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Smith, W. Andrew
A Study of the Gospels in Codex Alexandrinus. Codicology, Palaeography, and Scribal Hands.
Leiden u. a.: Brill 2014. X, 384 S. = New Testament Tools, Studies and Documents, 48. Geb. EUR 126,00. ISBN 978-90-04-26783-1.
J. K. Elliott
A recent and welcomed development in the textual criticism of the Greek Bible has been the study of a few manuscripts as artefacts. Generally, of course, text-critics are more concerned with the distinctiveness of a witness’ variant readings; in the case of Codex Alexandrinus (hereafter A) we may well look at an apparatus criticus to study this fifty-century manuscript’s text of Isaiah or to note its apparent lack of the Pericope adulterae in John or its treatment of John 1:3–4 – invidiously to select only three arbitrary examples. Likewise the bulk of editors may turn to A as an important, basically Hexaplaric, witness to the text of Deuteronomy or for its crucial readings in Revelation or for its having the earliest extant Greek text of 2 and 3 Maccabees.
But for Andrew W. Smith, as the sub-title of the current book makes clear, his concerns lie elsewhere. He concentrates on the manuscript’s manufacture and its physical characteristics rather than the Biblical texts it bears. His book restricts itself to the Gospels (where, as it happens, A is probably the earliest example of the Byzantine text-type). It reads like a mature work of scholarship, despite its having been an adaptation of an Edinburgh PhD thesis of 2013, under the supervision of Larry Hurtado whose earlier encouragement to scholars to treat manuscripts as artefacts has clearly been influential. Like those who have undertaken similar studies of other important majuscules such as Sinaiticus, Vaticanus and Bezae, S. may be compared with an archaeologist, unravelling the layers of his artefact to tell us its (hi)story, in ancient and more recent times. He is also like a gallery custodian, describing in min-ute detail the physical details of a work of art being curated. S.’s examination is, surprisingly, the first substantial and modern study treating A in this way, and it is therefore all the more welcome.
Unlike many another major majuscule, A, comprising 773 extant pages (630 LXX; 143 New Testament plus 1 & 2 Clement) out of an original total of c. 820 (much of Matthew and 2 Corinthians having been lost through mutilation), has been available to scholars since its arrival in London in 1627, a mere sixteen years after the publication of the Authorized Version of the English Bible, which itself had stimulated interest in Biblical study. The codex had been presented in 1625 by Cyril Lucar, Patriarch successively of Alexandria and of Constantinople, to James I of England, but it arrived in London at the beginning of the reign of Charles I (and the covers to each of the four volumes into which the manuscript is currently bound carry Charles’ cipher) and it was housed initially – and even during the Commonwealth – in St James’ Palace in London. Thereafter, as part of the Royal Library, it migrated to several locations where it was oftentimes neglected before its being housed in the newly founded British Museum (BM) in 1757. Like its fellow treasure, Codex Sinaiticus, one volume of A is always on permanent display in the new British Library (BL).
The editio princeps of the Clementine letters was the first part of A to be published by the Royal Librarian as early as 1633. Then the text of the canonical books in the manuscript was published in Walton’s Polyglott Bible of 1657, and it was he who named it Alexandrinus. (Vol. V of the Polyglott contains a collation of the principal readings in the New Testament of A prepared by Alexander Huish.) The current custodian of Western manuscripts at the BL, Scot McKendrick, has written on this manuscript in an article that has the telling subtitle »The Dangers of Being a Named Manuscript«, because the Egyptian provenance of A is not certain and not universally accepted by scholars. In fact S. here supports those who have always doubted its Alexandrian origin; in his case by his de-ducing (e. g. on p. 246) that the orthography of A rules out such a provenance.
A had been collated for Mill’s edition of the New Testament in 1707; Fell, Bentley and Wettstein also used collations of it. The Old Testament was edited by Grabe in 1707–20 and used in Field’s edi-tion of 1859. Woide of the BM published A in 1786, followed by Cowper in 1860. Thus it certainly was not out of sight in those important years of Biblical scholarship. H. H. Baber published a facsimile of the Old Testament between 1816–28 and a facsimile of the whole codex was edited by Maunde Thompson between 1879 and 1883; a reduced facsimile (originally under the editorship of Sir Frederic Kenyon of the BM) that started publication in 1909 was completed 48 years later! Since 2012 a digitized version of the manuscript has been available.
Now, at long last, we finally have the first fruits of meticulous and well-documented research into A’s codicology and palaeography. It is to be hoped that S.’s splendid and inaugural work, exa-mining the codex qua codex, will encourage others to undertake comparable studies on the rest of this manuscript. S.’s published thesis sets a gold standard that others may model their research on.
Following his introductory survey of the manuscript’s history, S. turns to its codicology and deals thoroughly and carefully with matters such as A’s dimensions, formatting, column widths, quire structure, the titles at a book’s beginning and end, bindings and inks. (The composition of some of the inks used caused fretting to its fine vellum, thereby increasing the fragility of a number of folios). Chapter 3 covers inter alia letter forms, rulings, subscrip-tions, miniatures, tailpieces and chapter divisions. In chapter 4 S. turns to the scribes, showing how each wrote distinctive letter shapes, and to orthography in general, including vowel and consonantal practices, the way nomina sacra were written and the (all-too-often neglected) examination into how and where unit divisions were made. Pace Skeat, S. identifies three, not two, hands at work on the New Testament: this is clearly an important con-clusion.
These three major chapters are thoroughly researched, with appropriate cross-referencing to other literature, and cautiously presented with helpful navigational signposting and summaries. Although they are not listed in the introductory matter, the arguments and statistics are backed up in the chapters by forty-three tables and forty-five figures, many of which are made up of multiple photographs (e. g. those showing various letter forms or quire signatures). In addition, several appendixes covering over one hundred pages, provide supplementary materials giving further statistical and other data to do with orthography, the Eusebian table numbering, and paragraphing (typically where text delimitation is marked by a space or ekthesis or a paragraphus); all these are valued additions, especially in the latter two cases where A demonstrates a unique interaction between these features. Short indexes conclude the volume, but, regrettably, there is no index of modern scholars.
The reasons for the existence of a few surviving pandects like A – if one may use this word of complete Bibles in Greek – are understandably not relevant for rehearsal by S. here, but it is, nevertheless, relevant to ask ourselves why such cumbersome and expen-sive artefacts were produced at this early date. They were barely practicable adjuncts to public reading. Were they possibly written to display within one set of covers all, and only, those books deemed by their respective manufacturers to be worthy of canonical status at a time of fluidity, when such an issue was still controversial and therefore in need of an authoritative decision?