Monday, May 22, 2017

Byzantine Manuscripts: Where Were They Before the 300's?

            Occasionally the question comes up, Why is there no clear evidence for the Byzantine Text prior to the 300s?  Let’s take some time today to address that question.  

Factor #1 is climate  as in, the humidity-level, which in Egypt specially favors manuscript-preservation better than the humidity levels elsewhere (barring rare cases such as a bog in Ireland). Before the use of parchment codices, New Testament manuscripts were written on papyrus, and papyrus naturally decomposes and rots away in pretty much all other locales where Christians were located in the 100s and 200 except in Egypt. So it should be no surprise that when we focus on Egypt, we find, primarily, papyrus manuscripts that contain the Alexandrian Text, i.e., a local text there. 
            Can evidence from Egypt tell us anything about the localized text-forms used in other locales? Perhaps a little, if a manuscript from elsewhere happened to find its way into a library in Egypt and that library’s remains happened to be preserved.  Consider, for example, Oxyrhynchus Papyrus 405, which I mentioned in my previous post.  It shows that a copy of Book Three of Irenaeus’ Against Heresies – written in the 180’s in France – found its way to Egypt just a few decades after the work itself was produced.  However, the main current of the evidence is against the idea.  The manuscript-evidence from Egypt tells us very little about the text that was being used outside the borders of Egypt in the 100’s-200’s. 
            Again: Reason Numero Uno for why we do not have strong evidence of the Byzantine Text in the 100’s and 200’s is the weather.  Everywhere but Egypt, we do not have papyrus manuscripts of the New Testament from the 100’s-200’s for the same reason that we do not have papyrus receipts, papyrus letters, papyrus classical works, etc., from the 100’s-200’s anywhere else.  It all rotted away. This is why appeals to patristic evidence  the original appeal used by Hort, who did not have the papyrus evidence to consider – are essentially appeals to an absence of evidence, rather than to evidence of absence: we do not have patristic writings the 100’s and 200’s, from vast swaths of territory, not because nobody there knew how to write, but because of the papyrus-destroying high-humidity level. 
Vincent of Saragossa -
one of the many martyrs
tortured and killed during
the Diocletian Persecution.
He refused to hand over
his Bible manuscripts.
Factor #2: The Diocletian Persecution.  When Roman persecution of Christians occurred (which it did in waves, so to speak, rather than as a constant non-stop oppression; the Romans often had bigger fish to fry), it was bad, but the Diocletian Persecution (303-311) was particularly bad.  It was undertaken with the intent not to just promote emperor-worship but to eliminate Christianity. 
            Eusebius of Caesarea described the persecution:  An imperial decree was published everywhere, ordering that the churches were to be demolished to the ground, and that the Scriptures were to be destroyed by fire.  And notice was given that those in places of honor would lose their positions, and those in ordinary vocations, if they did not give up their Christianity, would be deprived of their liberty.”  So it is no wonder that in the area where the Diocletian Persecution was the most intense, copies of Scriptures from before that time are scarce.      
            Christian leaders and Christian Scriptures were especially targeted.  Embedded in a text from AD 320 called the Gesta Apud Zenophilum, there is an account of Roman persecution of Christians that occurred on May 19, 303, in Cirta, a city in Numidia.  (The History of Information website also has some data about it.) 
            How many manuscripts were seized by the Romans in Cirta, Numidia, in one day, in 303?  Under Roman interrogation, Catullinus the Deacon initially handed over just one very large codex.  But as the interrogation continued, more codices were surrendered:  a man named Eugenius was confronted at his house, and he handed over four codices.  Felix the Lector handed over five codices.  Victorinus, another lector, was also confronted at his house, and he handed over eight codices.  Next, Projectus the Lector handed over five large codices and two small codices.  Victor the Grammarian was confronted at his house, and he handed over two codices, and four quinions (that is, loose book-sections consisting of five parchment sheets folded together).  The Romans also confronted Euticius of Caesarea, who denied having any manuscripts.  The Romans went on to the house of Coddeo, who, it seems, was not at home, but his wife was present, and she handed over six codices.    
            The total: 33 codices, and four segments of codices.  Needless to say, if we had those manuscripts from 303, our textual apparatuses would look very different.  And that’s just one city in Numidia.  Nicomedia (an early target of the Diocletian persecution, in what is now Turkey) had many more manuscripts than that, and so, I suspect, did the churches in Corinth, Ephesus, Rome, Athens, Philippi, Berea, Smyrna, Pergamum, and throughout Turkey (Asia, Bithynia, Lydia, Galatia, Pamphylia, Cilicia, Cappadocia, etc.).  My point here is not that those 34 manuscripts (and the multitudes of other manuscripts destroyed during the Diocletian Persecution) must have had the Byzantine Text written on their pages, but simply that the repetition of similar scenes throughout the Roman Empire explains, to a large extent, our lack of New Testament manuscript-evidence from large swaths of Roman territory.
Factor #3: Overuse. Some of the papyri found in Egypt were excavated from trash-heaps; i.e., at some point, they were thrown away, and we only have them today because those particular trash-heaps decomposed very slowly. Trash-heaps elsewhere decomposed more rapidly – taking us back to factor #1. But why were manuscripts put in trash-heaps in the first place? One reason is that manuscripts wore out. This would not be the case with manuscripts that achieved status as relics; we see for example that the Saint Augustine’s Gospels (at the Parker Library) has survived because it is seldom used. But the manuscripts that received day-to-day use in churches wore out, in a manner not unlike the way in which much-used books wear out today. 
            How is it that a person who graduated from high school in 2001 can have, in the same library, a copy of “Devotions for Graduates, 2001 edition” in pristine condition, while his college mathematics textbook from 2003 is worn to bits?  It is because one was used more than the other.  And likewise, the more often manuscripts were used, the sooner they tended to need to be replaced.  This is just a general tendency, of course:  now and then one might find a book-reader who treated his manuscripts with meticulous reverence, but on the other hand there were book-readers who reckoned that if one manuscript got damaged they could just get a new one. 

Factor #4: Manuscript-recycling.
Overwritten text from the Gospel of Luke
can be seen on this page
of Codex 024.
Sometimes, when the economy was booming, or where a bishop’s brother was a butcher, parchment was plentiful and there was no lack of materials with which to make manuscripts.  But at other times and places, parchment could become scarce, and then and there, it was tempting to recycle old manuscripts by gentle scraping and washing the ink off the parchment, creating a fresh and usable page.  There are quite a few examples of this; 024 and 026, for example, consist of the scraped-off Gospels-text on pages of a copy of Isidore of Seville’s Etymologies.  Codex Climaci Rescriptus (0250) also consists of recycled pages.  (This kind of manuscript is called a palimpsest.)  The danger of ancient Greek copies being recycled in this way was particularly high when and where Greek was no longer read or understood.
            Recycling was not only done to intact pages.  Damaged pages, or pages separated from the volumes in which they belonged, could also be recycled as binding-material for more recent manuscripts, and even some pages from Codex Sinaiticus were not exempt from this fate.

More factors could be listed as causes of the loss of manuscripts – plain neglect in some areas, by monks who no longer could read Greek, resulted in the loss of many manuscripts during the Middles Ages, and so did destructive Islamic conquests, which at different times reached not only northern Africa and Turkey but also Sicily and Austria.  But the four factors listed here are probably the main ones, as far as manuscripts from the 100
’s-200’s are concerned.

In addition, something else must be said:  to an extent, I deny the premise that there is no evidence of the use of the Byzantine Text before the 300s.  Consider for example the text of Matthew used by Clement of Alexandria.  In a detailed study published in 2008, Carl Cosaert listed 15 readings in Clement’s text of Matthew that agree with the Textus Receptus and disagree with B – compared with 14 readings in Clement’s text of Matthew that agree with B and disagree with the TR.  And if the uncorrected first hand of Sinaiticus, rather than Vaticanus, is made the flagship for the Alexandrian Text, then (if we accept Cosaert’s data) Clement agrees with Sinaiticus while simultaneously disagreeing with TR 15 times, but Clement agrees with the TR while simultaneously disagreeing with Sinaiticus 36 times.
            And that’s from a writer in Alexandria, where one would expect the local Alexandrian Text to dominate.
            It should be noted that a form of the Byzantine Gospels-Text – not “fully developed,” but considerably more Byzantine than anything else – is observed in the Gothic Version, in the Peshitta, in Gregory of Nyssa, and Basil of Caesarea.  If it is valid to extrapolate (as Westcott and Hort did in 1881, and as some textual critics such as Daniel Wallace still do), from the agreements in Vaticanus and Sinaiticus, a distant ancestor, then how much more ought the agreements of these witnesses (and one could add more, such as the Byzantine sections of Codex W, and the consensus-readings of the Purple Uncials) be regarded as echoes of a very ancient, primarily Byzantine, ancestral text-form.
           In the late 1800’s, influential textual critics proposed that in the decades after the Diocletian Persecution, church-leaders suddenly stopped using the text-forms that had previously circulated in their locales, and started using a new edition of the New Testament text that contained many readings which up to that point had scarcely ever been encountered.  A better, more plausible explanation of the sudden appearance of a predominantly Byzantine form of the text of the Gospels in multiple locales in the mid-late 300’s is that the church-leaders there continued to use the same text-form that they had used prior to the Diocletian Persecution.  The text in these locales was not what changed; what changed was the durability of the material that was used to make the manuscripts, and the friendliness of the government. 

Friday, May 19, 2017

The Case for Christ: What It Gets Wrong About Greek Manuscripts

David Wood offers a thorough review of
The Case for Christ
 A recent movie called The Case for Christ depicted the testimony of Lee Strobel, an investigative reporter who starts out the movie as an atheist but ends up convinced that Christianity is true after he conducts an investigation into the evidence for the resurrection of Christ.  I enjoyed the movie and recommend it for adults; those interested may benefit from David Wood’s review.  Here, I want to focus on one particular point in the movie that seems capable of improvement:  the treatment of New Testament manuscript evidence.
            More than once in the movie, the existence of 5,843 Greek New Testament manuscripts is emphasized.  Since this is a much greater number of manuscripts than what we have for any other ancient composition, Strobel accepts this (in the movie, and in the identically titled book) as evidence of the reliability of the New Testament text.  There is a high risk that this is going to give many audience-members and readers a false impression – one that is liable to be taken advantage of by aggressive anti-Christian writers.   To acquire a more focused picture of the New Testament manuscript evidence, and its implications, here are a few points to keep in mind.

● A manuscript of part of the New Testament is not the same as a manuscript of the entire New Testament.  For example, the earliest New Testament manuscript is probably either Papyrus 52 or Papyrus 104 – but they are both small fragments.  They tell us nothing about the accuracy of the transmission of the books of the New Testament that they do not represent.  So, comparisons between “the New Testament” collectively, and single compositions from the ancient world, are sort of unfair; it would be better to separate the individual New Testament books, and go from there when making  comparisons.      

● The vast majority of Greek manuscripts supports the Byzantine Text.  Generally, 85% of the existing Greek manuscripts of the New Testament agree at any given point.  If we were to compile a Greek text by adopting the reading with the most support, the resultant compilation would be very stable, and even where a measure of instability would still exist (in some cases where there are three or more rival variants) the options tend to yield trivial differences in their meaning.  The 2005 Robinson-Pierpont Byzantine Textform is such a compilation.

● Most English translations of the New Testament are based on minority-texts at points where the Byzantine and Alexandrian text-types disagree with one another.  The New International Version, the English Standard Version, the New Living Translation, and the New Revised Standard Version are all based primarily on editions of the Nestle-Aland compilation, which, despite being compiled via a method called “reasoned eclecticism,” almost always rejects the majority-reading (that is, the Byzantine reading) in favor of the reading in the flagship manuscripts of the Alexandrian family of manuscripts. 
            Let me take a moment to zoom in on this point.  The King James Version is sometimes criticized because in a few passages, its base-text (the Textus Receptus) has little or no Greek manuscript support.  However, it is no exaggeration to say that if one were to select 20 places at random in the Gospels, where the KJV and NIV are based on different Greek readings that have an impact on translation, we would find that in 9 out of 10 cases, the reading in the Textus Receptus is supported by at least 85% of the Greek manuscripts.   At some points that percentage rises above 99%.
            Promoters of the NIV, ESV, etc., have frequently pointed out that during the centuries after the King James Version was made in 1611, many more manuscripts have been discovered.  What they tend not to say, though, is that most of those manuscripts contain the Byzantine Text, and thus agree with the KJV’s base-text much more than they agree with the compilation(s) upon which the NIV, ESV, etc., are based.  My point being that it is inconsistent to argue for the reliability of the New Testament by an appeal to the existence of 5,843 manuscripts, and then turn around and reject 85% of those manuscripts by consistently favoring minority-readings, which is precisely what one does when using the NIV, ESV, NLT, etc.
            In his book, Strobel states that the differences between New Testament manuscripts are “as minor as a few typos in a few insignificant words in an entire Sunday newspaper.”  That is simply not true.  He also compares the transmission of the New Testament text to a game of telephone in which, at the end of the game, 29 out of 30 telephone-game players say the same thing.  The problem is that the illustration does not hold, as far as the base-text of the NIV is concerned:  in the base-text of the New International Version New Testament that Lee Strobel uses, 29 out of 30 manuscripts are routinely rejected in favor of Alexandrian minority-readings.  

● The compilers of the New Testament base-text of the NIV, ESV, etc., consistently rejected the Byzantine Text, favoring the Alexandrian Text instead – especially when it is supported by Codex Vaticanus.  The case for the Alexandrian Text was set forth in 1881 by F. J. A. Hort – not on the basis of the greater number of the Alexandrian manuscripts (because then, like now, they formed only a small minority), and not because of the greater age of Codex Vaticanus (because Hort granted that manuscripts with an essentially Byzantine Text were circulating at the same time Codex Vaticanus was made), but on the basis of cumulative evidence drawn from the intrinsic qualities of rival readings.  Much more could be said about this, but the thing to see today is that ever since 1881, a working premise of New Testament textual criticism as practiced by the compilers of the Nestle-Aland Novum Testamentum Graece has been that if one variant is supported by a thousand manuscripts, and another variant is supported by ten manuscripts, the variant supported by ten manuscripts is probably original if Codex Vaticanus is among those ten.

Papyrus 52 - maybe the earliest known manuscript
with text from the New Testament
● The relatively recent claim that the New Testament’s manuscript-support is closer to its composition-date than any other literary work of ancient times is probably not true.  When Papyrus 52 (also known as John Rylands Greek Papyrus 457) was identified by C. H. Roberts as a fragment of the Gospel of John, some apologists began crowing about how this new discovery confirms that there is only a 40-year gap between the production of the New Testament, and its earliest extant manuscript – a gap far less than there is for any other work of ancient times.  However, this is not all that significant.
            Papyrus 52 was assigned a production-date in the first half of the second century due to palaeographical considerations – that is, via a comparison of its script to the scripts used in other manuscripts in various eras.  But if we reckon that a copyist’s handwriting stayed relatively the same, and that we have no means to deduce how old a copyist was when he made a particular manuscript, and if we also reckon that a copyist might live another 50 years after the beginning of his career as a copyist, then there is potentially a 100-year swing, 50 years each way, built into palaeographically assessed estimates of when a manuscript was made.  That is, when other factors are not in the picture, a production-date deduced exclusively from palaeographic evidence could be off by 100 years.  So in the case of Papyrus 52, saying that it was made “in about 125” could mean that it was made 50 years earlier (although that is precluded by the point that the Gospel of John itself is traditionally given a production-date around AD 90), or 50 years later.               
            Thus, while Papyrus 52 might have been made just two or three decades after the Gospel of John was composed, it is also true that Papyrus 52 might have been produced in the 170’s.  To ask for greater precision in the estimate is like asking researchers to tell us the age of the copyist. 
            Meanwhile, consider Oxyrhynchus Papyrus 412, which consists of a fragment from the composition Kestoi, by the Christian author Julius Africanus.   Julius Africanus died in 240, and probably wrote Kestoi after 221.  This fragment was a scroll – and in its present condition, while it has part of Kestoi on one side, the other side has a cursive text that includes its own composition-date, approximately:  in the reign of the Emperor Tacitus, who ruled in 275-276.  This means that in 275-276, someone recycled pages from a copy of Kestoi – a composition which had only been composed about 50 years earlier.     
            In 1903 when this text was first published in the Oxyrhynchus Papyri Series, Volume 3, Grenfell and Hunt affirmed that “it is separated by little more than a generation at most” from the time when African wrote it.  They also observed that despite its close chronological proximity to the autograph of Kestoi, Oxyrhynchus Papyri 412, “The text is far from being a good one; several lines of the incantation especially are corrupt, and one of them is incomplete.”  (Similarly, in Papyrus 52, the copyist seems to have skipped two words in John 18:37, εις τουτο (“for this”).  This illustrates a point that should be taught and retaught:  neither the quantities of manuscripts that favor one variant over its rivals, nor the age of the attestation of readings, should be considered a sufficient and decisive factor by itself when comparing textual variants.
            So, we have a copy of at least one ancient composition (Julius Africanus’Kestoi –) that is extant in a copy extremely close to the composition’s production-date – probably closer than Papyrus 52 is to the production-date of the Gospel of John.  And this is not the only such case:  Oxyrhynchus Papyrus 405 (published in the same 1903 volume of Grenfell and Hunt’s series) was not initially recognized by Grenfell and Hunt, who stated that its uncial script “is not later than the first half of the third century, and might be as old as the latter part of the second.”  Before the year was over, though, J. Armitage Robinson had not only identified it as a fragment of the Greek text of Irenaeus’ composition Against Heresies, Book Three – to be precise, 3:9:2-3, a passage in which Irenaeus quotes Matthew 3:16-17 – but he also had his findings published in the journal Athenaeum (on page 548 of the October 24, 1903 issue). 
            Notably, the text of Matthew 3:17 as cited in Oxyrhynchus Papyrus 405 does not say Ουτός ἐστιν (“This is” My beloved Son) but, instead, Σὺ ει (“You are” My beloved Son).  One could, perhaps use this as evidence that the earliest manuscript of Matthew 3:17 disagrees with the majority of manuscripts and with the Alexandrian manuscripts, in favor of the Western text attested in Codex Bezae (although it agrees with the Byzantine and Alexandrian manuscripts, disagreeing with Codex Bezae, where it does not have Codex D’s phrase πρὸς αυτόν (“to Him”)).  
            Via a consideration of these points I hope that readers may see that it is an oversimplification to treat either the quantities of manuscripts, or the ages of specific manuscripts, as if that is automatic vindication of either a particular reading, or a particular collection of readings.  Where our 5,843 Greek manuscripts concur regarding the meaning of a particular passage, there is no scientific impetus to seek some other sense, except in very rare cases where conjectural emendation may be considered (and even then, I would decline to put any conjectural emendation into the text – unlike the current editors of the Nestle-Aland compilation).  That is about all that should be extrapolated from the existence of that multitude of manuscripts.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Syriac New Testament MSS at Saint Catherine's Monastery

            The collection of page-views of manuscripts at Saint Catherine’s Monastery at Mount Sinai housed at the Library of Congress includes not only Greek manuscripts, and Georgian manuscripts, but also Syriac manuscripts.  A series of links to the Syriac New Testament manuscripts in the collection is at the end of this post.
            How important is Syriac evidence?  Very important.  To find out more about the Syriac Versions – the Old Syriac, the Peshitta, the Harklean Syriac, and more – here are links to a few resources:
            The Bible in the Syriac Tradition, by Sebastian Brock
            The Fourfold Gospels in the Writings of Ephrem, by Matthew Crawford.
            Syriac Versions of the New Testament, by Peter Williams
            ENTTC Entry:  Syriac Versions, by Robert Waltz
            1915 ISBE Entry:  Syriac Versions, by Thomas Nicol
            Two Memoirs on the Syriac Version, by John Gwynn
            English Translations of the Peshitta Version, at

In addition, if you are hungry for additional Syriac resources:
            Sebastian Brock has provided a collection of Syriac resources, including information on patristic writers such as Cyrillona and Isaac of Antioch, who are not even named in the list of cited authors in UBS4.
            Hugoye:  Journal of Syriac Studies, is crammed with articles keeping readers up to date about Syriac discoveries and research, especially regarding Syriac patristic writings.
            George al-Banna has a series of video lessons on how to read Syriac.
            The Meltho font may be useful if you want to write Syriac electronically.

Here are links to the page-views of over 50 manuscripts in the collection at Saint Catherine’s Monastery.  (If a date-assignment appears to be an estimate, it is.)

MS 2:  Four Gospels (500’s)  This is a very early copy of the Peshitta Gospels.
MS 3:  Pauline Epistles  (c. 500)  This is the same manuscript as Schøyen MS 2530.  Andreas Juckel has made a thorough analysis and full collation of this manuscript’s text.
MS 12:  Lectionary and Gospel of Luke (600’s)            
MS 13:  Lectionary of Gospels and Epistles (1000)              
MS 15:  Acts and Epistles (700’s)     
MS 17:  Syriac New Testament (800’s)             
MS 21:  New Testament Lectionary (1000’s)           
MS 30:  Lives of Holy Women and Four Gospels (Sinaitic Syriac Palimpsest) (400)  This is the famous (or infamous) Sinaitic Syriac palimpsest; its upper writing tells about events in the lives of some Christian ladies; the harder-to-see lower writing is the (incomplete) Gospels, from about 400.  This manuscript’s Gospels-text is closely related to the text in the (also incomplete) Curetonian Syriac Gospels manuscript.
MS 32: Lectionary:  Gospels and Epistles (1000’s)           
MS 45:  Apostolos (1043)                                     
MS 49:  Lectionary (1100-1300)
MS 65 Gospels-Lectionaryand Kanonarion (1000)                
MS 74:  Four Gospels (1200)              
MS 75:  Lectionary (Acts and Epistles) (1295)             
MS 81:  Lectionary (Epistles) (1232)               
MS 92:  Praxapostolos (1291)              
MS 100:  Lectionary (Acts and Epistles) (1200)                    
MS 120:  Lectionary(Acts and Epistles) (1100)              
MS 134:  Gospels (Matthew and Mark) (1200)                   
MS 135:  Four Gospels (1100-1300)     
MS 145:  Four Gospels (1188)
MS 159:  Gospels (Matthew and John) 1260                    
MS 205:  Four Gospels (1300’s)
MS 214:  Lectionary (Acts and Epistles) (1200’s)           
MS 215:  Praxapostolos (1219)             
MS 216:  Praxapostolos (1200)             
MS 218:  Praxapostolos (1200)             
MS 219:  Lectionary (Gospels) (1200’s)           
MS 222:  Praxapostolos (1267)             
MS 227:  Praxapostolos (1293)             
MS 229:  Praxapostolos (1200’s)          
MS 231:  Four Gospels (1200’s)           
MS 235:  Praxapostolos (1215)              
MS 236:  Lectionary (Gospels) (1294)              
MS 238:  Lectionary (Gospels) (1200’s)
MS 259:  Gospels (Luke and John) (1200’s)           
MS 269:  Lectionary (Gospels) (1100-1300)       
MS 271:  Lectionary (Gospels) (1288)              
            Image 105, with asterisks and rubrics      
MS 272:  Four Gospels (1296)              


MS 16:  Patristica and Profana (600’s)             
MS 24:  Works of Mar Isaac et al (900’s)            
MS 28:  Book of Kings (700’s)             
MS 35:  First Samuel (600’s)             
MS 56:  Patristica,Works of John Climacus et al (700’s)             
MS 67:  Works of Mar Ephrem (800’s)             

And if that’s not enough, the contents of more Syriac manuscripts, from other places, can be accessed at MSS-Syriaques and at the Mingana Collection.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Georgian New Testament MSS at Saint Catherine's Monastery

Sinai Georgian MS 16 - Image 277.
from the Library of Congress
Collection of Manuscripts in
St. Catherine's Monastery, Mt. Sinai
            The Georgian version of the New Testament is one of the least-researched areas in New Testament textual criticism.  The Library of Congress recently released page-images of some important Georgian manuscripts that are housed at Saint Catherine’s Monastery; a list of some of them is included at the end of this post. 
            What do we know about the Georgian version of the New Testament?  A few brief points should be enough to convey the basics about what we know, and what we would like to know, about the Georgian version of the New Testament.  If you would like more details, see Jeff Childers’ chapter on the Georgian version in The Text of the New Testament in Contemporary Research (1995). 

● Like Greek, the Georgian language is written in different scripts.  The script called asomt‘avruli is analogous to Greek uncials.  The kut‘xovani (“angled”) script is analogous to Greek minuscule lettering.  It is also called nuskhuri.  In the Middle Ages, both of these scripts became antique as the military script, mxedruli, began to dominate, and it is still essentially the Georgian script in use today.  

Also, though not particularly significant for New Testament research, there is another way to classify Georgian scripts:  the Georgian letter xani was used as a prefix in the 300’s-600’s.  This prefix was then replaced by the letter hae, h, until the 800’s, at which point it also fell into disuse.  Georgian script that uses the xan-prefix is called xanmeti; script that uses the hae-prefix is called haemeti.   

● Georgian New Testament manuscripts tend to be either manuscripts of the four Gospels or of Acts and the Epistles, and one should not assume that the different parts share the same text-type.  Although it is generally agreed that the Georgian version was made sometime in the 400’s, we do not have very many substantial early Georgian manuscripts, so it is not easy to discern what kind of readings the earliest Georgian text contained.  Only faint hints can be gained by consulting quotations that appear in Georgian literature, such as The Martyrdom of Saint Shushanik, a composition from the 400’s, probably.  The best impression that the presently available evidence gives is that the Georgian version of the Gospels – like the Armenian version, in some respects – circulated in two forms not long after it was first created. 

Sinai Georgian MS 16 - Image 322.
from the Library of Congress Collection of Manuscripts in
St. Catherine's Monastery, Mt. Sinai
● An assortment of linguistic clues (such as unusual renderings in Georgian that are explained as mistranslations of Armenian terms) has contributed to a consensus that the Georgian version of the Gospels was initially translated from Armenian, and that the Georgian text was then revised, reflecting the revision of the Armenian text.  Between the representatives of the first form of the Armenian Gospels-text, and representatives of the first form of the Georgian Gospels-text, the Georgian remains are more substantial, and so, despite being a translation of a translation, the Georgian Gospels-text has something to offer that is text-critically interesting:  echoes of whatever text (probably something in Syriac) was used in the early 400’s as the initial basis for the Armenian Gospels.  The early Georgian version is also a major witness, albeit indirect, to the Greek Caesarean Gospels-text that was used after 430 to revise the Armenian text.

● It was once assumed that the Georgian text of the Epistles shared the same general pattern of Armenian-based development and revision, but that is probably not the case.  Georgian monks came into contact with monasteries outside the borders of Georgia almost as soon as the Gospels were translated, if not sooner – and the Greek manuscripts at those monasteries were not ignored by the Georgians.  Access to those texts apparently caused the early Georgian translators to adopt a distinctly different base-text for the Epistle (and probably also for Acts).  Textually, the early Georgian version of the Epistles is related to the Greek text of Codex Coislinianus (H, 015).     

● The Georgian text of the Gospels was repeatedly revised (sometimes, apparently, as little more than some monks’ isolated project) until the revisions that were undertaken in 1000’s.  At that time, Euthymius the Athonite (so-named because he resided at Mount Athos, in northeastern Greece) attempted to systematically correct the text of the Gospels to Greek exemplars there.  In addition, he translated the book of Revelation into Georgian, from a Greek base-text resembling what was circulated alongside the commentary of Andreas.  After Euthymius, George (or Giorgi) the Athonite tidied up Euthymius’ work, favoring a Byzantine standard.  Yet Giorgi’s revision-work was not quite definitive (although it eventually dominated all other revisions); another monk named Ephrem the Small brought the Georgian text even closer to a Byzantine standard in the late 1000’s. 

            Thus, the Georgian text of the Gospels should be considered stratified:   in the 1000’s a Byzantine layer intruded upon and overwhelmed (mostly) the earlier levels, the better-represented of which is a strong Caesarean witness.  The affinities of the less-attested early form are not altogether clear, but continued study of Old Georgian witnesses such as the Khanmeti Gospels Lectionary from the 700’s, as well as some palimpsests, may provide some more information about that.

            Here are links to the collections of page-views of some of the microfilm images, from the Library of Congress, of Georgian manuscripts housed at Saint Catherine’s Monastery on Mount Sinai.
Sinai Georgian MS 39 - Image 122.
from the Library of Congress Collection of Manuscripts in
St. Catherine's Monastery, Mt. Sinai

MS 63:  Gospels-Lectionary             


Saturday, May 6, 2017

Greek New Testament Manuscripts at Saint Catherine's Monastery

            The Museum of the Bible is scheduled to open in Washington, D.C. in November of 2017 – but did you know that there is already a major collection of images of 200 Bible manuscripts in that city?  Well, there is!  It’s in the archives of the Library of Congress.  Researcher Alin Suciu recently pointed out that an important part of those archives, containing images of the manuscript-collection at Saint Catherine’s Monastery (at Mount Sinai in the Sinai Peninsula), has been made available to view online. 

            These images – mostly black and white photographs and microfilm – are the results of a very thorough project that was undertaken in the 1940’s and 1950’s at the monastery.  Biblical texts, patristic writings, liturgical texts, ceremonial chants, service-books, and manuscripts of other kinds were all included.  The Library of Congress Photoduplication Service, the American Foundation for the Study of Man, and the Farouk I University (now the University of Alexandria) were the institutional sponsors. 
The Thomas Jefferson Building,
home of the Library of Congress.
            Here is a list of New Testament manuscripts in the Library of Congress’ collection of manuscript-images from St. Catherine’s Monastery (along with a few other interesting manuscripts).  Each continuous-text manuscript is identified by its catalog-number at Saint Catherine’s as recorded in the Library of Congress archives and by its Gregory-Aland identification number (if it has one).  Embedded links lead to the images themselves.  Occasionally I have included both a link to a manuscript’s main access-page and to a page-image with a particularly interesting feature, or (in cases where there is an abundance of preliminary material) to the beginning of the Biblical text. 
            Only a few Psalters are included in this list, but readers should be aware that Greek Psalters often are supplemented with Odes which include selections from the opening chapters of Luke.   
            A note about terminology:  Four Gospels and Letters of Paul and New Testament describe a continuous-text manuscript.  Evangelion, Praxapostolos, and Apostolos describe lectionaries.   

Psalm 1.   Uncial script begins on Image 57.


(Quatrefoil framework for Ad Carpian, elaborate canon-tables, and arched miniatures.)




MS 191 (GA 1228): Four Gospels (fragmentary):        





Exquisite frontispiece.

Sloping uncial script.  Assigned to the 700’s.

Sloping uncial script for main text; 
upright for rubrics.  (Take a close look; some pages are recycled.)

Sloping uncial script.  Assigned to the 600’s.

Uncials; some lettering is drawn.  
Some initials are very large and elaborate.  
Made in 967.

Uncial script.

Upright uncial script.




MS 269 (GA 1250):  New Testament.  
MS 270 (GA 1251):  New Testament (a remarkably tidy script.)    


(The second part has selections from the ends of the Gospels)

Similarities in a full-page illustration suggest a relationship to GA 157.

The opening pages display a sloping uncial script.

Sloping uncial script.

Sloping uncial script.

Beautiful early minuscule  script.

MS 1592:  Evangelion (made in 1563)  


MS 1993:  Four Gospels (made in 1555)  

Royal manuscript, with illustrations.


MS 1187:   Old Testament History.  Abundantly illustrated.
Arabic MS 124:  Evangelion  (This text is Greek.)
Arabic MS 172:  Apostolos  (This text is Greek.)
           A fly-leaf may constitute a separate Greek fragment-manuscript.


Each Greek manuscript’s page-views can be accessed by clicking on the embedded links above.  With a little experimentation, you will see that the Library of Congress site allows you to download images, and to view the page-views in several ways (as lists, or in a grid, for example).  Even though these are black and white pictures, they are good pictures nevertheless.  This collection of almost 200 Greek manuscripts (and there many more, if one were to include the liturgical texts that have Scripture-passages in them) should be a useful resource for years and years to come.