Wednesday, May 30, 2007

New Book: Bible Manuscripts

Scot McKendrick & Kathleen Doyle, Bible Manuscripts: 1400 Years of Scribes and Scripture (London: British Library, 2007) available here

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):
  1. 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?]).
  2. 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.


  1. I am not quite sure why "Sacred: Discover the differences" wasn't chosen.

    The two most deadly bomb attacks less than two years ago were only a few hundred metres from the British Library. Is any other reason needed for the BL to seek reconciliation between different religions? As evangelical Christians we may have a rather different approach, but highlighting differences in this kind of context can hardly be helpful.

  2. I don't see how, religiously speaking, Christianity and Islam can be reconciled.

  3. I should say, of course, that I see the point in taking 'manuscripts' as a starting point for asking questions about each of the faiths, the interactions between them, and the different truth claims associated with each faith.

    And indeed, the catalogue blurb reads in part as follows:
    "The centrality of a book of revelation is one of the key features which these three religions have in common and underlies the reason for bringing them together in the ‘Sacred’ exhibition, which aims to contribute to a better understanding of the three traditions by exploring the aspects which they share as well as their differences. This is done primarily by focussing on how their sacred texts have been written down and adorned, leading to the production of some of the world’s most sublimely beautiful books. The manuscript emerges as a metaphor for the interaction between these three religions and the ways they have influenced each other."

    I don't suppose I would have chosen Karen Armstrong to write the essay on Christianity.

  4. Peter, I agree that Christianity and Islam cannot and should not be reconciled. But they are not as different as some might claim. This exhibition focussing on similarities just might help to break down the barriers of misunderstanding and suspicion which keep Christians from sharing their faith with Muslims and Muslims from considering Christian truth.

  5. It shouldn't surprise us, but this blog is being read and archived by people with a great interest in a Quranic perspecitive on NT manuscript transmission.

  6. Dear anon,

    I am not too sure where you got your information for that.

    The only direct reference I could find to this blog from a "quranic perspective" is .... and it consists of only 1 line and has nothing to do with TC!

    Hardly proof that this blog is being "read and archived" by some "people".


  7. This blog is a public blog and can be read by anyone with sufficient internet access (that still excludes most of the population of the world). So what?