Codex Bezae—A Unique Manuscript
THÉODORE DE BÈZE, a noted French scholar of the Christian Greek Scriptures, was a close associate and successor of the Protestant reformer John Calvin. In the year 1562, Beza, as he is more commonly known, brought to light an unusual ancient manuscript. He claimed to have obtained it from the monastery of “Saint” Irenaeus in Lyons, France, after the city had been sacked by the Huguenots. Its place of origin is obscure, but North Africa or Egypt is the most likely source.
The codex measures ten by eight inches [25 by 20 cm] and is generally acknowledged to date from the fifth century C.E., a little later than the Sinaitic, the Vatican, and the Alexandrine manuscripts. It consists of 406 leaves and contains only the four Gospels and Acts of Apostles, with some gaps. But the Codex Bezae may originally have included other letters, for there is a fragment of the third letter of John. The Gospels of Matthew and John precede those of Luke and Mark.
The manuscript is an early example of a bilingual text, with Greek on the left page and Latin on the right. It is probably a copy of a papyrus manuscript with an early text, similar to some other papyri of the third or fourth centuries known as P29, P38, and P48.
Written in bold, elegant uncials (capitals), the Codex Bezae is not continuous on the page. It is set in lines of uneven length, so that the end of each line represents a pause in reading. The Latin is curiously written in the style of Greek lettering, and the text has been adjusted to Greek readings in many cases. The Greek text, on the other hand, is quite distinctive and has been corrected by many hands, including those of the original scribe.
The Codex Bezae has the official designation “D.” It is very different from and independent of all other major manuscripts. As footnotes in the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures indicate, the codex sometimes agrees and at other times disagrees with the Sinaitic (א), the Vatican (B), and the Alexandrine (A) codices. The great value of this codex lies in its confirmation of other important manuscripts rather than in its peculiarities of omissions and additions.—See footnotes in the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures—With References, at Matthew 23:14; 24:36; 27:49; Mark 7:16; 9:44, 46; 11:26; Luke 15:21; John 5:4.
Despite some unusual readings and variants, Codex Bezae is another fine evidence of the preservation of the Bible until our day.
[Picture Credit Lines on page 24]
Above: By permission of the Syndics of Cambridge University Library
Left: Courtesy of the Trustees of the British Museum