Codex W

With all the recent news coverage around Washington, it seems only fitting to look at one of America’s own New Testament treasures. Few are aware that the Freer Gallery of Art, a division of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, contains a late fourth or early fifth century manuscript of the four Gospels. Though there are numerous manuscripts in the United States, few compare to the quality and date of this manuscript in Washington.

Codex W or Gregory-Aland 032 gained international attention as one of the most significant New Testament manuscript discoveries of the early 20th century. Discovered by Charles L. Freer in 1906 during one of his numerous antiquities trips, the manuscript was quickly acknowledged as being a significant text of the New Testament.

Freer regularly traveled, collecting antiquities. His collection contains numerous works of art and volumes of literature. However, during one of his Asian voyages Freer spent some time with an antiquities dealer, Ali Arabi, in Cairo, Egypt. Here, recorded in his diary, is the account of his purchase of a collection of manuscripts dating from the early third through fifth century. Upon arrival back in the States, he immediately secured the services of Francis W. Kelsey to supervise the study and publication of the find. The collection was shown to include codices of the four Gospels, Deuteronomy, Joshua, the Psalms, and the Pauline corpus. Upon two further expeditions to Egypt, Freer met with Ali Arabi and was able to acquire a Coptic codex of the Psalms and the earliest papyrus codex of the Minor Prophets prior to the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Codex W, one of the most significant pieces in the Freer collection, is considered to be the third-oldest parchment codex of the Gospels in the world. The Gospels in this codex are arranged in the “Western order” (Matthew, John, Luke, Mark). Interestingly, along with the longer ending of Mark (16. 9–20), Codex W includes an additional account of Jesus, referred to as the “Freer Logion” ever since its discovery. In contrast, within the Gospel of John the famous account of the woman caught in adultery (pericope adulterae) is missing.

One may view images of Codex W at CSNTM’s website

Robert D. Marcello
Intern-Coordinator, Manuscript Collator
Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts

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