What kinds of pen and ink were used in Bible times?
At the conclusion of the third of his three letters included in the Bible, the apostle John states: “I had many things to write you, yet I do not wish to go on writing you with ink and pen.” A literal translation of the original Greek words that John used indicates that he did not want to go on writing with “black [ink] and reed.”
The scribe’s pen was a length of hard reed. It was cut diagonally across one end and finely slit through the point. A scribe could resharpen the point with a pumice stone. The reed resembled and functioned much like a modern fountain pen that has a metal nib.
Most ink, or “black,” was a mixture of soot or lampblack and a rubbery gum, which served as an adhesive. This ink was sold dry and had to be mixed with water to the right consistency before being used. When applied, such ink simply dried on the surface of the papyrus or parchment and did not penetrate it. Hence, a writer could readily correct any errors using a wet sponge, which would also have been part of the scribe’s standard equipment. This detail concerning ancient ink explains what Bible writers may have been thinking of when they spoke of names being wiped out of, or canceled from, God’s book of remembrance.
What kinds of tents did the apostle Paul make?
Acts 18:3 says that the apostle Paul was a tentmaker by trade. In Bible times, tentmakers wove camel or goat hair to produce strips of cloth. Then they sewed the strips together to make tents for travelers. Many tents in this period, however, were made from leather. Others were made from linen, which was manufactured in Paul’s hometown of Tarsus. Paul may have worked with any or all of these materials. While working with Aquila, though, Paul may have made linen sun awnings that were used to cover the atria of private houses.
Paul likely learned this occupation in his youth. Evidence from Egyptian papyri indicates that during the period of Roman occupation, apprentices in Egypt began learning a trade at about the age of 13. If Paul was that age when he began his trade, then by age 15 or 16, he may have mastered the arts of cutting his material to size and shape and then sewing it with various awls and stitching techniques. “At the conclusion of his apprenticeship Paul might have been given his own set of tools,” says the book The Social Context of Paul’s Ministry. “The requisite knives and awls,” says the same work, “would have made tentmaking an easily portable trade,” one that Paul could fall back on to support himself as a traveling missionary.