Famous Biblical Codices at British Library (English)


By Bishop John of Amorion

During a recent visit to London, I viewed once again the Codex Sinaiticus and the Codex Alexandrinus, and studied the other Biblical Codices at the British Library. At this time, I wish to enumerate and describe the other codices displayed there.

Next to the glass display case of the Codices Sinaiticus and Alexandrinus, is the display case of the 1) Fragments of the St. John Papyrus Codex from Egypt, 2) Codex Nitriensis from Syria and 3) Codex on the book of Revelation from Egypt. The St. John Papyrus Codex was written in Greek in the 3rd century. On the left-hand side is a fragment which relates to the baptism of Christ and the calling of the disciples Andrew and Peter (John 1:33-40) and also Christ’s appearance to Mary Magdalene after His death (John 20:11-17). The right-hand side fragment preserves Christ’s words at the Mystical Supper (John 16:11-17). These 2 parts of the small  Codex of the Gospel of St. John were unearthed in the rubbish piles of the ancient city of Oxyrhynchus in Egypt early in the 20th century, along with 13 papyrus rolls and codices which were produced for Greek-speaking Christians in Egypt between 100 A.D.and 400 A.D. The discovery of such early manuscripts has confirmed the general reliability of the text preserved by later manuscripts.

The Codex Nitriensis consists of 2 leaves of the Gospel of St. Luke in Greek written in two columns of each leaf either in Syria or Mesopotamia in the 7th century. The text is in an attractive Greek majuscule script, which includes Luke’s account of Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Christ, and Jesus’ outlines of Christian discipleship (Luke 9: 16-27). In 1847, it was discovered at the Monastery of the Syrians in the Wadi Natrum, Egypt.

To the right of the Nitriensis Codex is the Book of Revelation Fragment of a papyrus roll from Egypt, written in Greek, in the 3rd or 4th century. This fragment includes John’s opening greeting (Revelation 1:4-7) to the Seven Churches in Asia Minor. In agreement with the Codices if Sinaiticus and Alexandrinus, this manuscript has Jesus described as having “freed us from our sins”. Whereas, according to the Codex Vaticanus describes Christ as having “washed us from our sins”. To capture his text, he reused a papyrus roll of the Greek text of the book of Exodus, and wrote on its blank reverse side. He was not a professional book-producer, however, he intended his manuscript to be read by others, presumably other members of a Christian community. This roll was discovered also at Oxyrhynchus in Egypt. Now, across from the Sinaiticus and Alexandrinus Codices is a separate glass display case, which contains the Miscellany Syrian Manuscript written in Syrian Ethiopian, and depicts an oration by Patriarch Abba Severus of Antioch. It relates to the coming of the Holy Archangel. The scribe Mikhail copied this manuscript in 1210. The scholar and collector Robert Curzon, acquired this manuscript between 1833 and 1839, and considered it to be the finest Coptic manuscript on paper. The gilt rectangle with large decorative capitals and a gilt rosette is outstanding. It begins with the invocation, “I hear the Holy Psalmist David, showing us together for this feast day.”

To the left of the Miscellany Syrian Ethiopian Manuscript is the Ethiopian Biblical Manuscript. It includes the Books of Isaiah, David and the Apocrypha Ethiopian, dated in the 18th century monarch. Since Ethiopian manuscripts are traditionally highly decorative, red ink is used to pick out such names as Jesus, Mary, Saints and angels. It contains a list of the books of the Bible as received by the Ethiopian Church. These include the Apocrypha Books of the Septuagint and the Genealogy of the rulers.

The New Testament in Syrian is the third and last manuscript in this display case. It was produced at the Monastery of Mar She on bar Sabbae on May 22, 1809. The display opening is a portrait of St. Luke set within elaborate borders of calligraphic strap work. St. Luke is represented in an extremely stylish manner, standing on a semi-circle, drawn in concentric bands, with a cross on his head, in bright green and yellow colors. Copied by the scribe and priest Haydani, the manuscript was commissioned by the lady named Bane. It consists of the part of the Syrian version of the New Testament, namely from the gospels of St. Luke and St. John.

In the final display case, to the left of the New Testament in Syrian is an early Gregorian Text Menologies of the Saints prepared in Jerusalem in 1060. This exhibited opening is an account of the life of St. Theodosius. This parchment codex was hand copied in about 1060 A.D.  by Black John, a monk at the Gregorian Monastery of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem, an important center of Georgian culture It concludes the life of St. Savva of Cappadocia who in 493 A.D. was the superior of all the hermits in Palestine.

The next manuscript displayed is that of the Armenian Gospels, in large round script, called bologir, copied by the scribe Avetik in 1437, at the Monastery of St. George which is located near Palu in eastern Turkey. This manuscript contains a notable group of illustrations of the life of Christ. The opening pages depict a portrait of the Evangelist Mark on the left and the title page of His Gospel on the left. This portrait of St. Mark is shown with a lion holding a book, which is also the symbol of the Evangelist Mark.

Finally, there is displayed an Armenian Psalter produced in Armenia in the 14th century. This psalter was illuminated for King Lewon who ruled the Cilicia Kingdom of Armenia from 1279 to 1287. The scribe was Yohan and the artist was Sargis Picak, the most celebrated of his time. This manuscript is lavishly decorated throughout with geometrical and floral designs and capitals in red ink. The exhibited front piece shows the Virgin Mary seated on a throne with the Christ Child in Her lap. In the bottom, left-hand corner, a layman kneels and extends his hands in prayer.