|The first page of Mark|
in Codex W.
In two hand-to-hand contests earlier this month, Codex Cyprius defeated Codex Sinaiticus in Matthew 5:1-20, and the Georgius Gospels (2266) crushed Codex Bezae in Luke 2:1-21. Today, Codex Washingtoniensis (W, 032) – the oldest manuscript of the four Gospels in
North America – faces a
relatively young manuscript: minuscule 545, which was produced in 1430.
In 1430, Lorenzo Valla was already alive, and it would be less than a century before the production of the first printed Greek text of the New Testament. Can there really be any doubt, when comparing a manuscript from the fifth century to a manuscript from the fifteenth century, which will be shown to have the more accurate text?
Let’s briefly take a closer look at Codex W. It has been called “The World’s Third Oldest Bible” by National Geographic, although that is rather imprecise inasmuch as many papyri are older than Codex W. It is more precise to say that Codex W is possibly the world’s third oldest manuscript of the four Gospels that is essentially complete, substantially containing (despite some damage) the text of Matthew, John, Luke, and Mark. According to Rachel Nuwer of the Smithsonian Institution (where Codex W is part of the collection of the Freer-Sackler Gallery), this manuscript was made in “the late fourth or early fifth century,” that is, around the year 400.
Surely, inasmuch as the New Testament text gradually grew as each generation of copyists added embellishments and harmonizations, one might expect that in a well-known passage of the Gospel of Mark such as the Parable of the Sower (Mark 4:1-9), which is paralleled in Matthew and Luke, one may confidently suspect that the text of Mark in a fifteenth-century minuscule contains more corruptions than the text in a fifth-century uncial. However, as logical as that may seem, it might not be entirely a waste of effort to make a direct comparison of Mark 4:1-9 in 545 and in Codex W.
One of the most notable features of Codex W is its block-mixture. In the Gospel of Matthew, the text of Codex W is essentially Byzantine, but in Mark 1-4, its text aligns more closely with Codex Bezae. In Mark 5-16, its closest textual relative, so to speak, is Papyrus 45. In Luke 1:1-8:12, the text is Alexandrian, and in the rest of Luke it is essentially Byzantine again. John 1:1-5:12 is written on replacement-pages and the text of this portion is essentially Alexandrian (albeit with some Western readings). The remainder of the text of John is also mainly Alexandrian.
When Henry Sanders published the text of Codex W in 1912, he proposed that its unique block-mixture may be the effect of a situation in which Roman persecutors, perhaps during the Diocletian persecution of the very early 300’s, destroyed a Christian library but did so lazily, allowing assorted pages and book-chunks to survive, and subsequently someone copied out the contents of the surviving materials, using one survivor, and then a different one, as his exemplar, and thus created the exemplar or ancestor-manuscript of Codex W.
Another feature of Codex W is that unlike some other major uncials, its provenance is known: it is from
Upper Egypt. Charles L. Freer purchased the manuscript in Egypt
along with some other manuscripts, and at least three of them seem to have come
from the same source: a monastery in the
region of Achmim, or Panopolis. Codex W
thus provides evidence of four different forms of the text of the Gospels –
Byzantine, Alexandrian, Western, and a local variation – all circulating in the
same area in Egypt
around the year 400 (or earlier).
Now let us compare the text of Mark 4:1-9 in Codex W (extracted from the “Western” portion) with Mark 4:1-9 in minuscule 545, by comparing each to the text of Nestle-Aland 27. In the list of readings from 545, variants that agree with the Robinson-Pierpont 2005 Byzantine Textform are accompanied by a black triangle.
Readings that agree with the
Hodges-Farstad Majority Text (but disagree with RP2005) are accompanied by a
Minuscule 545 differs from NA27 in the following ways:
1 – 545 has συνηχθη instead of συνάγεται. (+4, -6) ▲
1 – 545 has πολυς instead of πλειστος. (+4, -6) ▲
1 – 545 transposes εμβαντα to precede εις. ▲
1 – 545 adds το before πλοιον. (+2) ▲
1 – 545 has ην instead of ησαν. (+2) ▲
3 – 545 adds του before before σπειρει. (+3) ▲
3 – 545 adds τον σπόρον αυτου after σπειρει. [cf. Lk. 8:5] (+14)
4 – 545 has επεσε instead of επεσεν. (-1) ■
4 – 545 has ηλθε instead of ηλθεν. (-1) ■
5 – 545 does not have και. (-3) ▲
5 – 545 has δε. (+2) ▲
5 – 545 has ειχε instead of ειχεν. (-1) ■
5 – 545 has ευθεως instead of ευθυς. (+2, -1) ▲
5 – 545 has εξανετειλε instead of εξανετειλεν. (-1) ■
5 – 545 does not have και οτε. (-6) ▲
6 – 545 has ηλιου δε ανατειλαντος instead of ανετειλεν ο ηλιος. (+7, -5) ▲
7 – 545 has ανευησαν instead of ανεβησαν. [?] (+1, -1)
7 – 545 has εδωκε instead of εδωκεν. (-1) ■
8 – 545 has αλλο instead of αλλα. (+1, -1) ▲
8 – 545 has αυξανοντα instead of αυξανομενα. (+3, -4) ▲
9 – 545 has ο εχων instead of ος εχει. (+2, -3) ▲
Calculated by single letters, the text of 545 has thus gained 47 non-original letters, and has lost 41 original letters, for a total of 88 letters’ worth of corruption. If, instead of NA27, we were to use the RP2005 Byzantine Textform as the basis of comparison, the corruption in 545 would amount to a total of 20 letters – five of which are cases of movable-nu, one of which is orthographic (and which is probably merely a side-effect of unclear script), and 14 of which constitute a single reading, the harmonistic inclusion of τον σπορον αυτου in verse 3.
Now let’s examine the text of Codex W. Compared to the 27th edition of the Nestle-Aland compilation, Codex W has the following variants:
1 – W has a transposition, reading ηρξατο παλιν instead of παλιν ηρξατο.
1 – W has προς instead of παρα. (+3, -3)
1 – W has συνηχθη instead of συνάγεται. (+4, -6)
1 – W adds το before πλοιον. (+2)
1 – W has ενβαντα instead of εμβαντα. (+1, -1)
1 – W has παρα τον αιγιαλον instead of εν τη θαλασση. (+15, - 11)
1 – W has εν τω αιγιαλω instead of προς την θαλασσαν. (+11, -15)
1 – W does not have επι της γης. (-9)
1 – W has ην instead of ησαν. (-2)
2 – W has λεγων instead of πολλα και ελεγεν αυτοις εν τη διδαχη αυτου. (+5, -35)
3 – W has Ακουεται instead of Ακουετε. (+2, -1)
4 – W does not have εγενετο εν τω σπειρειν. (-19)
4 – W has τ before ο μεν. (+1)
4 – W has ορνεα instead of πετεινα. (+4, -6)
5 – W does not have και. (-3)
5 – W has αλλα instead of αλλο. (+1, -1)
5 – W has δε. (+2)
5 – W has τα instead of το. (+1, -1)
5 – W has πετρωδη instead of πετρωδες. (+1, -2)
5 – W has και οτι instead of οπου. (+6, -4)
5 – W has ειχε instead of ειχεν. (-1)
5 – W does not have και after πολλην. (-3)
5 – W has ευθεως instead of ευθυς. (+2, -1)
5 – W has ανετειλε instead of εξανετειλεν. (+2, -3)
5-6 – W does not have δια το μη εχειν βάθος γης και οτε. (-26)
6 – W has ηλιου δε ανατιλαντος instead of ανετειλεν ο ηλιος. (+7, -5)
7 – W has αλλα instead of αλλο. (+1, -1)
7 – W has επι instead of εις. (+2, -2)
7 – W has αυτα instead of αυτο. (+1, -1)
7 – W has εδωκαν instead of εδωκεν. (+1, -1)
8 – W has επεσαν instead of επεσεν. (+1, -1)
8 – W has εδιδει instead of εδιδου. (+2, -2)
8 – W has αυξανομενον instead of αυξανομενα. (+2, -1)
8 – W has φερει instead of εφερεν. (+1, -2)
8 – W has το εν and το εν and το εν instead of εν and εν and εν. (+2, +2, +2)
9 – W has ο εχων instead of ος εχει. (+2, -3)
Calculated by single letters, the text of Codex W has gained 88 non-original letters and has lost 170 original letters, for a total of 258 letters’ worth of corruption. Particularly remarkable are the substitutions in verse 1 and the omissions in verses 2, 4, and 5.
Thus, if we estimate that the Gospel of Mark was composed in the 60’s of the first century, then the text of Mark 4:1-9 in 545 took a 1,360-year journey and ended up with 88 letters’ worth of corruption. Meanwhile, the text of Mark 4:1-9 in Codex W took a 340-year journey and ended up with 258 letters’ worth of corruption – almost three times as much corruption in one-fourth as much time.
[Readers are invited to double-check the comparisons and arithmetic.]