The Great Uncial Codices

These are manuscripts of the complete New Testament, indeed, of the complete Bible, since they include the Greek Old Testament, known as the "Septuagint." They date from the fourth century onward and some of them include books excluded from the canon of Athanasius (discussed in Appendix 1). They are written on parchment in uncial characters (large or "capital" letters) and are designated by letters, or by numbers prefixed by a zero, since scholars have run out of alphabets! Some of the more important are the following.

S 01 Codex Sinaiticus (middle fourth century).

This manuscript was discovered by Konstantin von Tischendorf in the monastery of Saint Catherine at the foot of Mount Sinai in the period 1844-1859.' Its subsequent preservation for the world of scholarship was a dramatic and fitting climax to Tischendorf's life-long devotion to the search for and evaluation of manuscripts of the Greek New Testament. This codex is the greatest of the uncials since it is the only one in which the New Testament is completely preserved. It also includes the epistle of Bamabas and the Shepherd of Hermas. Enamored of his discovery and recognizing its value, Tischendorf designated it Aleph, the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, since Roman A was already used to designate Alexandrinus. Today, since Hebrew characters are often unavailable to printers and are not recognized by most readers, it is often designated S (for Sinaiticus).

A 02 Codex Alexandrinus (early fifth century).

This manuscript originally contained the Old Testament, the New Testament, I and 2 Clement, and the Psalms of Solomon (a collection of noncanonical Jewish psalms composed shortly before the time of Jesus). Originally kept in Alexandria, it was presented to Charles I of England in 1627 and is now in the British Museum

B 03 Codex Vaticanus (early fourth century).

This codex, which originally contained the whole Greek Bible, is the earliest of the great uncials. It has been in the Vatican Library in Rome since before the publication of the first catalogue of that library in 1475; no one knows how it came to be there in the first place.

D 05 Codex Bezae (fifth or sixth century).

Another manuscript with a dramatic history, this one, which contains the gospels and Acts, first appears in the hands of the bishop of Clermont at the Council of Trent, where it was used by that worthy in an attempt to lay a biblical foundation for celibacy. (At John 21:22, D reads: "if I wish him to remain thus until I Come." It is the only Greek manuscript that has "thus" in this passage, although this reading is found in the Latin Vulgate.) After a subsequent checkered history the manuscript finally came into the possession of Theodore Beza, the heir of John Calvin in Geneva, who presented it to Cambridge University in 1581. It's important to scholar in two respects. First, it is the earliest known New Testament manuscript written in both Greek and Latin, having a Greek text and a Latin translation on facing pages. Second, the text of the books it contains is very different from that of other Greek manuscripts. This text--called "Western" because it has much common with some Latin versions that come from the West--has presented and continues to present, a major problem to critics attempting to reconstruct the original text of the gospels and Acts.