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מְגִלָּה – scroll

Semantic Fields: Writing   
Author(s): Paul SandersKlaas A. D. Smelik
First published: 2011-05-18
Last update: 2024-06-30
Citation: Paul Sanders, Klaas A. D. Smelik, מְגִלָּה – scroll,
               Semantics of Ancient Hebrew Database (, 2011 (update: 2024) (WORK IN PROGRESS)


Grammatical type: n.f.
Occurrences: 22x HB (0/20/2); 0x Sir; 1x Qum (Total: 23)

  • Nebiim: Jer 36:2, 4, 6, 14(2x), 20, 21, 23, 25, 27, 28(2x), 29, 32; Ezek 2:9; 3:1, 2, 3; Zech 5:1, 2;
  • Ketubim: Ps 40:8; Ezra 6:2 (BAram.);
  • Qumran: 4Q550 fr1:5 (Aram.);
  • Text doubtful: 4Q264a (4QHalakha B) fr1:4: [מגל]ת̊ ספר̊ ל̊ק̊[רוא] בכתבו ביום [השבת], ‘[the scrol]l of a book by reading its writing on the day of [the Sabbath]’ (DJD XXXV:54-55); par. 4Q421 fr8:2: [מג]ל̊ת ספר לקרוא̊ [...] (DJD XX:194). More uncertain: 4Q534 fr7:4 = 4Q536 fr2.II:12 (Aram.; DJD XXXI:168-69).

1. Root and Comparative Material

A.1 Root: מְגִלָּה is a derivative of the verb √גלל, ‘to roll’. √gll is general Semitic (Cohen, DRS, 3:125-29; Ges18, 218) and has counterparts in Aramaic גלל, Akkadian galālu, ‘to roll’ (AHw, 273), and Ethiopic. The etymology of מְגִלָּה is clear: it denotes something that can be rolled – a scroll on which to write.

A.2 Loanword: According to Hurvitz (1996), the Hebrew noun מְגִלָּה is a late pre-exilic loan from Aramaic, but in view of its possible attestation in Phoenician this is an unnecessary assumption. For the sense development, Klein (CEDHL, 315) points to Latin volumen, ‘roll, book’, from volvere, ‘to roll’.

A.3 Akkadian: magallatu, ‘parchment scroll’, is found in Late Babylonian and is undoubtedly a loanword from Aramaic.1

A.4 Phoenician: Arslan Tash 2 (7th cent. BCE) ends with the following words: mnty kmglt (rev. 7). The words were first interpreted as a short colophon meaning ‘my/his spell is in agreement with the scroll’ (Caquot 1971:405-06). However, the interpretation of mglt as ‘the scroll(s)’ is disputed (DNWSI, 593).

A.5 Old and Imperial Aramaic: מגלה, ‘scroll’, is probably also attested in Egyptian Aramaic (ADE, 210, but reading מסלה is possible).

A.6 Postbiblical Hebrew: The noun מְגִלָּה is attested frequently in PBHeb; see Exegesis: Textual Evidence A.8.

A.7 Jewish Aramaic: מְגִילְּתָא, מְגַלְּתָא, ‘scroll’;2 cf. Ancient Versions: Targum, and see also Aram. מגלה in Ezra 6:2 and 4Q550 fr1:5.

A.8 Syriac: For Syriac ܡܓܠܐ (mgallā) and ܡܓܠܬܐ (mgalṯā), ‘scroll’;3 see Ancient Versions: Peshitta.

A.9 Mandaic: magalta ‘scroll’ (MD, 238).

A.10 Classical Arabic: maǧalla, ‘book, volume, writing, written paper’ (Lane, 438), is probably a loanword from Aramaic (Ges18, 628).

2. Formal Characteristics

A.1 מְגִלָּה (sg. st.abs.), מְגִלַּת (sg. st.cstr.). מְגִלָּה is a ma/iqtil form, derived from גלל, with a feminine termination (BL, 492 wζ; Meyer, HG, 34-35).

3. Syntagmatics

A.1 מְגִלָּה is specified by the following adjectives:

  • אַחֶרֶת, ‘other’, Jer 36:28, 32;
  • זֹאת, ‘this’, Jer 36:29; Ezek 3:1, 2, 3;
  • עָפָה, ‘flying’ (part.act. of עוף, ‘to fly’), Zech 5:1, 2;
  • רִאשֹׁנָה, ‘first’, Jer 36:28;
  • חֲדָה, ‘one’ (BAram.), Ezra 6:2.

A.2 מְגִלָּה occurs as the subject of:

  • היה qal, ‘to be’, Ezek 3:3 (וַתְּהִי);
  • עוף qal, ‘to fly’; see A.1 עָפָה.

A.3 מְגִלָּה occurs as the direct object of:

  • אכל qal, ‘to eat’, Ezek 3:1, 3; hiph., ‘to feed’, Ezek 3:2, 3;
  • לקח qal, ‘to take’, Jer 36:2, 141,2, 21, 28, 32;
  • מלא piel, ‘to fill’, Ezek 3:3;
  • נתן qal, ‘to give’, Jer 36:32; Ezek 3:3;
  • פקד hiph., ‘to store’, Jer 36:20;
  • פרשׁ qal, ‘to spread out’, Ezek 2:10;
  • קרא qal, ‘to read’, Jer 36:21;
  • ראה qal, ‘to see’, Zech 5:2;
  • שׂרף qal,‘to burn’, Jer 36:25, 27, 28, 29;
  • שׁכח hithpeel (BAram.), ‘to be found’, Ezra 6:2; 4Q550 fr1:5.

A.4 מְגִלָּה functions as nomen regens of:

  • סֵפֶר: מְגִלַּת סֵפֶר, ‘scroll of a book’ (Jer 36:2, 4; Ezek 2:9; Ps 40:8).

4. Ancient Versions

a. Septuagint (LXX):

  • δρέπανον, ‘sickle’:4 Zech 5:1, 2;
  • κεφαλὶς, ‘little head’ (dim. of κεφαλή),7 ‘rounded top end, scroll’:8 Ezek 2:9; 3:1, 2, 3; Ps 40:8 (LXX 39:8); Ezra 6:2;
  • χάρτης, ‘papyrus roll’:5 Jer 36:23 (LXX 43:23);
  • χαρτίον, ‘papyrus roll’ (dim. of χάρτης):6 Jer 36:2, 4, 6, 141,2, 20, 21, 25, 27, 281,2, 29, 32 (LXX 43:2, 4, etc.).

A.1 In Jeremiah, LXX translates מְגִלַּת סֵפֶר as χαρτίον βιβλίου, ‘a small roll of a book’ (36:2 = LXX 43:2), but מְגִלָּה alone only by χαρτίον (36:6 = LXX 43:6). In Ezek 2:9 and Ps 40:8 (LXX 39:8), the Greek translators render מְגִלַּת סֵפֶר as κεφαλὶς βιβλίου, ‘a scroll of a book’, but מְגִלָּה alone in Ezek 3:1-3 and Ezra 6:2 as κεφαλὶς . The translators of Zech 5:1-2 opted for δρέπανον , ‘sickle’, which presupposes a different vocalisation (מַגָּל, ‘sickle’).

b. Peshitta (Pesh):

  • ܟܪܟܐ (kerkā), ‘book, volume, tome’:9 Ezek 2:9; 3:1, 2, 3;
  • ܡܓܠܬܐ (mgalṯā), ‘scroll’: Jer 36:2, 4, 6, 141,2, 20, 21, 23, 25, 27, 281,2, 29, 32; Zech 5:1, 2; Ezra 6:2 (cf. Syriac under Root and Comparative Material);
  • ܪܝܫܐ (rīšā), ‘head, top’:10 Ps 40:8, with ܒܪܝܫ ܟܬ̈ܒܐ, ‘in the head of the books’, as the translation of בִּמְגִלַּת סֵפֶר.

c. Targumim (Tg):

d. Vulgate (Vg):

  • caput, ‘head’: Ps 40:8 (VgPsG), with in capite libri, ‘in the head of the book’, as the translation of בִּמְגִלַּת סֵפֶר;
  • involutus, ‘rolled up’ (from involvere, ‘to roll’):11 Ezek 2:9;
  • liber, ‘a book written for publication, volume, roll’:12 Jer 36:25;
  • volumen, ‘a roll of papyrus forming a book or part of a book, a roll of writing, a roll, book, volume’:13 Jer 36:2, 4, 6, 141,2, 20, 21, 23, 27, 281,2, 29, 32; Ezek 3:1, 2, 3; Zech 5:1, 2; Ps 40:8 (VgPsH); Ezra 6:2.

A.2 Vg translates מְגִלַּת סֵפֶר as volumen libri in Jer 36:2, 4; Ps 40:8 (VgPsH). In Ezek 2:9 this combination is translated as involutus liber, ‘a book rolled up’, with מְגִלָּה rendered as an adjective. In Jer 36:25 מְגִלָּה is rendered with a form of liber, perhaps because in Jer 36:23 שָׁלֹשׁ דְּלָתֹות וְאַרְבָּעָה is translated as tres pagellas vel quattuor, ‘three or four little pages’. The entire book could have been referred to as liber and the translation volumen was not chosen, because a roll does not contain pages.

A.3 In Ps 40:8, the awkward renderings of בִּמְגִלַּת סֵפֶר in Pesh and VgPsG are due to the reading ἐν κεφαλίδι βιβλίου in LXX. Pesh and VgPsG interpreted κεφαλὶς as ‘(little) head’ (dim. of κεφαλή) instead of ‘scroll’.

5. Lexical/Semantic Fields

[Discussion will be added later.]

6. Exegesis

6.1 Textual Evidence

A.1 The combination מְגִלַּת סֵפֶר, ‘scroll of a book’, occurs four times (Jer 36:2, 4; Ezek 2:9; Ps 40:8). The nomen rectum סֵפֶר, ‘book’, ‘document’, is used to disambiguate the function of the מְגִלָּה: it has been made for writing a large amount of text (סֵפֶר). After the expression מְגִלַּת סֵפֶר, the same scroll could be designated more briefly as הַמְּגִלָּה, ‘the scroll’ (Jer 36:6, 14, 20, 21, etc.), or as הַמְּגִלָּה הַזֹּאת, ‘this scroll’ (Ezek 3:1, 2, 3), or as הַסֵּפֶר, ‘the book’, ‘the document’ (Jer 36:8, 10, 11, 13, 18, 32).

A.2 From the twenty occurrences in the Nebiim, fourteen are found in Jeremiah 36, which is the major story about a מְגִלָּה (cf. Hardmeier 2008). Even if this story should be seen as a postexilic polemic treatise (so Knobloch 2009), its factual description is useful. First, Jeremiah gets the instruction to take (√לקח) a מְגִלַּת סֵפֶר and to write down (√כתב) all the prophecies he had received from God until that day. The actual writing, however, is done by Baruch (Jer 36:4). It is also Baruch who reads aloud (√קרא) the text in the temple, in the hearing of all the people (36:6, 8, 10, 13, 14). Having read the prophecies, Baruch is requested to come to the chamber of the scribes (36:20) and to read the words of Jeremiah again (36:14-19). In 36:20 the scroll is laid away (√פקד hiph.), but later it is fetched (√לקח) again (36:21). King Jehoiakim wants to hear its content, but as soon as three or four columns (דֶּלֶת), about one leaf of a scroll, have been read, he cuts off (√קרע) the section that has just been read with a penknife or razor (תַּעַר) and casts (√שׁלף hiph.) it into the fire that was in a brazier (אַח). In this way, the whole מְגִלָּה is consumed (√תמם) by the fire (36:23). From the fact that King Jehoiakim burns (√שׁלף, 36:25, 27, 28) Jeremiah’s scroll in the brazier inside the room in which he is residing we can conclude that the scroll was probably made from papyrus and not from leather (Lundbom 2004: 586-87). In the end, God commands Jeremiah to take (√לקח) another מְגִלָּה and to write down (√כתב) the prophecies once again (36:28). Jeremiah complies, takes (√לקח) another מְגִלָּה, and gives (√נתן) it to Baruch, who does the actual writing again (36:32).

A.3 In Ezek 2:9-3:3, God presents a מְגִלַּת סֵפֶר with lamentations written on the outside and the inside – an exceptional phenomenon – to the prophet with the command to eat (√אכל) it. Its taste proves to be like sweet honey (Ezek 3:3), but causes bitterness in the end (Ezek 3:14). Since we are dealing with a visionary experience, it is useless to speculate about the question whether the scroll was made from either leather or papyrus.

A.4 Zech 5:1-2 refers to the appearance of a מְגִלָּה עָפָה, ‘flying scroll’, during a vision. Also in this case, it is unclear of which material the scroll was made. A few more characteristics of the מְגִלָּה are revealed in the following verses. The scroll has huge dimensions, almost 10 by 5 meters: אָרְכָּהּ עֶשְׂרִים בָּאַמָּה וְרָחְבָּהּ עֶשֶׂר בָּאַמָּה, ‘its length twenty cubits and its width ten cubits’ (5:2). This exceptional size presupposes a leather scroll rather than one made of papyrus. The scroll is said to represent an אָלָה, ‘oath’, having two sides, both times indicated with the Hebrew מִזֶּה (Zech 5:3). It acts as an avenger for God, consuming the houses of thieves and persons who swear falsely (Zech 5:3-4).

A.5 In Ps 40:8 we read: אָז אָמַרְתִּי הִנֵּה בָאתִי בִּמְגִלַּת סֵ֝פֶר כָּתוּב עָלָי, ‘Then I said: See, I have come; in the scroll of the book it is written about me’. The expression מְגִלַּת סֵפֶר seems to indicate the same heavenly scroll which is called סִפְרָה in Ps 56:9 and סֵפֶר in Exod 32:32-33.

A.6 Ezra 6:2: וְהִשְׁתְּכַח בְּאַחְמְתָא בְּבִירְתָא דִּי בְּמָדַי מְדִינְתָּה מְגִלָּה חֲדָה וְכֵן כְּתִיב בְּגַוַּהּ דִּכְרוֹנָה׃, ‘then was found in Achmetha in the fortress in the province Media a certain scroll; and this was written in it as a record: ...’
[Discussion will be added later.]

A.7 4Q550 fr1:4-5: שבעה בעזקתה די דריוש [ן]מה חתמי֗[דה חתי]ובין ספריא אשתכח מגלה ח, ‘and among the documents was found a cer[tain] scroll [sea]led with seven stamp[s] by the signet-ring of Darius’ (DJD XXXVII, 12-16). [Discussion will be added later.]

A.8 In Rabbinic and later Hebrew, הַמְּגִלָּה, ‘the scroll’, is the common designation of the Book of Esther. The plural form מְגִלֹּות, ‘scrolls’, ‘Megilloth’, is used for the five books Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Qohelet, and Esther, each of which is read during one of the Jewish religious festivals. Because of this special use, these books were sometimes bundled separately.

6.2 Pictorial Material

[Pictorial material will be added later.]

6.3 Archaeology

A.1 In Egypt papyrus scrolls were used since the Old Kingdom (AALA, 534-35). Up to twenty sheets of papyrus or leather could be joined to form a scroll (AEMT, 236-38; Tov 2004, 36-43). In the case of the brittle papyrus, the sheets were joined with glue; in the case of leather with threads, mostly sinews. The overall length of the great Isaiah scroll from Qumran (1QIsaa), for example, is 7.34 meters, divided over 17 sheets of uneven widths. In biblical scholarship it is sometimes stated that up to the second century BCE only papyrus scrolls were used. In Egypt, however, parchment was used since the eighteenth dynasty (AEMT, 303) and it is quite likely that this material was introduced in Palestine already in the premonarchic period. Neither papyrus nor leather withstood the Palestinian climate well, with its wet winters, so that thus far scrolls have only been discovered in the dry Judaean Desert.

7. Conclusion

A.1 The word מְגִלָּה has a narrower meaning than the word סֵפֶר. It designates a scroll made of papyrus or leather on which literary texts were written, such as prophecies or lamentations.


For the abbreviations see the List of Abbreviations.

Caquot 1971
André Caquot and Robert du Mesnil du Buisson, ‘La seconde tablette ou “petite amulette” d’Arslan Tash’, Syria 48:391-406.
Hardmeier 2008
Christof Hardmeier, ‘Zur schriftgestützten Expertentätigkeit Jeremias im Milieu der Jerusalemer Führungseliten (Jeremia 36)’, in: J. Schaper (ed.), Die Textualisierung der Religion (FAT, 62), Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 105-49.
Hurwitz 1996
Avi Hurvitz, ‘The Origins and Development of the Expression מגילת ספר: A Study in the History of Writing-Related Terminology in Biblical Times’ (Hebr.), in: Michael V. Fox et al. (eds), Texts, Temples, and Traditions: A Tribute to Menahem Haran, Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 37\*–46\*, 406–07.
Knobloch 2009
Harald Knobloch, Die nachexilische Prophetentheorie des Jeremiabuches (BZAR, 12), Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.
Lundbom 2004
Jack R. Lundbom, Jeremiah 21–36: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (AB, 21B), New York: Doubleday.
Tov 2004
Emanuel Tov, Scribal Practices and Approaches Reflected in the Texts Found in the Judean Desert (STDJ, 54), Leiden: Brill.
Zhakevich 2020
Philip Zhakevich, Scribal Tools in Ancient Israel. A Study of Biblical Hebrew Terms for Writing Materials and Implements (History, archaeology, and culture of the Levant, 9), Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State University Press, Eisenbrauns.


  1. AHw, 574; AEAD, 57; CAD M/1, 31. 

  2. Jastrow, DTT, 729; Sokoloff, DJBA, 641. 

  3. Payne Smith, CSD, 250; Sokoloff, SLB, 709. 

  4. Adrados, DGE, 1167; LEH1, 121; GELS, 178. 

  5. GELS, 729. 

  6. GELS, 729. 

  7. LSJ, 945. 

  8. GELS, 396. 

  9. Sokoloff, SLB, 645; similarly Payne Smith, CSD, 227. 

  10. Payne Smith, CSD, 539; Sokoloff, SLB, 1462. 

  11. Lewis & Short, LD, 997; OLD, 962-63. 

  12. Lewis & Short, LD, 1054-6; OLD, 1024. 

  13. Lewis & Short, LD, 2012; OLD, 2100. 

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