Friday, January 31, 2014

Codex Zacynthius

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Codex Zacynthius is two Greek New Testament manuscripts in one.


 It is a palimpsest, with two levels of writing throughout.


The upper text is lectionary 299, a thirteenth-century gospel lectionary. And the underlying text is 040 a manuscript of Luke 1-11 with commentary (variously dated from the sixth to the eighth century). The codex is owned by the British and Foreign Bible Society (BFBS MS #213), and currently resides, like the rest of the BFBS books and manuscripts in the University Library in Cambridge (where they have been since 1985). I have seen it several times, it has always been perfectly accessible to scholars who want to study it.

So now the Bible Society wants to sell Codex Zacynthius to the University Library for 1.1 million pounds, so that it can build a visitor centre in this rather pretty little abandoned church in Wales, to celebrate the role of the Bible in shaping Wales:


And the University Library wants to buy Codex Zacynthius for 1.1 million pounds (and would love to hear from any benefactor on the subject). There are probably good reasons to buy such a manuscript (and move it from one shelf in the UL to a different one somewhere else in the UL). Some of those which have been offered so far may not, however, be very persuasive:

a) "It is unique" (attributed here to Ben Outhwaite). Hmmmm. Every manuscript is by definition "unique".

b) "It must be in the top 20 of New Testament manuscripts" (attributed here to Ben Outhwaite) or "among the top flight of Biblical manuscripts" (attributed here to Rowan Williams). Hmmmm. Who would determine this? Since NA27 puts it among the 'consistently cited witnesses of the first order' for the Gospels (NA27 p. 58*) that puts it among the top one hundred and sixty-one Greek manuscripts of the Gospels. I could see it having a place in the top one hundred of New Testament manuscripts, but definitely not in the top twenty.

c) It is "critical to establishing the transmission of Luke's Gospel" (attributed here to Rowan Williams). Hmmmm. No doubt it is interesting and helpful and contributes something to our understanding of the transmission of the text of Luke's Gospel, as of course does every manuscript. But "critical"? I am not familiar with any study of the last hundred years which would say such a thing about Zacynthius.

d) "It is the oldest extant New Testament manuscript with a commentary alongside the text" (attributed here to Rowan Williams). Hmmmm. This one does look to me to be correct (even if one took an eighth century date, which is actually something that has been much disputed in the scholarly literature).

e) "Purchasing Codex Zacynthius would give us the opportunity to digitise the manuscript and share it on a global scale" (attributed here to Anne Jarvis). Hmmmm. In one sense this is true, but in every other sense this is nonsense. The Bible Society could digitise it themselves, or give CSNTM permission to digitise it, and post the images on-line for next to nothing. A change of ownership may facilitate the production of new images, but can hardly be deemed necessary.
Purchasing Codex Zacynthius would give us the opportunity to digitise the manuscript and share it on a global scale - See more at: http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/news/cambridge-university-library-bids-to-purchase-early-gospel-manuscript#sthash.Qn2BWGyH.dpuf
it is the oldest extant New Testament manuscript with a commentary alongside the text - See more at: http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/news/cambridge-university-library-bids-to-purchase-early-gospel-manuscript#sthash.Qn2BWGyH.dpuf
critical to establishing the transmission of St Luke’s Gospel - See more at: http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/news/cambridge-university-library-bids-to-purchase-early-gospel-manuscript#sthash.Qn2BWGyH.dpuf
among the top flight of Biblical manuscripts
among the top flight of Biblical manuscripts
among the top flight of Biblical manuscripts
among the top flight of Biblical manuscripts





10 comments :

  1. Thank God, you're not in charge of their marketing department! :)

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  2. Truth is the first casualty of marketing

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  3. Anyway it is an odd marketing situation where the people trying to buy the manuscript are guilty of such exaggeration.

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  4. For internal evidence pointing to a production date between 518 and 536, search archive.org for:
    W. H. P. Hatch, A Redating of Two Important Uncial Manuscripts of the Gospels - Codex Zacynthius and Codex Cyprius

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  5. More recently cf.
    D. C. Parker and J. Neville Birdsall, "The date of Codex Zacynthius (Ξ): A new proposal" J Theol Studies (2004) 55 (1): 117-131

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  6. I think the concern for digitization is a legitimate concern. If acquired by a private collector who didn't want to make it accessible, the manuscript might become unavailable for scholarly study.

    As for whether it's in the top 25 or top 100, this is a subjective judgement, and as such the opinion as to its ranking is debatable rather than wrong.

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  7. Hmm. I suppose the lesson to be learned from this is that if your organization is the custodian of a moderately important New Testament manuscript, and there is a chance that you might want to sell it one day, do not make it available to anyone. Otherwise when the time comes to put it on the market, people will ask why they should pay for something which they have borrowed for free all this time.

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

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  8. Yes, I have seen that happening twice.

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  9. Okay, so the catena was written no earlier than the 8th century, and the text no later than the 7th century. Sounds like the catena was added later.

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  10. ¿Será un códice que apoye las versiones del texto crítico?

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