What is a Catena Manuscript and Why should we Care?

I have posted my answers to these questions over on the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog. If you are interested in the Bible’s text history and its history of interpretation, you may want to read this post, which highlights one interesting aspect of it. I include images of a few different manuscripts and provide a modest description of them. Perhaps, you did not know there were two different material layouts of these MSS? I did not either, but I was blessed in the learning.

Tyr 25-2.6-9b

Credit: The image was sent to me by Zisis Melissakis, who prepared the digital images of the MS at the library in Tyrnavos.

John Muir and Discovery

For my birthday, my wife bought me John Muir’s Wilderness Essays. It has a number of gems in it, and I have found the first essay, “Discovery of Glacier Bay,” to be a fascinating description of the method and joy of discovery. Surely, there are analogies to be drawn between the way Muir explores and describes a newly found landscape and the way in which researchers in biblical studies and humanities push back the frontiers of knowledge.

Near the beginning of his exploration of the great glaciers, Muir needs a higher vantage point to obtain knowledge of the natural phenomena he is investigating:

I therefore set out on an excursion, and spent the day alone on the mountain slopes above the camp, and to the north of it, to see what I might learn….But at length the clouds lifted a little, and beneath their gray fringes I saw the berg-filled expanse of the bay, and the feet of the mountains that stand about it, and the imposing fronts of five of the huge glaciers, the nearest being immediately beneath me. This was my first general view of Glacier Bay, a solitude of ice and snow and new-born rocks, dim, dreary, mysterious (p. 9-10).

At this point, Muir grasps the whole landscape. He observes numerous features from a bird’s-eye view as it were. This, we might refer to as, “familiarity.” The rest of the essay is about his “analysis” of the parts that filled his initial vista. He describes the several glaciers he had seen from above and also found other ones as he explored the bay below.

One of his companions inquired why Muir would risk so much, and another calmly replied that he was only seeking knowledge. The first companion commented, “Muir must be a witch to seek knowledge in such a place as this, and in such miserable weather.” All researchers face various hardships, not all of them at the whims of the natural elements. But persistence under hardship often gives way to joyous discovery. In a section too lengthy to cite here, Muir describes the sunrise on a particular morning:

After had seen the unveiling of the majestic peaks and glaciers that evening, and their baptism in the down-pouring sunbeams, it was inconceivable that nature could have anything finer to show us. Nevertheless, compared with what was coming the next morning, all that was as nothing. As far as we could see, the lovely dawn gave no promise of anything uncommon….but in the midst of our studies we were startled by the sudden appearance of a red light burning with a strange, unearthly splendor on the topmost peak of the Fairweather Mountains. Instead of vanishing as suddenly as it had appeared, it spread and spread until the whole range down to the level of the glaciers was filled with the celestial fire….But here the mountains themselves were made divine, and declared his glory in terms still more impressive….We turned and sailed away, joining the outgoing bergs, while ‘Gloria in excelsis’ still seemed to be sounding over all the landscape, and our burning hearts were ready for any fate, feeling that whatever the future might have in store, the treasures we had gained would enrich our lives forever (pp. 17-19).

The whole account is worth reading. Muir’s persistence against the elements had given him a view of the subject which led to great joy and propelled him to continue the expedition no matter the cost.GlacierBay_NPS

Throughout his account of this discovery, Muir says he “was too happy to sleep” (p. 16) or he would only sleep a few hours and then regret he had slept at all (p. 23).

I love the National Parks and the results of Muir’s conservation efforts. I’m excited to read more of his Wilderness Essays to learn more about his experiences of exploration and discovery to see if there are more analogues to my own field of research, and furthermore to get lost in his beautiful prose.

Origen’s Fifth and Sixth Greek Editions

Clay JarsMost readers will be familiar with the Greek version of the Septuagint. Fewer will have heard of the Jewish revisers/translators, Theodotion, Aquila, and Symmachus. I plan to treat these three in more depth from Epiphanius’s vantage point at a later time. But Origen found two or three more translations and called them the Fifth (Quinta), the Sixth (Sexta), and the Seventh (Septima). There are three sources that describe these translations and the chaotic situation in which they were made, hidden, and found in the second and third centuries. It is worth citing and commenting on them in order to learn what we can about these versions. I conclude with a brief example of these versions from Psalm 1:1.

Eusebius of Caesarea (c. 325)

In a context describing Origen’s Hexapla and other versions, he also describes the lesser known translations of the Fifth, the Sixth, and the Seventh (for Psalms at least) which were hidden and then found by Origen.

And in addition to the well-known translations of Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion, he discovered certain others which had been concealed from remote times—in what out-of-the-way corners I know not—and by his search he brought them to light. Since he did not know the authors, he simply stated that he had found this one in Nicopolis near Actium and that one in some other place. In the Hexapla of the Psalms, after the four prominent translations, he adds not only a fifth, but also a sixth and seventh. He states of one of these that he found it in a jar in Jericho in the time of Antoninus, the son of Severus (Historia 6.16; ANFP).

Regarding these translations, Eusebius says that Origen did not know who made them. Furthermore, he does not know exactly where Origen found each of these translations. One came from Nicopolis near Actium and another was found in a jar in Jericho in the time of Antoninus. He does not assign a specific provenance to any of these, some were found in Greece and others were from Israel from places like Jericho.

Epiphanius of Salamis (c. 392)

Around seventy years later, Epiphanius comments on the same discoveries of Origen. He certainly appears to use Eusebius as a source but he either gives his free interpretation of that source or has independent information since his description appears to fill in some details.

Now concerning the Fifth and the Sixth published edition, I am not able to say who translated them or from where, but only that after the persecution of king [Septimius] Severus [reigned 193–211], the Fifth was found in large jars in Jericho, having been hidden in the times of Antoninus the son of Severus who was surnamed both Karakallos and Geta [198–217]…. In his days, as I said before, the books of the Fifth edition were found in large jars in Jericho having been hidden with other Hebrew and Greek books…. In the midst of these years [Alexander, the son of Mamaia; 218–222], the Sixth publication was found and it had been hidden in jars in Nicopolis, the one near Actia (Mens. 18; my translation).

Epiphanius does not know by whom and from where the translations were made. He clearly assigns the Fifth version to the one found at Jericho in large jars where it was hidden with other Hebrew and Greek books. As for the Sixth, that one was found in jars at Nicopolis (in Greece) near Actium. This last part made more certain where each was discovered than Eusebius had appeared to convey earlier. Epiphanius could have misread Eusebius, offered independent interpretation of his work, or had access to other sources of information on this question. It is not clear how he seems to know exactly where Origen found each version.

Hypomnestikon (393–431?)

Another source of information of rather uncertain provenance itself is known as the Hypomnestikon or Joseph’s Bible Notes (thanks to Eva Mroczek for pointing me to this source).

The Fifth edition was found at Jericho, hidden in bronze jars (ἐν πίθοις χαλκοῖς), not being named with regard to the translator. They say that it was translated by a woman, since the jars were found in the house of an attentive woman in sacred literature.

Another Sixth edition was found in Nicopolis near Actium, after the persecution of Severus.

Hypomnestikon follows Epiphanius on where the Fifth and Sixth versions were found. He does add the bit about “bronze” jars. By far, it adds the most information on the Fifth edition in terms of its translator. But it may have conflated some other material in Eusebius (Hypomnestikon, p. 251). Right after Eusebius’s description of Origen’s versions, he adds that Symmachus, who was an Ebionite, wrote commentaries on the Scriptures. Eusebius says that Origen received these books from a certain Juliana, who received these books and others as an inheritance from Symmachus himself. Perhaps, Hypomnestikon has conflated the story of Juliana with the provenance of the Fifth edition. But maybe not. Maybe there were two women. It would be strange for Hypomnestikon not to name the woman translator of the Fifth version, if he thought the name was Juliana from Eusebius. So a certain Juliana could be the woman who supplied Origen with texts of Symmachus as Eusebius says. Another anonymous woman may have translated the Fifth version. We do not know. What is very interesting is that Hypomnestikon actually suggests that a woman was the translator of the Fifth edition and this woman was a student in sacred literature.


Clearly, the situation was very chaotic in the second and third centuries. We read of Jews hiding Hebrew and Greek scriptural books in clay jars during the times of certain Roman emperors and about Origen finding them as they were stored. How old are these versions? We know they are older than Origen’s textual work. Are these versions the same as those that our later sources refer to as Quinta and Sexta? Probably. These Greek versions appear to be revisions of the Septuagint towards the Hebrew, but they didn’t become as popular among the Jews as the big Three. Based on the current evidence, the Fifth and Sixth versions were not complete Greek Bibles. Eusebius mentions these works in reference to the Psalms and most of the extant evidence for them comes from the same book. Perhaps, Origen was only able to find Psalms in these versions and by his time they had already fallen into disuse and therefore were not being copied. The mystery over these editions continues.

One teaser from the Fifth and the Sixth in Psalm 1:1 is interesting to cite here:

Hebrew: אַ֥שְֽׁרֵי־הָאִ֗ישׁ אֲשֶׁ֤ר׀ לֹ֥א הָלַךְ֮ בַּעֲצַ֪ת רְשָׁ֫עִ֥ים

“Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked.”

OG: Μακάριος ἀνήρ, ὃς οὐκ ἐπορεύθη ἐν βουλῇ ἀσεβῶν

“Blessed is a man, who does not walk in counsel of wicked people.”

Ε’. S’. τέλειος ὁ νεώτερος ὃς οὐκ ἀπῆλθεν ἐν βουλῇ ἀλλοτρίων

“Devoted is the young man, who does not depart into counsel of foreign people.”

Several items are of interest. “Blessed” has now been conveyed along the lines of “devotion” or “consecration.” The “man” has been cast in terms of “young man.” Perhaps most interesting the “wicked” or “impious” have now been rendered as “foreigners” or “strangers.” When exegeting the Psalms, it will be of interest to keep an eye on these versions for they offer very interesting interpretations of the Hebrew text. Origen and later Christians were fascinated with these versions that have become largely forgotten today. Our exegesis and textual criticism will become more enriched by the relative few fragments that remain.

Canon, Codex, and Biblical Theory

Codex SinaiticusCanon and Codex. Surely, the alliteration indicates that these ideas are co-extensive, right? Depends on whom one asks. Armin Lange in the same article referenced here says:

I have also referred repeatedly to the invention of the mega-codices as a catalyst in the development of the Christian canon. It was only the mega-codex [full collection of Old and New Testament books] format that made it possible to combine all biblical Scriptures (Old and New Testament) into one book. Consequently, the question of which books should be included in such a mega-codex as the one Bible will have brought the issue of canon to the attention of Christian thinkers and officials…. It is all the more interesting that none of the three preserved mega-codices [Sinaiticus, Vaticanus, Alexandrinus] corresponds precisely in its table of contents with any of the canon lists of the fourth century (pp. 74–5).

In this section, Lange cites an article by Robert Kraft, “The Codex and Canon Consciousness” (pp. 229–33) in the The Canon Debate (among other scholars). I presume he had these thoughts of Kraft in mind:

…I suspect that the new possibility (and concept) effected a major paradigm shift in how Christians henceforth thought about their “Bible” and its canonical cohesiveness. That is, “biblical canon” took on a very concrete meaning in the shadow of the appearance of the Bible as a single book in codex form (p. 230).

And again:

But once it was possible to produce and view (or visualize) “the Bible” under one set of physical covers, the concept of “canon” became concretized in a new way that shapes our thinking to the present day and makes it very difficult to recapture the perspectives of earlier times. “The canon” in this sense is the product of fourth-century technological developments. Before that, it seems to me, things were less “fixed,” and perceptions, accordingly, less concrete (233).

Kraft and Lange, among others we could cite, define the Christian biblical canon in terms of what books were placed between physical covers. No doubt, Christian scribes and bishops made choices on which books to include and exclude from the codex and no doubt the new physical form changed the concept of the Bible. The question, however, pertains to (1) whether codex technology and physical form actually motivated the fixing of the canon in the fourth century and (2) whether the discrete books within the codex were all viewed as having equally authoritative status.

For whatever change in perception of the material form of “the Bible” these developments brought—I assume change in perception did occur—there is very little evidence that would suggest that these codices brought about the fixing or concretizing of the canon. There’s not space to detail the similarity between the few second- and third-century lists and the later fourth-century lists that would actually show a remarkable conservatism (with some change of course) in canon formation in these centuries. Therefore, it remains unclear to me what kind of “change” did occur once Christians put their books between two covers. Certainly, the codex would have come as a wonderful advance from the standpoint of hermeneutics and being able to organize knowledge and concepts more efficiently. But whether it brought development to the canon or not still remains fuzzy and less concrete to me.

Many Eastern lists contain the books of the narrower Hebrew canon (see post on Epiphanius). Some fourth century lists, both Western and Eastern, contain those canonical books and “useful scriptures” in distinct categories. It is probable that the drafters of these canon lists would have no difficulty with codices that contained these books between two covers since the distinctions between books would still be conceptualized. Another possibility could be that the codices agree with later Latin lists which attest the wider canon; that is, they include the six deutercanonical books. But at this point it is insightful to look at the specific books in these codices to see if their compilers considered these deuterocanonical books as stable as the canonical ones.


Codex Sinaiticus: 1. PENTATEUCH (defective); 2. JDG (defective), CHRON (defective) EZRA–NEH, ESTHER, TOBIT, JUDITH, 1 & 4 MACCABEES; 4. ISAIAH, JER + LAM, EZEK (defective), SUS + DANIEL + BEL (defective), THE TWELVE; 3. PSS, PROV, ECCL, SONG, WISDOM, ECCLESIASTICUS, JOB.


The three codices agree on inclusion of Judith, Tobit, Wisdom, and Ben Sira / Ecclesiasticus though not on their order and placement. They do not all contain the books of Maccabees with only two including 1 and 4 Maccabees and only Alexandrinus containing 2–3 Maccabees. The later Latin canon lists of Augustine and Innocent I, for example, do not include 3–4 Maccabees, only 1–2 Maccabees. Thus the codices and those lists do not agree on these books, and therefore the codices may not be a stable guide to canon regarding them. But what about the other four books? It is possible the compilers considered these books canonical because they chose to include them. But in the absence of explicit statements to this effect, it might be more reasonable to conclude with the majority of the canon lists (most of the early ones) that these books are simply useful scriptures and were not considered to be authoritative in matters of doctrine. That is, codex does not equal canon.

Modern canon scholarship has emphasized the codex and manuscripts in general for determining the Christian canon and describing how that canon was conceptualized. No doubt, the invention of the codex brought development to the concept of the Bible. But moderns continue to envision the canon lists in tension with the codex, perhaps irresolvable contradiction (see Lange’s statement above). However, have we committed anachronism? Have we read the canonical significance and conceptualization of our physical Bibles back into the ancients’ codex? If we have, how would we know? The main line of evidence that may offer a corrective and a way forward is the ancients’ statements themselves. Serious consideration of those statements and lists need to be reintroduced into the conversation so that a more balanced and reasonable, though no less complex, picture may emerge.

The Hexapla at SBL 2017 in Boston


Four months from now the Society of Biblical Literature will meet in Boston. Several papers pertain to research on the Hexapla, with a whole session of the IOSCS devoted to the subject. In that section, several members of the Hexapla Institute are giving papers. This a good year for hexaplaric research.

4:00 PM to 7:00 PM
Room: Room TBD – Hotel TBD

Theme: Hexapla

Leonard Greenspoon, Creighton University, Presiding

Andrew McClurg, Grand Canyon University
Origen’s Role as Editor of the Fifth Column of the Hexapla (30 min)

Peter J. Gentry, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
Colophons in Princeton University Library, Scheide Library M150 (30 min)

Pete Myers, University of Cambridge
The Hexaplaric Corrector of 2 Esdras in Sinaiticus (30 min)

Benjamin Kantor, University of Texas at Austin
The Second Column of Origen’s Hexpla in the Quotations of Church Fathers and in the Notes of LXX Manuscripts in Comparison with the Ambrosiana Palimpsest (O 39 Sup.) (30 min)

Reinhart Ceulemans, KU Leuven
Hexaplaric Excavations (30 min)

1:00 PM to 3:30 PM
Room: Room TBD – Hotel TBD

Anneli Aejmelaeus, University of Helsinki, Presiding

Anna Kharanauli, Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University
Hexaplaric Recension or Ekdosis of Alexandrian Grammarian? (30 min)

Richard Saley, Harvard University
Kaige Penetration in 2 Sam 1:1–1 Kgs 2:11 (30 min)

Guy Darshan, Tel Aviv University
The Hapax dunasteumata in 3 Kgdms 2:46c (30 min)

Matthieu Richelle, FLTE
Who were the “worst” of the kings of Israel and Judah? A little-known divergence between MT and LXX (30 min)

Kristin De Troyer , Universität Salzburg
Hexaplaric Readings in Joshua (30 min)

4:00 PM to 6:30 PM
Room: Room TBD – Hotel TBD

Kristin De Troyer, Universität Salzburg, Presiding

Anneli Aejmelaeus, University of Helsinki
Hexaplaric Recension and Hexaplaric Readings in 1 Samuel (30 min)

Natia Mirotadze, Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University
Hexaplaric Grains in the Georgian I Samuel (30 min)

Ki-Min Bang, Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago
The First Source Critic in LXX 1Samuel 17 (30 min)

Debra Scoggins Ballentine, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
“They Smote Him in the Fifth”: The Rhetorical Work of an Uncommon Phrase in 2 Samuel (30 min)

Brill’s Textual History of the Bible

THBOver at Evangelical Textual Criticism I summarize the aims and purpose of the Textual History of the Bible. I have mentioned THB‘s article on the Canon of the Hebrew Bible elsewhere on my blog. I do not review this work. I am only interested in drawing attention to a current tour de force in Hebrew Bible research that has potential (despite its outrageous cost) to update the state of the question of textual research. I hope it’s helpful to that end.