Saturday, February 19, 2011

Codex Alexandrinus - palaeographic dating of the text

The Catholic Encyclopedia (Vol.IV, 1908) tells us:
"The manuscript is written in uncial characters in a hand at once firm, elegant, simple; the greater part of Volume III is ascribed by Gregory to a different hand from that of the others; two hands are discerned in the New Testament by Woide, three by Sir E. Maunde Thompson and Kenyon -- experts differ on these points. 
The handwriting is generally judged to belong to the beginning or middle of the 5th century or possibly to the late 4th." (Article - John Francis Fenion)
This much is generally agreed upon, with a nominal date set at about 440 A.D. or later.  Why is this important?  Because dating the calligraphic style of Alexandrinus will have a significant impact on dating other manuscripts.

Other grounds for dating Alexandrinus will be considered later.  Our interest is in the handwriting style and layout, standardized practices that extend across regions and change over time, helping to define the history of the calligraphic appearance of all manuscripts made at various times.

Since several hands  have been discerned, it is worth our while to look at the appearance of various parts of the manuscript.

Matthew (folio GA-02-002a [NT])
Click for Enlarged view - use backbutton to get back

 Mark (GA-02-0021a)

From the pictures we can see an artistic style involving enlarged first letters of paragraphs or verses, with the Ammonian Sections and Eusebian Canons (marginal notes and titles) working around this technique.  The purpose of the enlargements is to make it easier to locate places in the text and make the manuscript more pleasant to look at in practical (ecclesiastical) use.  This practice of enlarging and "outsetting" the first letter of a line completely is a later practice, and can help date the manuscript, providing a "no earlier than" cut-off point for this and similar texts.

Other more ancient and longstanding practices are visible in these samples, such as the shrinking of final letters to fit syllables on a line.   Although an attempt is made here to keep the right margin of each column tidy as well as the left, one can say that this manuscript would be classed as "left-justified" rather than "fully justified" in layout.  It is however far closer to the full-justification styles of Codex Vaticanus and Sinaiticus than it is to the wild right margin of Codex Bezae.   These features are less important then than other features for dating the manuscript more precisely.


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