A Brief History of the Bible - 3
Hello again on this feast of St Jerome, doyen of biblical scholars! And
thanks to Carolyn for her very helpful remarks about his work in today's
If you look at the critical apparatus of an edition of the Greek Bible - Old
or New Testament - you will find that the editor has consulted a large
number of manuscripts, which will be listed in the following order:
1, Papyri, indicated by the sigla p1, p2, p3, p4 etc. These tend to be
quite early in the tradition - third or fourth centuries of the Christian era.
2, Uncials, i.e. Vellum codices in the Uncial ("inch high") script, a large,
clear script. The earliest of these is of the fourth century. Most of
these are indicated by Roman letters - A, B, C, D, etc. When the Roman
letters run out, they are denoted by Greek letters, and then when the Greek
letters run out, by numbers beginning with zero - 046, 047 etc. One of the
most significant uncials is usually denoted by the Hebrew letter Aleph, or
alternatively by the Roman letter S. I shall have to use S, as my e-mail
facility isn't very good at Hebrew letters.
3, Minuscules. The minuscule script is medieval in origin, and most of the
minuscules cited in the apparatus before me are 12th century in origin,
though some are 10th or 11th, and some are later. Minuscules are denoted by
a number: 1, 2, 3, 4 . . . 2321, 2322. There are quite a lot of these.
After these primary witnesses, the editor may consult ancient versions (such
as the Latin versions), lectionaries, quotations in the Fathers, early
The number of witnesses cited may run into many hundreds, but a quite small
number of the really significant ones will be the real basis of the text.
Rahlfs' edition of the Septuagint is based mainly on "B" (Codex Vaticanus),
"S" [ = Aleph] (Codex Sinaiticus), and "A" (Codex Alexandrinus).
I have it in mind to mention the more important manuscripts, in
chronological order, not of their creation, but in the order in which they
became known to scholars and so became an influence on the text of our
modern bibles. This may seem an odd way of doing things, but it will save
me doing it all over at a later stage.
The earliest printed Bibles were Jewish editions of the Hebrew Scriptures.
I regret that my knowledge of them is confined to what is said in the
Cambridge History of the Bible, vol.3, p. 48ff., to which I refer those who
The first printed edition of the Greek New Testament was published by
Erasmus in March 1516. Actually it was a close run thing, for Cardinal
Ximenes was at the time working on a far grander project, the 'Complutensian
Polyglot' at the University he had founded at Alcalá ("Complutum" is the
Latin for Alcalá - God knows how). This edition printed the Hebrew, Latin
and Septuagint in parallel columns. The editors wrote: 'We have placed the
Latin translation of Blessed Jerome as though between the synagogue and the
Eastern Church, placing them like the two thieves one on each side, and
Jesus, that is the Roman or Latin Church, between them.' (!!!)
The first printed edition of the whole Bible was the Aldine Press edition of
1518/19. This consisted of an edition of the Septuagint by Andreas Asolanus,
established from manuscripts in Cardinal Bessarion's collection in the
library of St Mark at Venice, together with Erasmus's edition of the NT.
Neither Erasmus nor Ximenes offered what we would regard as a critical text.
Erasmus was no great shakes as a textual critic, and he knew only a few
late, minuscule MSS. The Complutensian editors used MSS obtained from the
Vatican library, the library of St Mark at Venice, and from the private
collection of Ximenes. What they did not use was the best biblical MS in
the Vatican library, the Codex Vaticanus, usually designated as "B". We'll
discuss that MS next time.