood, of lead, and of brass were also employed, the latter of which were considered the most durable. SEE WRITING.
If the book were large, it was, of course, formed of a number of skins, etc., connected together. The leaves were generally written in small columns, called דּלָתוֹת, delathoth', "doors" or valves (Jer 36:23), and were rarely written over on both sides (Eze 2:10), except when the inside would not contain all the writing.
Books, among the Hebrews, being usually written on very flexible materials, were rolled round a stick or cylinder; and if they were very long, round two cylinders from the two extremities. The reader therefore unrolled the book to the place which he wanted (see fig. 1), and rolled it up again when he had read it (Lu 4:17-20), whence the name megillah (Isa 34:4). The leaves thus rolled round the stick, and bound with a string, could be easily sealed (Isa 29:11; Da 12:4). Those books which were inscribed on tablets (see fig. 2) were sometimes connected together by rings at the back, through which a rod was passed to carry them by.
At first the letters in books were only divided into lines, then into separate words, which by degrees were marked with accents, and distributed by points and stops into periods and paragraphs. Among the Orientals the lines began from the right hand and ran on to the left hand ; with the Northern and Western nations, from the left to the right hand; but the Greeks sometimes followed both directions alternately, going in the one and returning in the other, which they termed boustrophedon, because it was after the manner of oxen turning when at plough; an example of this occurs in the Sigean and some of the Etruscan inscriptions. In Chinese books the lines run from top to bottom. SEE BIBLE.
The Orientals took great pleasure in giving figurative or enigmatical titles to their books. The titles prefixed to the 56th, 60th, and 80th Psalms appear to be of this description; nor can there be a doubt that David's elegy upon Saul and Jonathan (1Sa 1:18) is called the bow in conformity with this peculiar taste. SEE PSALMS.
In times of war, devastation, and rapine, it was necessary to bury in the earth whatever was thought desirable to be preserved. With this view Jeremiah ordered the writings which he delivered to Baruch to be put into an earthen vessel (Jer 32:14). In the same manner the ancient Egyptians made use of earthen pots of a proper shape, hermetically sealed, for containing whatever they wanted to bury in the earth, and which, without such care, would have been soon destroyed. From the paintings on the monuments, it would appear that the Egyptian scribes wrote on tablets composed of some hard material (perhaps wood), though it cannot be precisely determined what it was.
The remark of the wise man in Ec 12:12, on the subject of making books, is supposed to amount to this: That the propensity of some men to write books, and of others to collect and amass them for libraries, is insatiable ; that it is a business to which there is no end. Innumerable treatises have been written on all kinds of subjects, and no one subject is yet exhausted; the designation of one leading to that of another, and that again of another, and so on interminably; and that the "much study" connected with this endless labor and "weariness of the flesh" may render its votary a fit subject of the admonition, that "the conclusion of the whole matters" or the great end of life, is to "fear God and keep his commandments." (See Clarke, Comment. in loc.)
A sealed book (Isa 29:11; Re 5:1-3) is a book whose contents are secret, and have for a very long time been so, and are not to be published till the seal is removed. A book or roll written within and without, i.e. on the back side (Re 5:1), may be a book containing a long series of events, it not being the custom of the ancients to write on the back side of the roll unless when the inside would not contain the whole of the writing (comp. Horace, Ep. i, 20, 3). To eat a book
signifies to consider it carefully and digest it well in the mind (Jer 15:16; Eze 2:8-10; Eze 3:1-3,14; Re 10:9). A similar metaphor is used by Christ in John 6, where he repeatedly proposes himself as "the Bread of Life" to be eaten by his people.