The Structure of New Testament Manuscripts And How They Were Made
In this brief lecture, I describe what a leaf is, what a quire is, Gregory's Rule, cancel-sheets, multi-quire codices, ruling, catchwords, correctors, trimming, binding, palimpsests, and more.
Today, we will take a closer look at how a codex was made, once the papyrus or parchment or paper had been provided.
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One sheet of parchment = a bifolium, a sheet folded vertically in the middle.
Half a bifolium = a folio = a leaf.
This has an effect on how pages are numbered: it used to be the norm for the folios of a handmade book to be numbered. Now it is the norm for the pages of books to be numbered; they are paginated rather than foliated.
When we are dealing with a single fragment of a single text that can be identified, the part of the text that comes first in the composition is regarded as the recto.
A gathering = several sheets stacked upon each other, and folded vertically down the middle.
Sometimes a gathering is made from a stack of three sheets, and this is called a ternion.
Sometimes a gathering is made from a stack of five sheets, and this is called a quinion.
But usually a gathering is made of four sheets, called a quaternion, for a total of 16 pages. This kind of gathering is the standard quire. (Q-u-i-r-e.)
Some early codices had quires made of much more than four sheets. A codex can be made with only one quire, folded in the middle. Such a codex is, understandably, called a single-quire codex. This kind of book has two disadvantages: the more pages are folded together, the more “creep” there is – the part that sticks out in the middle-pages past the edge of the lowest and uppermost page when the quire is folded. Also, the thicker a single-quire codex is, the harder it is to keep it closed, and to make its pages lay flat.
The multi-quire codex had some advantages over scrolls. For example: when reading a codex, it is much easier to page through a codex of the Gospels and compare parallel-passages, than with a scroll. Also, if one folio of a codex is damaged, it can be removed and replaced. Scrolls can be repaired too, but it’s more trouble.
When making a codex, if the main copyist were to make a mistake so bad that it ruined the entire page, the proof-reader, or whoever noticed the mistake, could remove the individual sheet, and replace it with one in which the mistake had been corrected. This meant replacing not only the text on the page where the mistake had appeared, but also the text on the other folio on the sheet – four pages of text in all. Such a replacement-page is called a cancel-sheet.
Before a copyist wrote the text on a page, the page first had to be ruled – that is, the page need to be marked with lines for the copyist to follow. Some codices have the text arranged in just one column on each page; some codices have the text in two columns. Codex Vaticanus is almost unique by having the text formatted in three columns on most pages, although in its Old Testament portion, in the Books of Poetry, the format is two columns per page. If a manuscript was intended to feature commentary-material in the margins, this usually had to be anticipated and the page-format had to be adjusted accordingly.
Some manuscripts appear to have been prepared quire by quire before the quires were sewn together. Quires were typically numbered. It was not unusual, at the end of a quire, for the copyist write the first word of the next quire. These are called “catchwords,” and along with the quire-numbers, they helped the person who assembled the book – and people who later repaired the book – avoid getting the quires in the wrong order. But sometimes the quires got mixed up anyway.
There was more to the production of a book besides the reproduction of the text of its exemplar. If a manuscript was the product of a scriptorium – a center for producing manuscripts – then after the initial production of the quires, a supervisor proof-read the work of his assistants, correcting their mistakes. The proof-reading supervisor is called the diorthotes.
Embellished letters were often written in different ink – red, or golden – after the main text was written. If there were illustrations, some space had to be left for them. In some manuscripts, the space has been left for illustrations, but the illustrator
apparently never showed up. And some manuscripts have apparently cannibalized illustrations from other manuscripts: pictures have been cut from other parchment pages, and have been glued down onto pages in a manuscript.
Another thing to consider, when we look at what went into the production of a manuscript, is that we are not always looking at the result of a single production-event. Some manuscripts were made by more than one copyist, and the larger a manuscript is, the more likely this is to be the case.
This can involve not only alterations to the text, but also physical changes to the book. Books and their binding were occasionally damaged, whether by fire or water or simple wear-and-tear, and they needed to be repaired. Sometimes, the pages were re-trimmed, and in some cases, the person doing the trimming was careless, and trimmed away not only some material in the outer margins, but also lines of text.
Sometimes the covers of New Testament manuscripts feature a layer of padding on the inside, and sometimes this padding was made of pages from discarded manuscripts. In some rare cases, the cover of a New Testament manuscript may contain pages of another New Testament manuscript.
(1) The manuscript might be written in an unfamiliar language. A Latin-speaking copyist might not see a Greek manuscript of the Gospels as valuable if he did not read Greek.
(2) The manuscript might be considered surplus. A pragmatic Greek-speaking copyist might not consider a Greek manuscript of the Gospels as valuable if he worked at a monastery where there were dozens of Greek manuscripts of the Gospels on hand.
(3) The manuscript might have been damaged. A copyist might possess a manuscript that has been damaged beyond repair, but still have some intact pages which could be re-used. Why throw away valuable parchment when it can be made into useful parchment by scraping off the ink?
On a palimpsest, the earliest layer of writing is called the lower writing, and the more recent layer of writing is called the upper writing. The parchment of some palimpsests has been recycled more than once, which can present a challenge to those trying to read the earliest layer of text. A relatively new method of detecting the lower writing, involving some special equipment, is called Multi-Spectral Imaging.
I also recommend watching the video,
7 minutes and 35 second long, at YouTube, called “C-SPAN Cities Tour -
For information about ruling a page – arranging the lines and margins – watch the video, Making Manuscripts: The Page, one minute and 40 second long, made available at YouTube by the British Library.
And, finally, for more information about what can be done with Multi-Spectral Imaging, watch the video, 5 minutes and 16 seconds long, Codex Zacynthius MS Add. 10062, Recovering the Text of the Oldest New Testament Catena Manuscript, made available at YouTube by the Cambridge University Library.