What do scholars of textual criticism see when they examine an ancient New Testament manuscript? Dr. Daniel B. Wallace guides our eyes to some of the details he notices on pages from Gregory-Aland Manuscript 800.
Gregory-Aland Manuscript 800 (GA 800)
A twelfth- or possibly thirteenth-century Gospels codex in minuscule script. It originally contained all four Gospels; the Gospel of John is incomplete, with chapters 20 and 21 missing (the last leaf ends at Jn 19:23). Housed at the National Library of Greece in Athens, shelf number NLG 65.
L E F T P AG E
1. Note about the date and authorship of Mark’s Gospel, according to ancient tradition.
2. Hypothesis: a technical term in Greek manuscripts for a brief introduction to the book, dealing with its subject matter, authorship, and so forth.
3. These two columns give the numbered kephalaia, forty-eight ancient chapter headings of the Gospel. The numbers in the margin (in Greek letters) are later repeated in the margins of the Gospel to help readers.
4. Abbreviated note stating that the two columns above this note are the kephalaia for the Gospel.
R I G H T PAG E
5. A longer hypothesis on Mark’s Gospel, attributed to Cyril of Alexandria in some manuscripts. Commentary on Mark’s Gospel, compiled from several church fathers. The hypothesis continues to about halfway down the page, ending in :—, a typical section conclusion. The hypothesis wraps around the biblical text; the second half of the hypothesis is commentary on the biblical text.
6. The title “Gospel according to Mark” (only “Gospel” is spelled out). The box around the title should have been filled in with ornamentation by the illustrator; it’s unknown why this was left unfinished.
7. Enlarged ekthesis (outdenting): The large alpha that juts out into the margin indicates the beginning of the book. The importance ascribed to portions of Scripture can sometimes be seen by the height of the initial letter; this one starts at four lines down but ascends two more notional lines.
8. The underlined words include nomina sacra; these are sacred words that were abbreviated with a horizontal line over them to indicate to the reader to read something different from what is written. The same system was used to read Greek letters as numbers (the Arabic numbers had not yet been invented). The words here are “Jesus Christ, Son of God,” with Jesus, Christ, and God abbreviated (just the first and last letters of each word).
9. The underlined words on line 2 of the biblical text: “In Isaiah the prophet” (Mark 1:2). Although GA 800 is a late manuscript, here it has wording found in earlier and better manuscripts. Most late manuscripts read “in the prophets,” since Mark is quoting from both Malachi and Isaiah.
10 . Small written text surrounds the larger biblical text on all three sides—standard practice to distinguish commentary from Scripture in ways that showed the priority of Scripture. The Bible is front and center in this manuscript, and commentary is in a smaller, wraparound hand. The commentary is something of an anthology, with comments taken from many church fathers. The passage on this page is Mark 1:1–3.
Manuscripts often had commentaries, and the text was distinguished from the commentary in some way to show its priority.
Even from earliest times in copying the New Testament, scribes offered helps for readers. In this instance, the hypotheses (both of them), kephalaia, numbering system, nomina sacra, enlarged ekthesis, and ornamented (incomplete) headpiece are used to help the reader understand and focus on key items.
About the Contributors
Daniel B. Wallace (ThM, 1979; PhD, 1995) is Senior Research Professor of New Testament Studies at DTS and the executive director of the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts. He has been a consultant for several Bible translations and has written, edited, or contributed to more than three dozen books and numerous articles.