When Constantine founded his capital of the Byzantine Empire, he ordered Eusebius to have fifty manuscripts of the Bible made on vellum () for use in the churches of Byzantium (Vita Constant., IV, 36).To the fourth century belong the earliest extant Biblical manuscripts of anything but fragmentary size.Made out of strips of pith taken from the stem of the Egyptian water-plant of the same name, papyrus was very fragile, became brittle in air, crumbled with use, could not resist the disintegrating force of moisture and was quite impracticable for book-form.All papyrus manuscripts of every sort are lost to us save such as were buried in exceedingly dry soil, like that of Upper and Middle Egypt.
The earliest Samaritan manuscript extant is that of Nablûs, which was formerly rated very much earlier than all Massoretic manuscripts, but is now assigned to the twelfth or thirteenth century A. Here mention should be made of the non-Massoretic Hebrew manuscripts of the Book of Ecclesiasticus. De Rossi is included to think that at most nine or ten Massoretic manuscripts are earlier than the twelfth century (Variæ Lectiones, I, p. Kennicott, the first critical student of the Massoretic text, either examined or had others examine 16 Samaritan manuscripts, some 40 printed texts and 638 Massoretic manuscripts (see "Dissertatio Generalis in Vetus Testam. No one has since undertaken so colossal a critical study of the Hebrew manuscripts. To the vast number of Hebrew manuscripts examined by Kennicott and De Rossi must be added some 2000 manuscripts of the Imperial Library of St. The manuscripts are all of quite recent date, if compared with Greek, Latin, and Syriac codices. Some few variants are found in copies made for private use; copies made for public service in the synagogues are so uniform as to deter the critic from comparing them.The discovery of palimpsests led to the reckless of bigoted charge of wholesale destruction of Biblical manuscripts by the monks of old.That there was some such destruction is clear enough from the decree of a Greek synod of A. 691, which forbade the use of palimpsest manuscripts either of the Bible or of the Fathers, unless they were utterly unserviceable (see Wattenbach, "Das Schriftwessen im Mittelalter", 1896, p. That such destruction was not wholesale, but had to do with only worn or damaged manuscripts, is in like manner clear enough from the significant fact that as yet no complete work of any kind has been found on a palimpsest.Some vellum manuscripts of the greatest importance are palimpsests (from Lat., "scraped again"), that is, they were long ago scraped a second time with pumice-stone and written upon anew.