papyrus, canon, Bible


Presented at the 35th Sperry Symposium. The Sidney B. Sperry Symposium is sponsored by Brigham Young University Religious Education and the Church Educational System. It is difficult for us, in the age of information, to appreciate the impact of both the sweeping movements and technical advances that allowed for the creation of the canonized book we call the Bible. We live in a time when we regularly turn to written documents for the "final word", and we take for granted an astounding volume of written works and easy access to them. Indeed, it has been argued that U.S. culture has been the most textually oriented society in the history of the world. In contrast, for most of biblical history, Israel lacked the ability to create and read texts widely enough to be turned to as the source of religious information. Perhaps more importantly, the Israelites generally lacked the cultural concept that such would be desirable. If we want to understand how we received the Bible as we have it, not the process of how certain books were chosen to be in the Bible, but instead how it was decided to have a Bible, then we must examine both changes in writing technology as well as cultural concepts of knowledge. These two components interact throughout history in a symbiotic cycle of influence and impact that eventually culminated in the desire and ability to create a Bible.

Original Publication Citation

From Clay Tablets to Canon: the Story of the Formation of Scripture, in How the New Testament Came to Be, Kent P. Jackson and Frank F. Judd, Jr., eds. (Provo and Salt Lake City: Religious Studies Center and Deseret Book Company, 26), 43-61.

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Book Chapter

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Religious Education


Ancient Scripture