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The Demise of Codex 1799

A graduate of Princeton University in the early nineteenth century, Robert Garrett, acquired a medieval copy of Paul’s letters, Hebrews, Acts, and the Catholic letters from Mt. Athos in 1830. His estate later donated this manuscript to Princeton University. The manuscript was produced in the twelfth or thirteenth century on parchment. It was meant as something of a pocket Bible, measuring only 13.9 x 10.3 centimeters. The leaves are very fine vellum, extraordinarily thin. Housed in the Special Collections room of the Princeton University’s Firestone Library with the shelf number Garrett 8, it had only briefly been mentioned in works dealing with New Testament manuscripts.

According to J. K. Elliott’s Bibliography of New Testament Manuscripts, 2nd edition (Cambridge, 2005), the latest published discussions of this manuscript was in Kenneth W. Clark’s Eight American Praxapostoloi in 1941.

Kurt Aland’s Kurzgefasste Liste des griechischen Handschriften der Neuen Testaments, 2nd edition (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1994), the standard tool that indicates the location, contents, date, and other pertinent information of all known Greek New Testament manuscripts, put the location in parentheses and said that the manuscript was “verbrannt” or burnt. The Internet update to the Kurzgefasste Liste claims that the manuscript is now “zerstört”—destroyed. But just as when Mark Twain presumably proclaimed, after reading his obituary in a newspaper, “Reports of my demise have been greatly exaggerated,” so too the demise of codex 1799 is exaggerated. (Twain actually wrote, “This report of my death was an exaggeration.”)

I examined the manuscript on Thursday, 16 August 2012 for about an hour. It is true that the manuscript has been burned. It is also true that many of the leaves stick together, most likely from the heat melting the ink. But it is still completely intact. It needs to be restored, but it is not gone forever—not by a long shot. In fact, it is mentioned in some detail in Greek Manuscripts at Princeton: Sixth to Nineteenth Century, by Sofia Kotzabassi and Nancy Patterson Ševčenko, with the collaboration of Don Skemer (Princeton University Press, 2010). Mr. Skemer in fact wrote to me and said he had no idea why anyone would ever think the manuscript had been destroyed.

I am grateful to Mr. Skemer, the Curator of Manuscripts at the Firestone Library, and his assistant, Charles Greene, for granting us access to this and other manuscripts in the Special Collection. And I am thrilled that a presumably dead manuscript has come back to life!

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7 comments on “The Demise of Codex 1799

  1. Thanks, Dr. Wallace! I eagerly anticipate each new blog post of yours. I find your writings fresh, relevant and edifying. I regularly share content fro your posts with friends and when I teach Sunday School at my local church.

    Please keen them coming!

  2. Dan, any idea when or how the manuscript was burned? Does Princeton intend to restore the manuscript?

    • Bobby, I don’t have that information. It was burned around the edges and the pages were semi-glued via ink to one another. But most of the leaves could be pulled apart without any problem. And no text was destroyed. I don’t know if the university plans to restore it.

  3. Can you briefly describe what needs to be done in order to restore it? How might they separate the pages that are stuck together without harming the pages and the text?

    • That’s an excellent question. I’m not a conservator, so I can’t speak with any authority on the matter, but I do know that steam has been used successfully in the past to separate leaves without damaging the MS.

  4. Thank you Dr. Wallace for this very interesting blog, I enjoy your down to earth way of dealing with things, making it understandable, that are sometimes way over the average person’s head.

    Keep up the good work
    Shalom!

  5. Klaus Wachtel also mentions 1799 as a core member of the Harclensis Group of Greek MSS. See par. 6: http://rosetta.reltech.org/TC/v07/SWH2002

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