In my last blog post announcing the digitization of the manuscripts from St. Catherine's monastery, I posted an image of Greek Manuscript 212, or GA Lectionary 846, a ninth century Greek liturgical codex containing the Gospels and the Apostolos, written in a sloping "Slavonic uncial" script. I want to make two observations about this manuscript here and then tell you about an exciting research project.
First, it is a very small codex in dimensions: 14.5 (H) x 11.7 (W) cm. As a disclaimer: I do not study Greek manuscripts that are quite this late, but I do know that most lectionaries were intended for public reading, and so the format is somewhat surprising. Perhaps some of my readers will know just how atypical the dimensions are for Greek lectionaries from this period.
Second, I noticed that this codex is a palimpsest, meaning that there is an "undertext" that has been wiped/washed away to make space for the "uppertext" which now stands. Scribes typically repurposed majuscule manuscripts for liturgical ones. Take a look at this photo from folio 51, which I have manipulated slightly in order to highlight the palimpsestic features:
The 1994 Kurzgefasste Liste indicates that the undertext may be from the Psalms but there is a question mark there (“l 846: untere Schrift Psalmen (?)”). This script of this undertext is obviously older, perhaps dating to the 7th century.
Significantly, as part of the Sinai Palimpsests Project (SPP), the monastery is using spectral imaging to read, identify, and date erased texts found in palimpsests housed at the monastery, of which Greek 212 is one of more than 160 palimpsests. The results of this project will be significant.
We await to see the full results of this project, but I have a strong feeling that some of the findings will be significant. Some of the incredible discoveries have already been listed on their website. I will update readers on this exciting project as I learn them!
It was announced today that Codex Vaticanus (Vat.gr.1209) has been digitized and is now accessible online. For those who don't know about this fine manuscript, I reproduce for convenience the description on Wikipedia, which is accurate:
"The Codex Vaticanus (The Vatican, Bibl. Vat., Vat. gr. 1209; no. B or 03 Gregory-Aland, δ 1 von Soden), is one of the oldest extant manuscripts of the Greek Bible (Old and New Testament), one of the four great uncial codices. The Codex is named after its place of conservation in the Vatican Library, where it has been kept since at least the 15th century. It is written on 759 leaves of vellum in uncial letters and has been dated palaeographically to the 4th century.
Current scholarship considers the Codex Vaticanus to be one of the best Greek texts of the New Testament, with the Codex Sinaiticus as its only competitor. Until the discovery by Tischendorf of the Sinaiticus text, the Codex was unrivaled. It was extensively used by Westcott and Hort in their edition of The New Testament in the Original Greek in 1881. The most widely sold editions of the Greek New Testament are largely based on the text of the Codex Vaticanus."
The famous Papyrus Graecus Holmiensis has been digitized and is online at the World Digital Library here. Also known as the Stockholm Papyrus, this 4th century CE codex contains recipes for mordanting and dying imitation stones. For example, recipe 101 is as follows:
"Cold Dyeing for Purple which is Done in the True Way"
"Keep this as a secret matter because the purple has an extremely luster. Take scrum of woad from the dyer, and a sufficient portion of foreign askant of about the same weight as the scum – the scum is very light – and triturate it in the mortar. Thus dissolve the alkanet by grinding in the scum and it will give off its essence. Then take the brilliant color prepared by the dyer – if from kermis it is better, or else from kirmnos – heat, and put this liquor into half of the scum in the mortar. Then put the wool in and color it unmordanted and you will find it beyond all description."
It's nice to have all the papyrus leaves online and available for study. An English translation may be found in Caley, E. R., "The Stockholm Papyrus: An English Translation with Brief Notes,”Journal of Chemical Education IV:8 (1926): 979-1002, conveniently posted online here. The German edition is also online here. Be sure to check out the images of this fascinating codex!
One feature of the Nag Hammadi codices that has always fascinated me is the leather covers in which the papyrus codices were bound. According to the traditional story, the Nag Hammadi codices were discovered in 1945 by a native Egyptian while looking for sabakh, a natural fertilizer. It is claimed that he found them in a jar in the ground at the base of the Gebel al-Tarif. (On the question about this discovery, see most recently Nicola D. Lewis and Justine A. Blount, "Rethinking the Origins of the Nag Hammadi Codices," JBL 133.2 : 399-419.) Below are two images (open and closed) of the remarkably well-preserved cover of Codex IX, which was found intact. According to Birger Pearson, the papyrus codex was "cut out of the cover" in order to be preserved and mounted in between glass (Nag Hammadi Codices IX and X; [NHS 15; Leiden: Brill, 1981], 1). James M. Robinson offers a full analysis of this cover in the preface to the facsimile edition of Codices IX and X (The Facsimile Edition of the Nag Hammadi Codices: Codices IX and X [Leiden: Brill, 1977], 4). This cover was apparently made of sheepskin and goatskin and belongs typologically, according to Robinson, in a group together with Codices II, VI, and X. As with most of these leather covers, this one was reinforced with papyrus fragments (known as cartonnage), and those papyri have been published as well. What is interesting about the cartonnage is that they are datable and thus provide a terminus a quo (starting point) for Codex IX. The photos below were taken by Jean Doresse and may be found—along with many other excellent images of the Nag Hammadi codices, covers, cartonnage, etc.—at Claremont College's Digital Library. When we think of the Nag Hammadi codices, we normally think of the papyrus codices and their texts. However, these are fascinating pieces of 4th century Egyptian material culture that deserve to be studied and analyzed.
Post-scriptum: While the Nag Hammadi codex covers are remarkable, they are not unique. We have several such covers from other manuscripts; see some of them here.