From the Blurb: 'Spanning the entire manuscript era, from the 2nd to 16th centuries, this lavishly illustrated history traces the evolution of Bible manuscripts - from the first Greek fragments unearthed in Roman Egypt to some of the last vernacular Bible produced in Renaissance Europe before the total dominance of printing.'
After a brief and helpful introduction (by SM), the book consists of 142 lovely full colour photographs of manuscripts held in the British Library. "Bible Manuscripts" means actually "Christian Bible Manuscripts" (since Hebrew Manuscripts have their own book in the series). Of Greek New Testament ones there are some fairly predictable majuscules (e.g. P5, P18, 01, 03) and a few minuscules (699, 640, 113). The vast majority of manuscripts offered (reflecting something of the weight of material in the West and hence in the British Library) are Latin (although Old English, Old Saxon, Syriac, French, Serbian, English, Dutch, German, Catalan, and Church Slavonic are all represented, as is the Harley Trilingual Psalter in Greek, Latin and Arabic), and the majority of the photographs, as is common in these sorts of collections, are of pages with decorations, canon tables, portraits etc. and not always a lot of text. So the collection is more useful and interesting for thinking about the history of the influence and interpretation of the Bible than about the text itself.
Two things I learned (among others):
- the Apocalypse produced a high proportion of interesting illustrations (certainly compared to the proportion of Greek manuscripts, since here it is the least well represented portion of the New Testament - perhaps the situation in relation to the Apocalypse in Latin manuscripts and Latin lectionaries is different [does anybody know?]).
- London, British Library, Add. MS 5111 contains two leaves of 'an extraordinary deluxe manuscript of the Four Gospels' - perhaps 6th century, gold ink, beautiful decorations etc. But this manuscript has never been used in any edition of the Greek NT and is not listed in any normal list of NT manuscripts. I never knew it existed until now. And the reason for such careless neglect?
The book is published as one aspect of the current British Library exhibit on Sacred Texts from Christianity, Judaism and Islam: "Sacred: Discover what we share", which is an interesting (!) angle to take. I am not quite sure why "Sacred: Discover the differences" wasn't chosen.