By: Jacob Peterson
I left my role as Intern Coordinator at CSNTM in the fall of 2015 to begin my PhD in New Testament at the University of Edinburgh. Over the course of the next year, it became obvious that, if possible, I should try and digitize the New Testament manuscripts held in the university’s library. Thankfully, the university agreed to this, and so Jim Leavenworth, a former CSNTM intern and fellow Edinburgh postgrad, and I were able to complete this project in December of last year.
In total, the university owns five Greek New Testament manuscripts listed in the official catalog produced by the Institute for New Testament Textual Research in Germany. The manuscripts are:
GA 563 – 11th century manuscript of the Gospels
GA 897 – 13th century manuscript of the Gospels
GA 898 – 13th century manuscript of the Gospels
GA Lect 578 – 11th century manuscript with lectionary readings from the Gospels
GA Lect 1747 – 11th century manuscript with lectionary readings from John
While preparing the manuscripts for digitization, I discovered what seemed to be two new manuscripts in the form of replacement leaves. Sometimes individual leaves or whole quires would have to be replaced because the original had fallen out or was badly damaged. One of the new discoveries appears to be a simple case of an entire quire being replaced for possibly these reasons. However, the other new discovery is much more interesting. It is a single leaf that has been replaced in GA Lect 578.
The normal lectionary reading for Pentecost includes John 7:37–52 and then 8:12. This notably skips over the story of the woman caught in adultery, which was read separately on a feast day. Yet, in GA Lect 578 the evidence points to the lectionary originally containing the whole range of 7:37–8:12. The replacement leaf provided the first clue of this in that it only has writing on the front of the leaf that contained John 7:45–52 and 8:12. The natural question then is whether or not the original leaf would have held those verses plus the 7:53–8:11. The page prior to the replacement leaf ends at John 7:45, and the one after begins with the next day’s lection from Matthew 18:10. Each leaf in the manuscript contains about 1,400–1,800 letters, and John 7:45–8:12 has 1,389 letters according to the standard Greek text. This works out perfectly given that the scribe often left some blank space at the end of a column if it would mean that a new lection could start on a new leaf. It appears then that the original scribe incorrectly copied the story of the woman caught in adultery into the readings for Pentecost and then, at a later date, someone noticed this problem and took the effort to replace the entire leaf rather than just write in the manuscript that the section should be skipped.
What might seem like a rather mundane point about an otherwise obscure Byzantine lectionary raises a couple of interesting points. The first is that the Church is loyal to the proper lectionary cycle and was astutely aware of the proper readings for each day. Reading the story of the woman caught in adultery on Pentecost is certainly not harmful, but its rightful place in church liturgy is with the feasts. This was enough reason for someone to take considerable time and effort to fix the error. The second is that it presents difficult questions for the copying history of the manuscript. By analyzing other telltale places in the manuscript, it does not appear that it was copied from a continuous text manuscript where it would have been easy to include the story of the woman caught in adultery on accident. So when and how did this story get inserted? Perhaps we’ll never know. But we do know that some monk included it, whether accidentally or because of liking the story and knowing it belonged after John 7:52. We also know that a later monk knew it did not belong, so he fixed it to stay in line with the proper worship of the church.
This manuscript also shows that there are many, many more manuscripts to discover and countless more interesting things we have to learn from them. Something as ordinary as a replacement leaf invites us back into the history of the Church and into the real world and lives that surrounded the creation of these treasures.
A special thank you is extended to Dr. Joseph Marshall, Norman Rodger, and Susan Pettigrew, as well as the rest of the Centre for Research Collections staff, who made this project possible in the midst of the library’s incredibly busy schedule.