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Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature


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is the false translation in the A.V. of the Heb. עָרָה, arah, a naked place, referring to the meadows on the banks of the Nile, which were for the most part destitute of trees. (See NILE).

By the "paper-reed" the translators of the A.V. doubtless intended: to designate the famous Egyptian papyrus, of which we borrow the following account chiefly from Chambers's Cyclop. s.v. The papyrus is a genus of plants of the natural order Cyperacis, of which there are several species, the most important being the Egyptian papyrus, or "papyrus of the ancients" (Papyrus antiquorum, the Cyperus papyrus of Linnaeus), a kind of sedge, from eight to ten feet high, with a very strong woodvy aromatic, creeping root; long, sharp-keeled leaves; and naked, leafless, triangular, soft, and cellular stems, as thick as a man's arm at the lower part, and at their upper extremity bearing a compound umbel of extremely numerous drooping spikelets, with a general involucre of eight long filiform leaves, each spikelet containing from six to thirteen florets, By the ancient Egyptians it was called papu, from which the Greek papyrus is derived, although it was also called by them byblos or deltos.

The Hebrews called it gome, a word resembling the Coptic gom, or "volume;" its modern Arabic name is berdi. So rare is the plant at the present day in Egypt, that it is supposed to have been introduced either from Syria or Abyssinia; but it has been seen till lately in the vicinity of the lake Menzaleb, and specimens have been sent to England; and as it formerly was considered the emblem of Northern Egypt or the Delta, and only grown there, if introduced it must have come from some country lying to the north of Egypt. It has been found in modern times in the neighborhood of Jaffa, on the banks of the Anapus, in the pools of the Liane, near Syracuse, and in the vicinity of the lake Thrasymenus. It is represented on the oldest Egyptian monuments, and as reaching the height of about ten feet. It was grown in pools of still water, growing ten feet above the water and two beneath it, and restricted to the districts of Sais and Sebennytus. The papyrus was used for many purposes both ornamental and useful, such as crowns for the head, sandals, boxes, boats, and cordage, but principally for a kind of paper called by its name. Its pith was boiled and eaten, and its root dried for fuel. The papyrus, or paper of the Egyptians, was of the greatest reputation in antiquity, and it appears on the earliest monuments in the shape of long rectangular sheets, which were rolled up at one end, and on which the scribe wrote with a reed called kash, with red or black ink made of an animal carbon. When newly prepared, it was white or brownish-white and lissom; but in the process of time those papyri which have reached the present day have become of a light or dark brown color, and exceedingly brittle, breaking to the touch.

While papyrus was commonly used in Egypt for the purposes of writing, and was, in fact, the paper of the period, although mentioned by early Greek authors, it does not appear to have come into general use among the Greeks till after the time of Alexander the Great, when it was extensively exported from the Egyptian ports under the Ptolemies. Fragments, indeed, have been found to have been used by the Greeks centuries before. It was, however, always an expensive article among the Greeks, and a sheet cost more than the value of a dollar. Among the Romans it does not appear to have been in use at an early period, although the Sibylline books are said to have been written on it, and it was cultivated in Calabria, Apulia, and the marshes of the Tiber. But the staple was no doubt imported from Alexandria, and improved or adapted by the Roman manufacturers. So extensive was the Alexandrian manufactory that Hadrian, in his visit to that city, was struck by its extent; and later in the empire an Egyptian usurper (Firmus, A.D. 272) is said to have boasted that he could support an army off his materials. It continued to be employed in the Eastern and Western Empire till the 12th century, and was used among the Arabs in the 8th, but after that period it was quite superseded by parchment. At the. later periods it was no longer employed in the shape of rolls, but cut up into square pages and bound like modern books. See Wilkinson. Anc. Egypt. 2:95, 96. (See REED); (See RUSH).

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Paper-Reed'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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