From the Library: GA 785 and GA 2933

8/20/2020

By: Andrew J. Patton

The Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts (CSNTM) Digital Library contains hundreds of Greek NT manuscripts, each with its own story to tell. In our “From the Library” series, we feature individual manuscripts from our collection in order to showcase their unique beauty and importance. This aligns with CSNTM’s mission to make NT manuscripts accessible for everyone.

While working in the reading room at the National Library of Greece in Athens, Dr. Daniel B. Wallace noticed something unusual in one of their Gospels manuscripts. He turned to the Gospel of Luke and found two copies of the beginning of the Gospel, each clearly written by two different scribes. Wallace found a manuscript within a manuscript! After sending a description of what we discovered and images of the document to the Institute for New Testament Textual Research in Münster, Germany, they confirmed our findings. This second copy of Luke 1 was a bona fide New Testament manuscript and deserved a Gregory-Aland number. So this one codex—a form of bookmaking very similar to modern printed books—technically contains two unique New Testament manuscripts, though one is only a single page. This From the Library series piece features GA 785 and GA 2933 and how the beginning of Luke appeared twice within the same codex.  

How did this manuscript end up with two copies of the beginning of Luke? In this case, a second copy of Luke was added to the manuscript sometime after the text was written. But the text was not added as an intentional replacement for what the manuscript already contained, as the portion in the added leaf contained material already in the codex. In fact, the two copies of the Greek text agree completely. The second copy of Luke was added inadvertently. 

We can see evidence that this leaf was added later by looking at the final pages of Mark and the beginning of Luke in order.

The Gospel of Mark in this manuscript is immediately followed by the kephalaia for Luke. Kephalaia are the chapters within each book according to early tradition. At first these were numbered and then eventually titles were added. It’s common to find a table at the beginning of the Gospel listing the kephalaia. If you were reading the chapter titles in Luke and knew how many there were supposed to be, something would seem wrong. The icon of Luke was added before the end of the kephalaia.

Turning the page with the icon, you see that the back has Luke 1:1–6. Then the kephalaia for Luke continues where it left off two pages ago. After that comes the beginning of Luke, marked by a headpiece, with the same handwriting as the rest of the manuscript.

Without the inserted page, the kephalaia pages would face one another and immediately be followed by Luke. Most often we find that the portrait of the Evangelist faces the beginning of his Gospel. That’s what you can see below from this manuscript where the Gospel of Matthew begins with the icon on the left page and the text on the right. Since Luke began on the back of a page, the person who wanted the icon included in the manuscript had to add it one page before, consequently breaking up the kephalaia pages. In GA 785, all four evangelist portraits were added after the text was written. Matthew and Mark both face the beginning of their Gospel, but Luke and John’s icons were added between the kephalaia. So the inserted text of Luke 1:1–6 was not done intentionally, but only because it accompanied the icon. Likewise, the inserted icons of Mark and John also contain textual remnants from the codex in which they originally belonged. These, however, were not included in the new Gregory-Aland number because they do not contain New Testament writings.

These two medieval Gospels manuscripts, GA 785 and GA 2933, now merged together into a single book, reveal the life biblical manuscripts had before they became artifacts on a library shelf. At some point in history, a person or community wanted to add beautiful icons of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John to their copy of the four Gospels that were rather simply adorned. Instead of creating new pages, they reused the older portraits from another manuscript—never mind the text on the back. Or perhaps it was the other way around and the full book to which the four portraits belonged was falling into disrepair and the owner(s) sought to produce a new copy to replace it that still incorporated the four icons from the older manuscript. Regardless of how exactly it happened in history, this story gives us a glimpse into the life of Greek New Testament manuscripts. These documents were read, corrected, decorated, and treasured. Sometimes when we look at them closely after a long time, we are surprised to find the handiwork of the past. This is one of the reasons every New Testament manuscript should be carefully examined. Even when we aren’t given intriguing textual clues, the documents themselves provide a window into the past.

We are grateful to the National Library of Greece for the opportunity to digitize their collection five years ago and for their ongoing care for their collection. Additionally, we are grateful for the work of the Institute for New Testament Textual Research for evaluating whether this manuscript leaf belonged to the official list of New Testament manuscripts.