Biblical Literature

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Critical scholarship

Textual criticism of the Greek New Testament attempts to come as near as possible to the original manuscripts (which did not survive), based on reconstructions from extant manuscripts of various ages and locales. Assessment of the individual manuscripts and their relationships to each other can produce a fairly reliable text from various readings that may have been the result of copying and recopying of manuscripts. It is not always age that matters. Older manuscripts may be corrupt, and a reading in a later manuscript may in reality be ancient. No single witness or group of witnesses is reliable in all its readings.

When Erasmus, the Dutch Humanist, prepared the Greek text for the first printed edition (1516) of the New Testament, he depended on a few manuscripts of the type that had dominated the church's manuscripts for centuries and that had had its origin in Constantinople. His edition was produced hastily, he even translated some parts for which he did not have a Greek text from Jerome's Latin text (Vulgate). In about 1522 Cardinal Francisco Jiménez, a Spanish scholarly churchman, published his Complutensian Polyglot at Alcalá (Latin: Complutum), Spain, a Bible in which parallel columns of the Old Testament are printed in Hebrew, the Vulgate, and the Septuagint (LXX), together with the Aramaic Targum (translation or paraphrase) of Onkelos to the Pentateuch with a translation into Latin. The Greek New Testament was volume 5 of this work, and the text tradition behind it cannot be determined with any accuracy. During the next decades new editions of Erasmus' text profited from more and better manuscript evidence and the printer Robert Estienne of Paris produced in 1550 the first text with a critical apparatus (variant readings in various manuscripts). This edition became influential as a chief witness for the Textus Receptus (the received standard text) that came to dominate New Testament studies for more than 300 years. This Textus Receptus is the basis for all the translations in the churches of the Reformation, including the King James Version.

Large extensive New Testament critical editions prepared by the German scholars C. von Tischendorf (1869-72) and H. von Soden (1902-13) had Sigla (signs) for the various textual witnesses; they are complex to use and different from each other. The current system, a revision by an American scholar, C.R. Gregory (adopted in 1908), though not uncomplicated has made uniform practice possible. A more pragmatic method of designation and rough classification was that of the Swiss scholar J.J. Wettstein's edition (1751-52). His textual apparatus was relatively uncomplicated. He introduced the use of capital Roman, Greek, or Hebrew letters for uncials and Arabic numbers for minuscules. Later, a Gothic P with exponents came into use for papyri and, in the few cases needed, Gothic or Old English O and T with exponents for ostraca and talismans (engraved amulets). Lectionaries are usually designated by an italicized lowercase l with exponents in Arabic numbers.

Known ostraca--i.e., broken pieces of pottery (or potsherds) inscribed with ink--contain short portions of six New Testament books and number about 25. About nine talismans date from the 4th to 12th centuries; they are good-luck charms with a few verses on parchment, wood, or papyrus. Four of these contain the Lord's Prayer. These short portions of writing, however, are hardly of significance for a study of the New Testament textual tradition.

Texts and manuscripts

In referring to manuscript text types by their place of origin, one posits the idea that the major centers of Christendom established more or less standard texts: Alexandria; Caesarea and Antioch (Eastern); Italy and Gallia plus Africa (Western); Constantinople, the home for the Byzantine text type or the Textus Receptus. While such a geographical scheme has become less accurate or helpful, it still serves as a rough classification of text types.


The main uncials known in the 17th and 18th centuries were: A, D, Dp, Ea, and C.

A, Codex Alexandrinus, is an early-5th-century manuscript containing most of the New Testament but with lacunae (gaps) in Matthew, John, and II Corinthians, plus the inclusion of the extracanonical I and II Clement. In the Gospels, the text is of the Byzantine type, but, in the rest of the New Testament, it is Alexandrian. In 1627 the A uncial was presented to King Charles I of England by the Patriarch of Constantinople; it has been in the British Museum, in London, since 1751.

D, Codex Bezae Cantabrigiensis, is a 5th-century Greco-Roman bilingual text (with Greek and Latin pages facing each other). D contains most of the four Gospels and Acts and a small part of III John and is thus designated Dea (e, for evangelia, or "gospels"; and a for acta, or Acts). In Luke, and especially in Acts, Dea has a text that is very different from other witnesses. Codex Bezae has many distinctive longer and shorter readings and seems almost to be a separate edition. Its Acts, for example, is one-tenth longer than usual. D represents the Western text tradition. Dea was acquired by Theodore Beza, a Reformed theologian and classical scholar, in 1562 from a monastery in Lyon (in France). He presented it to the University of Cambridge, England, in 1581 (hence, Beza Cantabrigiensis).

Dp, Codex Claromontanus, of the same Western text type although not remarkably dissimilar from other known texts, contains the Pauline Letters including Hebrews. Dp (p, for Pauline epistles) is sometimes referred to as D2. Beza acquired this 6th-century manuscript at about the same time as Dea, but Dp was from the Monastery of Clermont at Beauvais (hence, Claramontanus). It is now in the Bibliothèque Nationale, in Paris.

Ea, Codex Laudianus, is a bilingual Greco-Latin text of Acts presented in 1636 by Archbishop Laud, an Anglican churchman, to the Bodleian Library at Oxford. It is a late-6th- or early-7th-century manuscript often agreeing with Dea and its Western readings but also having a mixture of text types, often the Byzantine.

C, Codex Ephraemi Syri rescriptus, is a palimpsest. Originally written as a biblical manuscript in the 5th century, it was erased in the 12th century, and the treatises or sermons of Ephraem Syrus, a 4th-century Syrian Church Father, were written over the scraped text. The manuscript was found c. 1700 by the French preacher and scholar Pierre Allix; and Tischendorf, with the use of chemical reagents, later deciphered the almost 60 percent of the New Testament contained in it, publishing it in 1843. The text had two correctors after the 5th century but is, on the whole, Byzantine and reflects the not too useful common text of the 9th century.

Although there are numerous minuscules (and lectionaries), their significance in having readings going back to the first six centuries AD was not noted until textual criticism had become more refined in later centuries.

The main uncials and some significant minuscules that were discovered and investigated in the 19th century changed the course of the textual criticism and led the way to better manuscript evidence and methods of dealing with it. This has continued into the 20th century. The main new manuscript witnesses are designated or S, B, W, and .

or S, Codex Sinaiticus, was discovered in 1859 by Tischendorf at the Monastery of St. Catherine at the foot of Mt. Sinai (hence, Sinaiticus) after a partial discovery of 43 leaves of a 4th-century biblical codex there in 1844. Though some of the Old Testament is missing, a whole 4th-century New Testament is preserved, with the Letter of Barnabas and most of the Shepherd of Hermas at the end. There were probably three hands and several later correctors. Tischendorf convinced the monks that giving the precious manuscript to Tsar Alexander II of Russia would grant them needed protection of their abbey and the Greek Church. Tischendorf subsequently published (S) at Leipzig and then presented it to the Tsar. The manuscript remained in Leningrad until 1933, during which time the Oxford University Press in 1911 published a facsimile of the New Testament from photographs of the manuscript taken by Kirsopp Lake, an English biblical scholar. The manuscript was sold in 1933 by the Soviet regime to the British Museum for £100,000. The text type of is in the Alexandrian group, although it has some Western readings. Later corrections representing attempts to alter the text to a different standard probably were made about the 6th or 7th century at Caesarea.

B, Codex Vaticanus, a biblical manuscript of the mid-4th century in the Vatican Library since before 1475, appeared in photographic facsimile in 1889-90 and 1904. The New Testament lacks Hebrews from chapter 9, verse 14, on the Pastorals, Philemon, and Revelation. Because B has no ornamentation, some scholars think it slightly older than . Others, however, believe that both B and , having predominantly Alexandrian texts, may have been produced at the same time when Constantine ordered 50 copies of the Scriptures. As an early representation of the Alexandrian text, B is invaluable as a most trustworthy ancient Greek text.

W, Codex Washingtonianus (or Freerianus), consists of the four Gospels in the so-called Western order (Matthew, John, Luke, and Mark, as Dea). It was acquired in Egypt by C.L. Freer, an American businessman and philanthropist (hence, the Freer-Gospels), in 1906 and is now in the Freer Gallery of Art of the Smithsonian Institution, in Washington, D.C. Codex Washingtonianus is a 4th-5th-century manuscript probably copied from several different manuscripts or textual families. The Byzantine, Western (similar to Old Latin), Caesarean, and Alexandrian text types are all represented at one point or another. One of the most interesting variant readings is a long ending to the Gospel According to Mark following a reference to the risen Christ (not found in most manuscript traditions).

The Codex Koridethianus, is a 9th-century manuscript taking its name from the place of the scribe's monastery, Koridethi, in the Caucasus Mountains, near the Caspian Sea. contains the Gospels; Matthew, Luke, and John have a text similar to most Byzantine manuscripts, but the text of Mark is similar to the type of text that Origen and Eusebius used in the 3rd-4th centuries, a Caesarean type. The manuscript is now in Tbilisi, capital city of the Republic of Georgia.

Contents of this article:

Influence and significance
Historical and cultural importance
In Judaism
In Christianity
Major themes and characteristics
On Western civilization
On the modern secular age
Old Testament canon, texts, and versions
The canon
The Hebrew canon
The number of books
The tripartite canon
The history of canonization
The divisions of the TaNaKh
The Torah
The Nevi'im
The Ketuvim
The Samaritan canon
The Alexandrian canon
The canon at Qumran.
The Christian canon
Texts and versions
Textual criticism: manuscript problems
Problems resulting from aural conditioning
Problems visual in origin
Exegetical problems
Deliberate changes
Textual criticism: scholarly problems
Texts and manuscripts
Sources of the Septuagint
The Samaritan Pentateuch
The Qumran texts and other scrolls
Masoretic texts
Collations of the Masoretic materials
Printed editions
Early versions
The Aramaic Targums
The Septuagint (LXX)
The version of Aquila
The revision of Theodotion
The translation of Symmachus
Origen's Hexapla
Manuscripts and printed editions of the Septuagint
Coptic versions
The Armenian version
The Georgian version
The Ethiopic version
The Gothic version
The Old Latin version
Versions after the 4th century
The Vulgate
Syriac versions
Arabic versions
Later and modern versions: English
Anglo-Saxon versions
Anglo-Norman versions
The Wycliffite versions
English translations after the Reformation
The translation of William Tyndale
The translation of Miles Coverdale
The Thomas Matthew version
The Great Bible
The Geneva Bible
The Bishops' Bible
The Douai-Reims Bible
The King James and subsequent versions
The King James (Authorized) Version
The English Revised Version
The American Standard Version
The Revised Standard Version
Jewish versions
The New English Bible
Catholic versions
Later and modern versions: Dutch, French, and German
Dutch versions
French versions
German versions
Greek, Hungarian, Italian, and Portuguese translations
Greek versions
Hungarian versions
Italian versions
Portuguese versions
Scandinavian, Slavic, Spanish, and Swiss translations
Scandinavian versions
Slavic versions
Spanish versions
Swiss versions
Non-European versions
Old Testament history
Early developments
Background and beginnings
Exodus and conquest
The tribal league
The united monarchy
From the period of the divided monarchy through the restoration
The divided monarchy: from Jeroboam I to the Assyrian conquest
The final period of the kingdom of Judah
The Babylonian Exile and the restoration
Old Testament literature
The Torah (Law, Pentateuch, or Five Books of Moses)
Composition and authorship
The documentary hypothesis
Other Pentateuchal theories
The primeval history
The patriarchal narratives
Redemption and revelation
Instructions on the Tabernacle
Offerings, sacrifices, and priestly worship
Purification laws
The Holiness Code
Commutation of vows and tithes
The conclusion of the Sinai sojourn
Wanderings in the desert of Paran
Events in Edom and Moab
Deuteronomy: Introductory discourse
Special nature and problems
First introductory discourse of Moses
Second introductory discourse
Deuteronomy: the lawbook and the conclusion
The lawbook
Concluding exhortation and traditions about the last days of Moses
The Nevi'im (the Prophets)
The canon of the Prophets
Hebrew prophecy
The conquest of Canaan
Division of the land and renewal of the Covenant
Judges: background and purpose
The Deuteronomic "theology of history"
Canaanite culture and religion
Judges: importance and role
The role of the judges
The role of certain lesser judges
The roles of Deborah, Gideon, and Jephthah
The role of Samson
Samuel: Israel under Samuel and Saul
Theological and political biases
The role of Samuel
The rise and fall of Saul
Samuel: the rise and significance of David
Early reign of David
The expansion of the Davidic Empire
Kings: background and Solomon's reign
The succession of Solomon to the throne
The reign of Solomon
Kings: Solomon's successors
The divided monarchy
The significance of Elijah
Kings: the second book
The significance of Elisha
The fall of Israel
The fall of Judah
The prophecies of First Isaiah
The prophecies of Deutero-Isaiah
The oracles of Trito-Isaiah
Ezekiel--the man and his message
Prophetic themes and actions
Oracles of hope
The first six minor prophets
The last six minor prophets
The Ketuvim
The Megillot (the Scrolls)
Song of Solomon
Lamentations of Jeremiah
Book of Esther
Ezra, Nehemiah, and Chronicles
Intertestamental literature
Nature and significance
Texts and versions
Persian and Hellenistic influences
Apocryphal writings
Apocryphal works indicating Persian influence
The Story of Ahikar