“Oh that my words were written! Oh that they were recorded in a book!” Job 19:23 NASB
Book – It seems obvious, doesn’t it? Scrolls are not books. The Bible wasn’t written as a collection of books. We all know that, but what we might not realize is how this affects our understanding of the text. Robert Alter offers the following (pay close attention, please):
The biblical conception of a book was clearly far more open-ended than any notion current in our own culture, with its assumptions of known authorship and legal copyright. The very difference in the technology of bookmaking is emblematic. For us, a book is a printed object boxed in between two covers, with title and author emblazoned on the front cover and the year of publication indicated on the copyright page. The biblical term that comes closest to “book” is sefer. Etymologically, it means “something recounted,” but its primary sense is “scroll,” and it can refer to anything written on a scroll—a letter, a relatively brief unit within a longer composition or a book more or less in our sense. A scroll is not a text shut in between covers, and additional swathes of scroll can be stitched onto it, which seems to have been a very common biblical practice. A book in the biblical sphere was assumed to be a product of anonymous tradition. The only ones in the biblical corpus that stipulate the names of their authors, in superscriptions at the beginning, are the prophetic books, but even in this case, later prophecies by different prophet-poets could be tacked onto the earlier scrolls, and the earlier scrolls perhaps might even be edited to fit better into a continuous book with the later accretions.
When we read a “book” of the Bible, we automatically assume single authorship, one date of composition, and thematic unity. We don’t think, “Ah, well, here’s another scroll with additions, editing, rearrangements according to the redactor’s point of view.” We don’t imagine that some (or most) of Deuteronomy was written long after Moses died and reconstructed so that it had the authority of Moses. We think Song of Songs is Solomon’s simply because he is mentioned. We don’t read Job as if it were an orally delivered tale. No, we are post-Guttenberg readers, and that changes our basic approach and assumptions about the Bible. Of course, it’s easier to think of the Bible as a collection of “books,” like, for example, the Harry Potter series. But once we treat the text like that, we’ll end up wondering why it wanders, why it’s not event-chronologically correct, why it weaves ancient legends into religious instruction, why it seems to have different perspectives.
If Alter is correct (and most scholars agree with him), then why were we taught something so different? Why do we hang on to those Guttenberg assumptions? I’ll make a suggestion. We continue to view the Bible as a “book” because 1) that’s what we’ve always believed, and 2) it’s safer. We don’t like the idea that men messed with the text. That disturbs our notions of the certainty of God’s word, and that doesn’t feel safe. So, we stick with Guttenberg, and ignore that fact that this is an ancient, Semitic scroll with some stitching here and there.
Topical Index: sefer, scroll, book, Job 19:23
 Robert Alter, The Hebrew Bible, Volume 1, p. 3.