|Left: fol. 31v - Matthew 21:19-22.
Right: fol. 29r - Matthew 20:32-21:2,
with illustrations (David on the left; Isaiah on the right;
the Healing of the Two Blind Men at Jericho in the middle).
Justinian may have been Emperor of the Byzantine Empire (he ruled from 527 to 565) when the rare manuscript of the Gospel of Matthew known as Codex Chrysopurpureus Sinopensis – the Purple Codex from Sinope Written in Gold – was made. This manuscript was unknown to European researchers until 1899, when a French military officer named John de la Taille, returning home after a journey to the area east of the Black Sea, visited the city of Sinope (on the southern coast of the Black Sea) and purchased it from a lady who was part of the Greek-speaking population there. After the manuscript was taken to Paris, Henri A. Omont (librarian at the National Library of France) published a line-by-line uncial replication of its text, along with a transcript, in the 1901 volume of Notices et Extraits des Manuscrits de la Bibliothèque Nationale. This volume is online. It is much easier to read Omont’s materials than it is to read the text on the pages themselves. Also in 1901, H. S. Cronin introduced this codex in a detailed article in the Journal of Theological Studies., emphasizing its text’s similarity to the text in Codex Rossanensis. (More about that later.)
Codex Sinopensis is rather sumptuous: its parchment has been tinted purple – an expensive and rare treatment – and its text is written in gold ink. Its uncial letters are very large. This was a book intended to be used in church-services, with large print and plenty of room in the margins for the reader to handle without touching the ink. Possibly this manuscript was one of a set that was intended to be used during church-services at Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, or a nearby chapel used by members of the royal family of the Byzantine Empire.
Unfortunately, most of the pages of Codex Sinopensis have been lost. When it was made, the Gospel of Matthew took up about 144 two-sided pages; only 44 are known to have survived. The surviving pages clearly display the Byzantine Text of Matthew chapters 7, 11, 13-15, 17-22, and 24 (with gaps). Rather than feel frustrated when seeing such mutilation of a beautiful manuscript, the textual critic’s natural reaction is excitement, for damage to Codex Alexandrinus – an earlier witness to the early Byzantine Text of the Gospels – resulted in a 24-chapter gap at the beginning of the Gospel of Matthew in Codex A – and here in this deluxe codex of the sixth century a considerable portion of that loss is compensated.
The existence of a manuscript from the 500’s with an essentially Byzantine Text goes a long way toward refuting the claim that medieval manuscripts, because of their relatively late production-dates, contain a text that is also late and characterized by expansions picked up through the centuries. For when the text of medieval Byzantine minuscule copies of the Gospels is compared to the text of Codex Sinopensis, their close resemblance is impossible to deny.
Furthermore – as if one needed more proof that the Byzantine Text is ancient – Codex Sinopensis is one of a small group of manuscripts which may be considered triplets, that is, they were copied from the same exemplar, or master-copy, of the Gospels. The sibling-manuscripts of 023 are N (022), Codex Petropolitanus Purpureus, and Σ (042), Codex Rossanensis. (Another Purple Codex is Φ (043), known as Codex Beratinus.) Together, these manuscripts, known as the Purple Uncials, echo a yet-more-ancient text which to a large degree represents the Gospels-text that spread widely throughout the
Byzantine Empire. (Some Latin Gospels-manuscripts on purple parchment also exist, such as the Werdenstein Gospels.)
Because of the heavy damage which Codex Sinopensis has undergone, its parchment-sheets have been separately stored in its present location – the National Library of France. For this reason, it cannot be simply read front-to-back; except for the occasional sheet that came in the middle of a set of 10 or 12 parchment-sheets (such a set is a quire) that were vertically folded in the center and sewn together. The front and back of the first half of a sheet contain one passage, and the front and back of the second half of the same sheet contain a passage from further along in the text, skipping the text on however many pages were in between.
When produced, this codex was somewhat larger than its present dimensions (12 inches tall and 10 inches wide, more or less) – about as tall and wide as Codex Alexandrinus. The text is written in very large letters, in a single column per page, with 16 lines, except on pages that contain illustrations at the foot of the page; there are five of these and they contain 15 lines of text rather than 16. The illustrations are as follows:
● Salome receiving the Head of John the Baptist
● The Feeding of the Five Thousand
● The Feeding of the Four Thousand
● The Cursing of the Fig-tree
Codex Sinopensis (O) has a feature that is also seen in Codex Rossanensis (N): alongside the main illustrations, Old Testament writers (Moses, David, Isaiah, Habakkuk, and Daniel) are depicted, standing behind pulpits upon which are written brief and loosely worded extracts from their writings, applicable to the illustrated scene they accompany.
As Elijah Hixson recently announced at the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog, digital images of Codex Sinopensis have been made available at Gallica. For those who may wish to sift through the text on the digital images in the order in which the text is written in the Gospel of Matthew, I have provided the following index.
|On the page that has an illustration of the death of John the Baptist,
the text of Matthew 14:1-4 in Codex O disagrees with the Byzantine Text
at one point: the word for "tetrarch" is spelled with "aa"
instead of "a" (highlighted in the replication).
14:13-16 (with illustration)]
21:16-19 (with illustration)]
[At the moment a few pages are not in this index – but check back for possible updates!]