Lecture 16: Some Famous Majuscule Manuscripts (Part 2) | Free Online Biblical Library

Lecture 16: Some Famous Majuscule Manuscripts (Part 2)

Course: Textual Criticism

Lecture: Some Famous Majuscule Manuscripts (Part 2)


1. Majuscule Manuscripts (Part 2)

In this lecture, we want to finish discussing some of the major majuscule manuscripts. We started with codex Vaticanus located in the Vatican library. Then we talked about Codes Bazae which is also known as Codex Cambridge, as it is located in Cambridge University. Today, we will discuss Codex Alexandrinus, Ephraemi Rescriptus, Sinaiticus and Codex Washingtonianus in the order of discovery: 1627, 12th century, 1859 and 1906.

a. Codex Alexandrinus (A) – 1627 AD

In order of discovery, the first one is Codex Alexandrinus which was a gift meant for King James of the King James Bible. It was given to the crown sixteen years after the King James Version was produced. It came from Cyril Lurker, then patriarch of Constantinople. James died before it could be delivered and so he ended up giving it to the next King, King Charles in 1627. This manuscript is remarkable, had it been known before the King James Bible was published, it is such a good manuscript. It would have been difficult to dislodge the King James Bible if it had been based on this version. It is from the 5th century and is a two-column manuscript. It is Byzantine for the Gospels but Alexandrian for the remainder of the New Testament. But for the Book of Revelation, it is the most important manuscript there is. This manuscript is sitting in the British Library next to Codex Sinaiticus. One of these mixed text manuscripts like Codex Washingtonianus, which we will talk about later. It originally had the whole Bible in it but that part is now missing. The beginning of John in Codex Alexandrinus you have in the left column section titles. The right column is actually the text of John. The evidence that this is a 5th-century manuscript rather than fourth, it has large letters that each verse or section begins with. It is a letter that is sitting out in the margin to introduce a new section or a verse or division. This was before we had verse numbers; a lot of these manuscripts go in the direction that the verse numbers follow. But this one begins with section titles or headings.

These section titles start with hyrea which means ‘concerning’. For example, we have, concerning the five loaves and the two fish. You see in the margins letters that tell you that these letters will also be in the margin of the actual Gospel of John itself. Then we have, concerning the walking on the sea. Jesus and Peter walked on the water. The third one is concerning the blind man and the fourth is concerning Lazarus. The story of the woman caught in adultery is missing here. That is an important story to miss. The five loaves and two fish section is from John chapter 6 and by the time you get to Lazarus, it is John
chapter 11. So it skips a lot of things. Our center has a manuscript for Luke’s Gospel and at the end it has these same section headings for John. Nor does it list the story of the woman caught in adultery. So I begin to look at a number of manuscripts to see their section headings and found a number of them that did have a section heading for the woman caught in adultery and sure enough, they had the passage in it. But curiously, I also found some of the manuscripts that didn’t have section headings but had the story of the woman caught in adultery. From this, most likely, once these section headings began to be used in the late 4th century, certainly by the 5th century, that passage wasn’t found in these manuscripts and it wasn’t put in these section headings. Later scribes decided to put that passage in but they didn’t adjust the section headings, where some did. So I can’t tell whether the woman caught in adultery was in John or not. But with Alexandrinus, we are actually missing some material in the manuscript right where the story of the woman caught in adultery should be. We know many leaves are missing in it and we know how many lines per column are in this manuscript and therefore, we know approximately how many letters per line. So scholars have been able to reconstruct this and realized that it did not have the story of the woman caught in adultery. This is the earliest or perhaps the second earliest Byzantine manuscript of the Gospels. It is fascinating because the vast majority of the Byzantine manuscripts have this story.

b. Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus (C) – 12th Century Palimpsests

This manuscript is housed at the Bibliotheque National de France in Paris, an early 5th century manuscript with a mixed text. It is not on display. It isn’t a pure Alexandrian or Byzantine or Western manuscript. It is a mixed text, yet largely Alexandrian and it is a palimpsest and it is the most important palimpsest we have of the New Testament manuscripts. There was a scribe around the 12th century who scraped the text of this parchment manuscript and wrote out the Sermons of Ephraim the Syrian on top of it, not realizing that sermons were as important as Scripture. Perhaps the scribe couldn’t even read the underlining Greek text! So what happens with these palimpsests? The leaves are often trimmed and fitted in any way they can put them. These manuscripts are not in any order and there are one hundred and forty-five New Testament leaves and sixty-four Old Testament leaves. It was originally a complete Bible and it is the second-best manuscript for Revelation. For the other books, it is not nearly as important as it is for the Book of Revelation. It is considered one of the four great majuscules. We have these four manuscripts: Sinaiticus, Vaticanus, Alexandrinus and Ephraemi Rescriptus. These four manuscripts have the entire Bible in them and are the only four manuscripts of the 4th and 5th century that had the whole Bible in them. Only one of those has the complete New Testament in it. So, being a palimpsest, it was difficult to read Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus; in fact, it is almost impossible to read the under text.

A person by the name of Constantine Tischendorf deciphered the text in 1840. He was just 26 years old when he began this. It was next to impossible to understand the text. It took Tischendorf two years to decipher the text. But the chemical agents that had been applied to the leaves in 1830 caused the leaves to turn the color of blue and also cause severe damage to the manuscript. I examined the manuscript in 2011 to see if I could decipher the one percent that Tischendorf couldn’t decipher, but couldn’t make anything out. The part that he couldn’t read was the initial lines of each book of the Bible. They were written in red letters which were so faint that it couldn’t be read. I couldn’t make out a single letter of any of these rubricated texts. The manuscript is now in an extremely fragile shape so much so that each leaf is so thin when held up to the light. I suggested in 2011 that they needed to get the manuscript digitized. They have now done that. Another interesting aspect of this manuscript is the reading of Revelation 13:18. Remember that this is the second most important manuscript that we have for the Book of Revelation. Revelation 13:18 has the number of the beast as being 616 instead of 666 in this manuscript. Until 1998, it was the only manuscript known to have this reading. However, in 1998 there were seventeen papyri at Oxford University that were published and one of those had 616 for the number of the beast. Now we have two manuscripts that read 616 for the number of the beast. Due to the chemicals used on Ephraemi Rescriptus, the leaves may not last that much longer. So by deciphering this manuscript, it gave Tischendorf immediate fame.

Tischendorf was commissioned to go to Egypt to discover more manuscripts and is now considered the greatest New Testament critic who has ever lived. He went to Saint Catherine’s monastery in the Sinai and claimed that the monks were burning the leaves of Codex Sinaiticus. He made two more visits in
1853 and in 1859 and then he saw the New Testament part of it. Saint Catherine’s is the oldest continuous inhabited monastery in the world built in the middle of the 6th century by Emperor Justinian. In 1975 a storeroom was discovered which contained 1200 manuscripts and fifty thousand fragments of manuscripts. I examined four of these manuscripts in 2002 where I discovered two more manuscripts.

c. Codex Sinaiticus (Hebrew alef) - 1859

Some of the background of Codex Sinaiticus shows that the date of the manuscript is 4th century, the same as Vaticanus. It has the Alexandrian text type. It has the oldest complete New Testament found intact in this manuscript. Tischendorf discovers the Old Testament part of it when he was twenty-nine years old. Remember we talked about manuscript P52 and F C Bower who said we didn’t have enough manuscripts to really tell if we had the complete New Testament. Now, Tischendorf was motivated by evangelical zeal to prove Bower wrong by saying that we do have the original New Testament. So, it was in 1859 when he discovered the New Testament portion of it. It was on display at one time in Saint Petersburg and now the manuscript is in the British Library. This is the only manuscript that has the Hebrew letter aleph associated with it. It is manuscript 01 and in the order of majuscule manuscripts
discovered, this manuscript would have been designated the letter ‘S’. But Tischendorf came up with a new cataloging system decided that this manuscript would be aleph. It is possible that he considered this as his most favorite manuscript and wanted it to be known as the very first manuscript by assigning it the letter aleph. Codex Sinaiticus is indeed very special; it is the only four column codex in the world.

d. Codex Washingtonianus (W) – Purchased 1906

This manuscript was purchased by Charles Freer, an American, in 1906 becoming part of the Freer Gallery at the University of Michigan and then later donated to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. It is located in the basement of the Freer Gallery and has only been on display once that I know of. Note: years ago before there was digital photography, there were hard copy prints made of this; exactly four hundred and thirty-five of them and in the published edition of it, it listed every library that had a copy. The University of Michigan got two of those copies. The University gave one of those copies to Grace Theological Seminary in Indiana. And Robert Ibock who worked there, transferred to the Dallas Seminary and brought that copy with him. We photographed it some years ago and then later got a microfilm from the Smithsonian of it. It is a late 4th, early 5th-century manuscript and known as Codex W, not for Washington but this is the letter it was assigned from Greek manuscripts. It is a western order of the Gospels of Matthew, John, Luke, and Mark. It is the most important manuscript of the Gospels in the United States and is a patchwork text of Matthew and Luke 8:13-24:53 and has a Byzantine text to it. In Mark 1:1-5:30 it is western but in Mark 5:31 to the end, it is the so-called Cesarean if there is such a text. It is not Byzantine, western or Alexandrian. But then in Luke 1:1-8:12 and John 5:12-21:25, the end of John; it is Alexandrian. But for the first five chapters of John, it is actually mixed. The original editor, Henry Sanders, argued that this manuscript was probably put together because of the Diocletian persecution. He was destroying Scripture and the scribe of Codex W was trying to patchwork these together from the Manuscripts that he had available. It was obvious that he wasn’t able to find any complete Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke or John. In recent years this manuscript has been considered perhaps as late as the 7th century. There was a scholar in Germany who argued this.

A student by the name Zachery Cole wrote his master thesis on numbers in early manuscripts. He wasn’t aware that this manuscript was a patchwork. In researching all of these manuscripts to see which ones had these number abbreviations and which ones didn’t, he came to Codex W and contacted me telling me that it had abbreviations in different sections of the manuscript. This matched what Henry Sanders was saying in regards to the patchwork nature of the manuscript. So, the scribe of Codex W was a very faithful transcriber of the manuscript that he had put together, even to the point of using number abbreviations in some places and writing out the text fully in other places. What is also famous about this manuscript are the sayings (called the Freer Logion) of Jesus found between Mark 16:14-15. Jerome knew about this but until this manuscript was discovered, we didn’t know of any other manuscript that had this. This is the famous passage where the disciples see Jesus and he tells them that if they pick up snakes and get bit, they would not die, etc. This was post-resurrection. It doesn’t sound like the way they would have talked to Jesus. It says, ‘this age of lawlessness and unbelief is under Satan who doesn’t allow the truth and power of God to prevail over the unclean things of the spirits. Therefore, reveal thy righteousness now. Thus they spoke to Christ.’ And Christ replied to them, ‘the term of Satan’s power has been fulfilled, but there are other terrible things on the earth and for those who have sinned, I was delivered over to death that they may inherit the spiritual and incorruptible glory of righteousness which is in heaven.’ This is Bruce Metsker’s translation of it. Does this sound like anything that you have read in the New Testament? So, the Freer Logion is part of another one of these endings to the Gospel of Mark. We actually have five different ways in which Mark’s Gospel ends in the manuscripts and this is one of those.

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