Thursday, September 01, 2011

NT in Sinaiticus

Over at the British Library's Blog there is an interesting post on the NT in Codex Sinaiticus. From my perspective it raises some interesting ideas, but lacks a bit of nuance on both general historical awareness and detailed knowledge of the manuscript. In the first category I would place the following comment:

At the time that Codex Sinaiticus was made, around the middle of the 4th century, there was no agreement as to which books constituted the Bible, or the order in which they should be arranged. Indeed, before this date there had been no concept of the Bible as a single volume, containing all those texts familiar to modern readers.

I would suggest firstly that the lack of complete agreement (as exhibited in minor differences within fourth century canon lists and differences in the order of books in extant manuscripts) should not be presented as if this implies that "there was no agreement as to which books constituted the Bible", since for the most part and for the core books there clearly was widespread agreement.
Secondly, even though it is the case that the order of books takes on a different significance when they are all bound in a single codex, conventions of ordering were clearly in place in the period before the fourth century. Such conventions of ordering can be seen in a variety of places both internal to the sub-collections which make up the NT (e.g. P46 for Paul; P45 for Gospels & Acts), and in discussions reflecting on the developing NT as a whole (Irenaeus, Muratorian Canon etc.). It is not random that the Gospels precede the apostolic witness. So yes there is no completely settled order for the NT books (nor is there after Sinaiticus since it is only printing that brings all the books together for the masses), but that does not mean there were no areas of general agreement in relation to the ordering of the books.
Thirdly, it is in principle very unlikely that Sinaiticus is the first manuscript of the Bible (both because Vaticanus is probably earlier, and because there may have been several hundred other earlier mss now lost). So we don't know whether a Bible in a single volume had actually been physically constructed well before Sinaiticus. If we are talking not about physical artefacts but about the capacity to conceptualise the various bits of the NT as a single collection then we might have several candidates.
So these points need a rather more nuanced presentation in my opinion.

On the manuscript itself we read the following:
To create Codex Sinaiticus required the collaboration of arguably four scribes (designated by modern scholars A, B1, B2 and D), working from approximately thirty exemplars. In order to expedite the process, the scribes would have copied different parts of the text at the same time, dividing the work between them. For example, Scribe D is known to have copied Genesis and portions of Matthew, Mark and Luke (in addition to other books of the Bible); while Scribe A produced large chunks of the Old Testament, and most of the New Testament, including Acts.

Firstly a minor problem here is the division of B into B1 and B2. So far there is no scholarly publication in any format outside the Sinaiticus project web-site that argues the case for the separation of B into two scribes. The case for this has never been made in a published forum (I don't recall it even being affirmed in Parker's book on Sinaiticus, although I could be wrong on that).
Secondly, this notion that the scribes worked from 'thirty exemplars' is rather interesting. I would love to see the evidence behind this assertion. I presume that doesn't mean 30 for the NT, as if every separate text had its own separate exemplar (that would not be plausible), but 30 for the whole Bible (including the bits of the OT that we no longer have). One could easily imagine 6-10 exemplars for the NT, but moving from imagining it to actually constructing an argument on the basis of some evidence would require some interesting work.
Thirdly, the notion that Scribe D's work on portions of Matthew, Mark and Luke is an example of dividing the work to expedite the process is clearly wrong; since scribe D is working to replace sheets within quires that are otherwise the work of scribe A. The author should have read Jongkind.


  1. David Parker affirms is in his book on Sinaiticus and illustrates it with images, but yes, there is no full argumented description of the two new scribes. Perhaps in the proceedings volume of the Sinaiticus conference?

  2. Peter Head:
    So yes there is no completely settled order for the NT books (nor is there after Sinaiticus since it is only printing that brings all the books together for the masses)

    On the contrary, there are something like 50 complete NT's in manuscript (sometimes in 2-volume sets), along with at least that many that contain all but the gospels, and many more that contain everything but the gospels and Revelation. If there was no settled order for the books within these mss, it was not due to a lack of printing.

    And even printed Bibles were not for the masses, either, for the first century after Gutenberg; they were huge volumes that were designed to be chained to pulpits. The masses had to settle for gospels or NT's.

  3. Dan, OK so my memory failed me there. The point still stands.

    Daniel, not sure exactly what you are objecting to. For the most part the NT consisted of separate manuscripts for the gospels, Paul, Acts & CEps. The NT would have been in multiple volumes (in Greek churches anyway). Complete NTs make up less than 1% of the extant mss. I don't suppose they had a consistent ordering of the NT books, although I could be wrong (I'd like to see the data gathered together, I seem to recall a chapter in the book on Canon ed by Sanders & McDonald).
    Printing established the convention of publishing the whole NT in one volume; printed editions established and generally followed a conventional ordering of the NT books; and and after a time printing enabled vernacular translations for the masses.

  4. Re the discussion between Danial B. and Peter H: Christopher De Hamel, The Book : A History of the Bible (London and New York : Phaidon, 2001), calls attention to the “Paris Bibles” of the 13th c. Between 1200 and 1250, a new smaller style of script, increased availability of thinner parchment, and shrinking page size made it possible to encompass a complete Bible in a single hand-sized volume measuring 10” x 8” or 9” x 6” or even smaller. Alongside this new size, a new pattern of arranging the books of the Bible in order quickly became standard, as did a new system of chapter divisions and numbers. The distinctive features of this smaller format were both appreciated and promoted by the itinerant friars of two newly-founded orders, the Dominicans and Franciscans, who adopted it because it was portable, definitive, searchable (due to standardized format and chapter numbers), and commercially available. For the first time, De Hamel claims, Bibles were being produced in large quantities, and with the possible exception of coins and buildings, “more Bibles survive from the thirteenth century than any other artefact” (Book, 114).

  5. The blog seems a bit simplistic. It talks about people not finding Acts, and points to the fact that it is there, but in a different order. When they say it's between 'Philemon' and 'James', they are implying that Acts could appear just anywhere in the collection.

    In fact, it's pretty consistent that Acts appears with (and just before) the Catholic letters. The Sinaticus order is consistent with the 4 classic collections found in any textual criticism book.

    I think the missed a good opportunity to explain the 4 literary collections, that make up the New Testament, and how the authors of the Sinaticus chose to lay them out. Once you know about the 4 collections, you see the Sinaticus actually laid out the New Testament in a quite standard order for the time (Gospels, in their traditional order, Paul in the traditional order, recognizing the 'floating' nature of Hebrews, Praxapostolos in it's traditional order, and Revelation). The Codex Vaticanus, it's contemporary, is similiar, swapping the Praxapostolos with the letters of Paul, but keeping the internal collection ordering consistent.


  6. Data on the consistency of the order of the Letters of Paul

    Trobisch claims the there is a small (8) number of sequences of Paul's letters in "existing manuscripts, reconstructed ancestors of extant manuscripts, old commentaries, citations by ancient Christian writers, the oldest translations, the lists of canonical writings issued by the Old Church and the very first references to the letters of Paul in Christian literature." Most of those 8 sequences are generated by the inconsistent place of Hebrews in the lists (including it's absence). Removing variants caused by the placement of Hebrews reduces the sequences to 3:

    Rom 1 Cor 2 Cor Eph Gal Col Phil 1 Thess (p46)
    Rom 1 Cor 2 Cor Gal Eph Col Phil 1 Thess 2 Thess 1 Tim 2 Tim Titus Phlm (06, 5)
    Rom 1 Cor 2 Cor Gal Eph Phil Col 1 Thess 2 Thess 1 Tim 2 Tim Titus Phlm (the rest of the tradition)

    If Trobisch's data is correct, that's a pretty stable order for within the Pauline collection. It's hard to argue that there was not general agreement on order, even by the 4th century. (though it's notable that one of the least consistent orders is found in our oldest collection, which probably underminds his contention for a 2nd century primordial publication of the letters of paul).

  7. Peter Head:
    Daniel, not sure exactly what you are objecting to.

    I was just being my typical perfectionist and objecting to the implication that Gutenberg et al established an order for the NT canon.

    Thanks, Bob, for the further information. I've read Trobisch on this and he came up with a couple of explanations for the order of the epistles. First of all, they were divided into Catholics, Ecclesiastical Paulines, and Pastorals. Then they were arranged by length, with the longest ones in each category first (when there were a I and II, the size of the I set the order of both). The almost equal lengths of the prison epistles caused them to be arranged somewhat haphazardly, until a settled order emerged.

    Hebrews can be seen as having been added to the Paulines after their order had already been established. Where to add it was always the question, but the least controversial spot turned out to be on the border between the Paulines and Catholics.

    As for printed books, Luther's followed this order for the end of the NT: Peters, Johns, Hebrews, James, Jude, Revelation. Luther had theological reasons for sticking Hebrews and James near the end, but the precedent had been established and Tyndale's first edition followed suit. It wasn't until the whole Bible was printed in English that the order of the NT books was established as today.