Wednesday, May 22, 2019

How to Read a Greek Gospels Manuscript

            Today, let’s look into how to read a Greek manuscript of the Gospels – an important skill that every New Testament textual critic should have.  If you do not already know some New Testament Greek, use This List of Free Resources for Learning New Testament Greek, and after a year or so you should have enough skill to understand everything that I am about to describe.
            Now let’s explore an important medieval Greek manuscript of the Gospels:  minuscule 9.  All Greek manuscripts are important, but this one is especially significant historically, because it was used by the scholar Robert Stephanus in his compilation of the Greek New Testament in 1550.  That is, out of the hundreds of Greek Gospels-manuscripts that exist, this is one that was studied and used the most in the 1500s, as the Textus Receptus – the base-text for the King James Version – was developed. Minuscule 9 – called witness ιβ′ (i.e., #12) by Stephanus – is kept at the National Library of France.  It was produced in 1168.  You can download page-views of the entire manuscript from the Gallica website – just select “Manuscripts” from the options in the first sub-menu there, and then search for Grec 83, and use the menu on the far left of the page to complete the download.  (You will need to agree to Gallica’s Terms & Conditions.)
            After opening the manuscript, the first thing we find is a summary of the manuscript’s contents, written relatively recently.  Most manuscripts that are kept in library-collections have this sort of note, and if we pay attention to their contents, we may save some time; these notes often tell readers a little about the manuscript’s history, and list the page-numbers on which each Gospel begins, and also tell about whatever sections might be missing or out of order.  We can deduce from the information on this page that minuscule 9 was once known as Regius 83 (when it was in the library of the king of France), a useful data-nugget if one ever wishes to look for references to this manuscript in books written before its Gregory-Aland inventory number became the standard nomenclature by which it was known.
            Next, we encounter in minuscule 9 a one-page Prologue to the Four Gospels.  It looks like someone had intended to draw the symbols of the Evangelists in the four corners of the page, surrounding the semi-cruciform text – if you look closely you can see the sketched outline of Mark’s lion in the northwest corner – but this task was never completed.  The Prologue explains the symbolic connection between the Gospels and their symbols (man, lion, ox, and eagle).
            On the next page, framed within a red border, is Eusebius of Caesarea’s letter To Carpian (Ad Carpianus), which provides brief instruction on how to use the Eusebian Canons, Eusebius’ cross-reference system for the Gospels.  The title appears in uncial letters, the outlines of which were drawn, and then filled with red pigment.  There is an elaborate initial “A” in which blue, red, and yellow pigment has been used.  Within the text, the letter omicron and a few other letters are sporadically filled in or outlined in red.  (This feature appears frequently in the Gospels-text as well.)  An English translation of Eusebius’ letter to Carpian is online, and so is a table of the Canons themselves.
            Next, several pages are filled by the Eusebian Canons.  The canon-lists are framed by decorative columns, resembling rounded doorways at the entrance to a temple.  At the end of the canons, two columns have been left blank.  Then comes the Kephalaia, or chapter-list, for the Gospel of Matthew, filling a page and a half. 
            After a blank page, the text of the Gospel of Matthew begins, after its title, which is written in large red letters.  A huge initial “B,” somewhat reminiscent of the initials in the Bury Bible, but not quite as ornate, fills most of the page; the rest of the text on the page is written in uncials.
            On the next page, the text of Matthew continues.  The Greek book-title has been written at the top of the page, and at some point this was supplemented by the Latin book-title as well. 
            Continuing to the following page, readers may notice small Greek letters beta and gamma in the outer margin.  These are section-numbers, corresponding to the section-numbers that appear in the Eusebian Canon-tables.  Within the text, one can detect small breaks where one section ends and another begins; the first letter of the new chapter is written in red. Also, you can see at the beginning of the chapter a small “+” symbol.  Often (as we see here in minuscule 9 at the third section), this “+” is accompanied by another symbol that represents the word arche, “beginning/”  This means that at this point, a daily reading begins.  Often the arche-symbols are supplements by telos-symbols, signifying the ends of the segment for the daily reading.   (If we turn ahead to page 11, at the end of Matthew 2:12 we can see a telos-symbol at the end of a line, and alongside the next line, the arche-symbol is in the margin.)
            By the way, if you have learned your Greek numerals, you can easily follow along with the section-numbers that are in the inner margin of the 27th edition of the Nestle-Aland Novum Testamentum Graece.  Sometimes, a manuscript’s section-numbers will not correspond exactly to the Nestle-Aland arrangement, but they usually do.
            In minuscule 9, ordinary page-numbers have been added in the upper right corner of the page – although it is more precise to call the numbers in this manuscript leaf-numbers rather than page-numbers, because they appear on every other page, denoting the individual leaf, on which there is (a) a front page, and (b) a back page.  If we turn to page 10a, we will see in the left margin a stack of four symbols (each looking like “├”).  Sometimes such marks appear in the form of little arrow-markers (>).  They are there to indicate that in the lines of text that they accompany, there is a quotation from the Old Testament.
            If we look at the bottom of page 10a, we will see a chapter-number – α – and the chapter-title (περι των μαγων, that is, About the Wise Men).  At the top of leaf 12, the next chapter-number and chapter-title (titloi – the same as the Kephalaia, except they appear here one at a time) are supplied at the top of the page, and the chapter-title also appears in the outer margin alongside the exact point where the chapter begins – in this case, at Matthew 2:16.  (For more information about the Kephalaia, see the post Kephalaia:  The Ancient Chapters of the Gospels.)  Sometimes, the titloi appear at the foot of the page.
            Occasionally, one will encounter a hole in the parchment, such as the one in minuscule 9 on leaf 17.  Almost always, these holes were made during the preparation of the parchment, and scribes simply wrote around them. 
            Also in minuscule 9, one will occasionally find little notes written in Latin in the margin.  Four such notes can be seen on the front of leaf 20.
            On leaf 22, some damage has occurred to the manuscript, and a repair has been attempted: part of the lower portion of the leaf has been ripped away.  Newer parchment has been glued to the old parchment, and the small portion of the text that was lost has been supplied in different handwriting.  Technically, this small bit of writing (less than four full lines) on the younger parchment qualifies as a supplement.
            On leaf 24, we see the effect of a recurring problem in medieval manuscripts:  when manuscripts were bound or rebound, sometimes their pages were also recut, and sometimes this was carelessly done, resulting in over-trimming.  Fortunately in this case, no Gospels-text was lost, but the book-title at the top of the page has been cut.  (Also notice on this page the Latin translations of the chapter-numbers and chapter-titles.)
            On the back of leaf 27, there is something interesting:  in the text, Matthew 9:26 ought to read, και εξηλθεν η φημη αυτη εις ολην την γην εκεινην.  However, the copyist skipped the words η φημη.  When this scribal error was detected, the missing words were added in the margin, accompanied by a triangular set of red dots (\), and the same symbol was added in the text at the point where the words η φημη should be read.
            On leaf 28b, we encounter two more interesting features:  first, at Matthew 10:4, there is a short margin-note about Judas.  And in the text of Matthew 10:5, the copyist momentarily omitted the word εθνων but caught his mistake and added the word above the line at the place where it belongs.
            On leaf 29a, there is another \ mark in the margin, but in this case it is not in red, and there is no identical mark in the text; instead, in the outer margin, there is a Latin note accompanied by two dots – – a distigma, or umlaut-like symbol.
            Moving along to leaf 37, we can see that somebody added red “<” marks in the outer margin, to acknowledge the quotation from Isaiah 42 that Matthew makes in 12:18-21.  These marks are not as neat as some others, though, so it is possible that a different scribe is responsible.
            On 37b and 38a, the original book-title that had been at the top of the page, apparently trimmed away, has been replaced in very different handwriting.
            In the margin of 53a, alongside Matthew 19:27, there is a lectionary-related symbol in the margin:  in addition to arche and telos, here we see arcou – that is, “resume.”  Sometimes a lection consisted of more than one segment of text, and this symbol introduced the second segment.           
            On 59a , there is another example of the use of the mark.  In this case, the appears directly above the telos symbol that follows the end of Matthew 21:43, and another appears in the margin, accompanying the note του ορθρου.  This indicates that this passage was a morning-time reading in the lection-cycle.   If this echoes the treatment of this passage in some otherwise unknown early lection-cycle, it might have something to do with the absence of Matthew 21:44 in a few early witnesses – but such a lection-cycle would have to be extremely early, inasmuch as one of the witnesses in which Matthew 21:44 appears to be missing is Papyrus 104, which competes with Papyrus 52 for the title of the earliest extant fragment of the New Testament text.
             On 67a, in the margin alongside the end of Matthew 24:37, we encounter another lectionary-related mark:  υπ, written with the υ below the π.  This abbreviation stands for hyperbale, or, “jump ahead, signifying that the rest of the lection consisted was somewhere other than the immediately-following text.  In this case, we find arcou “resume”) just a little further down the page, alongside Matthew 24:43. 
            On page 80a, there is a textual variant in the margin:  νυκτος is added to Mt. 27:64, between αυτου and κλέψωσιν.  This reading is supported by L M 565 700 892 1424 and the Sinaitic Syriac manuscript, and a correction in 1582.
            At the end of Matthew, on 81b, only slightly separated from the end of 28:20, there is a colophon, that is, a closing-note by the scribe:  the end of the words of Matthew, from the Gospel according to Matthew, which Matthew wrote in Hebrew in Palestine, in the eighth year after the ascension of Lord.  Written in 2,522 remata, 2,560 stichoi.    This is followed by what appears to be the name of the scribe, Solomon, in stylized lettering.
            On the very next page, 82a, the Kephalaia are listed for the Gospel of Mark, below a braided heading-marker, for which red, blue, yellow, and green pigments were used.   
            A few pages appear to be missing – the last page of the Kephalaia-list has been replaced – but the Gospel of Mark begins intact, with a very large initial “A” on 85a.  The opening title, drawn in red hollow uncials, is rather unusual.           
Getting crazy with the flourishes.
            On several of the pages of Mark which follow, one may notice an idiosyncrasy of the scribe: when the word και appeared in the last line on a page, he often wrote it as a και-compendium, i.e., an abbreviation, and extended the final stroke in a fancy design below the line.  Sometimes the flourish is reinforced with red ink (as on page 111.)  The stalks of the letters φ and ψ on the last line of a page are sometimes similarly embellished.
            The Gospel of Mark ends on 131b, and a nice little headpiece introduced the Kephalaia-list for Luke, with a red cross in the margin.
            On 133b, in the space left after the end of Luke Kephalaia-list, someone has added a portrait of Luke the Evangelist, writing his Gospel at a desk, framed within a heavy green background on three sides.  What appears to be a blue easel with clawed legs sits nearby.
            On 134a, the text of the Gospel of Luke begins, below the unusual title and alongside a large initial “E.”  On the next page, the book restarts at verse 5 (which is not unusual in medieval manuscripts) and there is another large initial “E,” very different in style from the first one.
            On 137b, the copyist made an embarrassing mistake:  he completely skipped Luke 1:51, right in the middle of the Magnificat.  The missing verse has been added in the margin.  A smaller mistake was made in 2:15; the words το γεγονος are missing in the text; they have been supplied in the margin.
            On 144b, the genealogy begins, and the format is unusual:  numbers are assigned to each individual, and the numbers continue on the next page, on which the text is arranged in three columns.  On 145b, the scribe returns to a single-column format, but the numbers continue, all the way up to the reference to God, at the end, who is numbered 77.
            On leaf 179 there is a small patch at the bottom.
            On 183b, in Luke 13:28, there is an initial omicron that is shaped like a fish.  Another fish-initial is on 214a.  Similar initials occur in some lectionaries. 
            In the first line of 187b, the initial in Luke 15:11 is unusually large.
            On 199a, the scribe skipped the words εν ποια in Luke 20:2.  They are added in the margin.
            The Kephalaia-list for the Gospel of John is on 215a, with a red and green braided headpiece.  On the opposite side of the page there is a full-page portrait of John, composing his Gospel, framed on three sides by a thick green border. 
            The next leaf is clearly a supplement, the original opening page containing the text of John 1:1-14a, is lost. 
            On 237a, there is a “jump ahead” symbol alongside the line where John 7:53 begins, instructing the lector to move ahead to 8:12 on the next page, where an αρξου (“Resume”) symbol appears.  (This neatly illustrates a hypothesis regarding the early loss of John 7:53-8:11: an early copyist, unfamiliar with the local lectionary in which John 7:53-8:11 was skipped in the lection for Pentecost-Day, possessed an exemplar in which he saw instructions to “Jump ahead” at the end of John 7:52, and to “Resume” at 8:12, and, thinking the instructions were meant for him rather than for the lector, omitted the intervening verses.  (See for more information my e-book, A Fresh Analysis of John 7:53-8:11).
             On 239a, a distigma () appears in the margin of John 8:36, where the copyist left out the word ουν.  Another distigma appears in the text to indicate where the word belongs.
The full-page colophon
after the end of John.
The text of John concludes on 241a.  241b contains a cruciform-framed colophon that includes stichiometric information.  
            Beginning on 272a below a decorative headpiece, there is a lection-calendar for Sunday lections, beginning with the lection for Easter.  Incipit-phrases (the opening words of a lection as read in the church-service) are included.  This is the normal annual Synaxarion calendar.  An interesting minor detail in these pages is the assorted knot-like designs which occasionally appear, apparently serving no practical purpose – they seem to be doodles. Similar knots appear in a wide range of manuscripts.
            On 280a, a braided headpiece precedes another part of the lection-calendar. 
            Another headpiece is on 285b; yet another one begins 287a, which has as part of its design a “Jesus Christ, Victor” cross.  The incipit-phrases for Easter-week lections follow.
            On 288a, after another headpiece, the Heothina-series of lections is covered, even though no special marks accompany the text of these lections in the Gospels-text.    
On 288b, there is another headpiece.  The heading introduces the Menologion-readings for the month of September. That is, unlike the first part of the lection-calendar, in which all dates are arranged in relation to Easter, these feast-days are assigned to dates on the calendar.
            On 289b, another headpiece introduces incipit-phrases for the Menologion-readings for the month of October.  On 290a, we see that Sergius and Bacchus’ feast-day is commemorated on October 7, and Pelagia’s feast-day is commemorated on October 8.  This is consistent with the designation of John 8:3-11 as the lection in the Menologion for October 8. 
            At the top of 290b, another headpiece introduces incipit-phrases for the Menologion-readings for the month of November.
            At the top of 291b, there is another headpiece – better executed than some of the others.  The list that follows provides incipit-phrases for the lections read in December.
            More headpieces and more monthly lection-lists, with more knot-doodles in the margins, along with simple pictures of the symbols of the Evangelists, continue, to the end of the manuscript’s text on 248b.  Then after a few blank pages, the back cover is reached.

            All in all, minuscule 9 is a pretty good manuscript to use to get acquainted with the standard format of medieval Greek Gospels-manuscripts.  It does not have an overwhelming amount of marginalia; its script is reasonably neat; its appearance is not marred by incessant corrections. I hope this review of minuscule 9 has been informative and instructive. 

Readers are invited to double-check and supplement the data in this post.


Daniel Buck said...

This is an important contribution to the science. If success in textual criticism starts with a knowledge of the manuscripts, then lessons like this are pretty essential. To coin a phrase, describing the text without paying attention to the paratext is nothing but a pretext.
There was something else I was going to comment on but it escapes me. It will be back, and then I will.

Daniel Buck said...

Oh, here it is: a question. Can you elaborate on "the book restarts at verse 5 (which is not unusual in medieval manuscripts)?"

Neil said...

You can also download the complete manuscript as a PDF is you wish. It is a little over 200 MB

James Snapp Jr said...

Daniel Buck,
<< Can you elaborate on "the book restarts at verse 5 (which is not unusual in medieval manuscripts)?" >>

I just mean that it is not unusual to see the Gospel of Luke receive a sort of "reset button" at verse 5; the first few verses are treated as a sort of foreword.