A New Gospel Manuscript in Athens?

In my last post I mentioned a newly discovered apostolos manuscript, found glued to the inside of the front and back covers of a codex (NLG 2676). This blog is about another manuscript inside another codex. This time the codex is Lectionary 1816, a 12th century parchment manuscript of the Gospels with 154 leaves. The National Library of Greece in Athens assigns it the shelf number 2711.

The new discovery, however, is not a couple of leaves glued to inside of the covers; rather, it is several reinforcing strips glued to the inner margin of bifolia (double-leaves) near the beginning of the codex.

The reinforcing strips are from a parchment manuscript which was a two-column text. It was probably written in the 12th or 13th century. The strips are found on bifolio 2a–5b, leaves 2b–3a, leaf 4a, leaves 4b–5a, and leaf 6a.

Some of the strips have only one or two letters of material per line, while others have as many as six letters per line. One of the strips is at the beginning of the line, revealing the initial letters on each line of the column.

So far, sections from Luke 1 have been identified. One section is apparently from Luke 1.57–61. The image is below.

NLG 2711_new MS strip_Luke 1

Binding strip in NLG 2711

(iPhone picture)

The text of this strip is as follows:





τι ε
















Reconstructed with the surrounding text (with the number of letters in brackets), we get:

1) πλησθη ο χρονος του τε- [18]                                    Luke 1.57

γειν αυτην, και εγε- [15]

ννησεν υιον. Και ηκου- [17]

σαν οι περιοικοι και [17]                                            Luke 1.58

5) ηση [??]………….ο-

τι εμεγαλυνεν κς το [16]

ελεος αυτου μετ αυτης, [18]

και συνεχαιρον αυτη. [17]

και εγενετο εν τη ογ- [16]                                          Luke 1.59

10) δοη ημερα, ηλθον [13?]

περιτεμειν το παιδι- [17]

ον· και εκαλουν αυτο επι [19]

τω ονοματι του πρς αυ- [17]

του Ζαχα- [7??]

15) ριαν. και αποκριθει- [16]                                            Luke 1.60

σα η μηρ αυτου ειπεν [16]

οὐχι αλλα κληθησεται [18]

ιωαννης. και ειπον προς [19]                                     Luke 1.61

αυτην οτι ουδεις εστιν [19]

20) εν τη συγγενεια σου ος [18]

καλειται τω ονοματι του- [—]

Please excuse the formatting of the above reconstruction. I think you can get the idea though, especially since these letters are at the beginning of a new line.

For 17 of the 21 lines, the text is clearly from Luke 1.57–61. And there is no other text that even comes close. It surely must be that this is that passage throughout the strip. The average line (not counting lines 5, 14, or 21 since their quantities are unknown) is 17 letters long, running between as low as possibly 13 up to 19 letters. But four lines are a puzzle.

Problems for Identification

First, line 2 has γειν for κειν(?)—in τεκειν, an unattested reading.

Second, line 5 begins with ἠση. Whether this is one word or two is not known, but either way it does not fit in with Luke 1.58 at all. What should be on this line is οι συγγενεις αυτης ο-. The smooth breathing (ἠ) indicates the beginning of a word, which eliminates the possibility (remote as it was anyway) that the scribe’s eye skipped over a column or two of the manuscript of his exemplar and wrote ηση (the end of κληθηση in Luke 1.76). Further, whatever he is doing, he seems to pick back up with the οτι of 1.58, since it is split over two lines with the τι beginning line 6. Another possibility that should be ruled out is a spelling change: although οι and η sounded alike in this era, as did υ and η, it would be both completely unattested and not in character with the rest of this strip for the scribe to have written ἠ σηγγενεις instead of οἱ συγγενεις—a double misspelling! This solution simply looks too convenient to be convincing. The breathing, however, is not a problem since medieval scribes routinely mixed up the smooth and rough breathings.

Third, line 10 is unusually short, with only 13 letters. Now, it is just possible that the scribe wrote εν τη ογδοη τη ημερα over the two lines. This is both unattested and a nonsense reading, but the repetition of eta in four words successively might have caused a kind of dittography. This would bring the line to 15 letters. Alternatively, the scribe might have added εις το before the infinitive on this line, thus creating an 18-letter line. But this, too, is unattested.

Fourth, the 14th line seems to have had only του Ζαχα- on it, for the ρι that begins line 15 has the acute accent, indicating that it is part of Ζαχαρίαν rather than αποκριθεισα—which in any event is unlikely both because of the disruption this would cause to the surrounding lines and because of the very unnatural word break. But if line 14 only has του Ζαχα-, it is a seven-letter line. Why so short? One could understand line 14 ending with Ζαχαριαν, since the next verse could begin a new section. But why break the last word of v. 59 over two lines?

For these four problems, I have no ready solution. I hope that one or two of the readers of this blog will be able to offer an explanation to these conundrums.


There are 29 extant double-column Greek New Testament manuscripts from the 12th to the 14th century with Luke in them, only five of which are lectionaries. Most likely, this is the 30th such manuscript and probably a minuscule rather than a lectionary (based strictly on statistical probability). When all the photographs of the strips in NLG 2711 are made available, surely more text will come to light. Perhaps the other strips will also resolve some of the issues we have already mentioned, and help us come to firmer conclusions about what, exactly, this manuscript is, and why especially it deviates from Luke 1.58 so radically at one point.


26 thoughts on “A New Gospel Manuscript in Athens?

  1. Terri Moore

    The beginning of line 2 is difficult to see. Are we sure it is a gamma? It’s certainly not a a kappa, but could it be a tau?


    1. Terri, I think you may be right. I made that decision in haste, as I am looking through hundreds of pages of MSS every day and writing up quickly what I’m finding. Thanks!


  2. This is of course just conjecture, and dittography may be more likely, but what if the nonsense reading “εν τη ογδοη τη ημερα” were really based on a earlier manuscript somewhere down the line that read “εν τη ημερα τη ογδοη” (i.e., “in the day the eighth”)?

    For the life of me, I can rarely remember what the technical name for that construction is called [article+noun+article+adjective modifying the noun] (some kind of attributive?), but at least it would not be a nonsense reading.

    This does make me wonder how many (if any) known manuscripts have that reading “εν τη ημερα τη ογδοη” there in Luke 1.

    At any rate, keep up the good work, Dr. Wallace. We really enjoy reading your updates.


    1. Quite a few MSS have the reading εν τη ημερα τη ογδοη in Luke 1.59 (e.g., P4 א B C W 13 69 565 etc.). The problem is, that reading won’t work here. I suspect it is possible, however, that the scribe transposed the ημερα and ογδοη, thus creating the nonsense reading. 579* has εν τη ημερα ογδοη, which also is a nonsense reading. If there is such a transposition here, it would create a 15-letter line, in keeping with the line-size throughout the strip.

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  3. I’m new to all of this, but very interested in the 200AD manuscripts found. Have they been published, any info greatly appreciated. I was told John MacArthur wrote a new bible with the findings of this manuscript in text. Please assist for any info. Melissa in San Diego.


  4. Thank you Prof. Wallace,
    This is so interesting. Wish I could add anything useful to your conundrum.
    May you discover many more new manuscripts! Keep up the good work, and thank you for keeping us in the loop.
    God bless you all there in Athens!


  5. Wieland

    Perhaps the first H is actually a OI?
    I wouldn’t base anything on the accent.

    And what follows some strange form of SUGGENEIS, perhaps SIGG…?


    1. Wieland, in light of the glob at the first vertical line on the eta, this is a distinct possibility. I think it deserves a vid! In that case, the possibility of σηγγενεις/ would mean that there was only one misspelling here, and one that would conform to medieval phonology. I have seen some medieval MSS that change the spelling toward the current phonology, even in titles! Thus, we get εβαγγελιον κατα Μαρκων instead of ευαγγελιον κατα Μαρκον (in a MS I examined a few weeks ago at the NLG).


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    1. It’s just a small strip of a medieval MS, Dominic. I wrote the blog to illustrate simply that some MS fragments, which have previously not been noted in any literature, can be analyzed and often identified.


  7. 12) ον· και εκαλουν αυ- [14]
    13) τω επι το ονοματι [14]
    14) του πρς αυτου Ζαχα- [15]
    15) ριαν. και αποκριθει- [16]

    Strange, I know, but the omicron and omega are frequently interchanged. The spelling above is precisely that of 0211 in this place, and could easily correspond with the minuscule here.


  8. Friends, with the suggestions by Terri Moore, Z. E. Kendall, Wieland Willker, and Jonathan Borland, I believe that ALL of the identification problems have been solved! Thank you so much for your help. I am reminded by the dialogue that textual criticism nowadays must be done in community, and you all have demonstrated that well. The one question that remains is whether this is a lectionary or a minuscule. Although it was most certainly a two-column MS, we have far more two-column minuscules from this period than lectionaries. There are more strips in this MS that will need to be analyzed to make a final determination. Unfortunately, working 14-hour days on all of the NLG MSS, six days a week, doesn’t afford me the time for examining this MS further for some time. I believe that by the end of the year images of NLG 2711 will be posted at http://www.csntm.org, so others can then weigh in on this MS.


  9. Earl Morton

    Thank you all for letting me eavesdrop on this fascinating bit of your work. I had a brief unit on textual criticism as part of my NT Greek major almost 40 years ago, and although I understood the general principles, it wasn’t enough to do anything practical with. Textual criticism has always seemed very mysterious to me. This enlightening little investigation reinforces the great respect I have for the real-world work you do.

    Earl Morton


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