Codex Vaticanus B

Codex Vaticanus B

Egypt or Palestine — 4th century

A unique testimony from the 4th century: the oldest complete Greek manuscript of the Old Testament and perhaps the best version of the Septuagint

  1. Together with the Codex Sinaiticus, the Codex Vaticanus is considered to be the most important Greek manuscript of the Bible

  2. The Old Testament is almost completely preserved, and the New Testament is only missing a section of Hebrews 9:14

  3. The 733 folios are written inbiblical uncial, probably by two or more scribes

Codex Vaticanus B

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  1. Description
  2. Detail Picture
  3. Single Page
  4. Facsimile Editions (1)
Description
Codex Vaticanus B

This codex is not only a precious remnant of Late Antiquity but is also one of the earliest and most important specimens of the complete Christian Bible. Created at the end of the 8th century, likely in Constantinople, it was regarded as "the oldest extant copy of the Bible" before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1946/47. The text is written in uncial script without any spacing or punctuation and was likely created by a team of skilled artists. Various amendments and notations date were added over the centuries, and the text was partially restored by a masterful hand during the 15th century when it also came into the possession of the Vatican Library, where it remains today.

Codex Vaticanus B

One of the most important witnesses to the Greek text of the New Testament: the so-called Codex Vaticanus B. The most widely sold editions of the Greek New Testament are largely based on the 4th century text, which was regarded as "the oldest extant copy of the Bible" before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1946/47. Furthermore, it is one of the most beautiful examples of an uncial manuscript from Late Antiquity and encompasses both the Old and New testaments. Uncial is a majuscule script (written entirely in capital letters) commonly used by Latin and Greek scribes between the 4th to 8th centuries. Lacking any spacing or punctuation, uncial was gradually replaced by more easily read textual forms in the course of the Middle Ages.

A Gem of the Vatican Library

Although known under different shelf marks such as Vat. gr. 1209, no. B, or 03 Gregory-Aland δ 1 von Soden, this manuscript has safely resided in the Vatican Library since the 15th century, when it was partially restored, although it is still missing some original leaves. Various glosses, corrections, and additions to the text were made in successive centuries and suggest regular use of the Codex Vaticanus B throughout its existence. The text of both Testaments was partially restored by a masterful hand during the 15th century, and some of the texts for the New Testament have been separately stored under the shelf mark Codex 1957.

The Work of Many Hands

Research indicates that the Codex Vaticanus B is the work of at least three scribes who were possibly supervised by a pair of editors, although scholars have postulated various places of origin for the manuscript ranging from Rome to Alexandria to Caesarea Maritima, a city on the Mediterranean coast of modern Israel. Although this is still hotly contested among scholars, some believe these amendments were made in the course of the 10th or 11th centuries by an extremely talented scribe who used the fullness of his abilities to replicate the original text from Late Antiquity. The cursive writing that appears in the margins is believed to have been added during the 12th century. Nevertheless, the manuscript has signs of extensive and regular use over the centuries, but when and where is still up to debate.

Beautiful Uncial Text

Arranged in three columns, the lettering is tidy and without ornamentation, lacking any form of punctuation except for accents made on iotas and upsilons by later scholars. The codex was likely stored in Caesarea during the 6th century and shares stylistic similarities with the Codex Sinaiticus, especially with regard to the Book of Acts. Its existence was first acknowledged during the 16th century in the correspondence that occurred between Erasmus of Rotterdam and the prefects of the Vatican Library, Paulus Bombasius and Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda.

Codicology

Alternative Titles
Bibliorum sacrorum Graecorum Codex Vaticanus B
Codex Vaticanus Graecus 1209
Codex Vaticanus B
Size / Format
1554 pages / 27.0 × 27.0 cm
Origin
Egypt
Date
4th century
Epochs
Script
Uncial
Content
Old and New Testament
Artist / School

Available facsimile editions:
Codex Vaticanus B – Vat. gr. 1209 – Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (Vatican City, State of the Vatican City)
Istituto Poligrafico e Zecca dello Stato – Rome, 1999
Limited Edition: 450 copies
Detail Picture

Codex Vaticanus B

In the Beginning…

A simple incipit with the opening lines of the Book of Genesis written in red ink is some of the only ornamentation found in this manuscript. The fact that it is so text-focused indicates that it was created for practical purposes, likely intended for theologians in libraries rather than being used for ceremonial use in cathedrals and processions. It is not written in majuscule, so we can assume that this portion of the text is among those that were restored or replaced during the Middle Ages.

Bibliorum sacrorum Graecorum Codex Vaticanus B
Single Page

Codex Vaticanus B

Text Page with Marginal Notes

The original text of the manuscript is written in Greek uncial, a majuscule script (written entirely in capital letters) commonly used by Latin and Greek scribes between the 4th to 8th centuries. It has the advantage of making an efficient use of the page, but lacks any spacing or punctuation, and thus was gradually replaced by more easily read scripts in the course of the Middle Ages.

The cursive writing that appears in the margins and even between the three columns of majuscule script is believed to have been added during the 12th century, although it is not known who made these elegant notes. Nonetheless, it is evidence of the regular and extensive use of the manuscript since it was first created twelve centuries ago.

Bibliorum sacrorum Graecorum Codex Vaticanus B
Facsimile Editions

#1 Bibliorum sacrorum Graecorum Codex Vaticanus B

Codex Vaticanus B – Vat. gr. 1209 – Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (Vatican City, State of the Vatican City)
Codex Vaticanus B – Vat. gr. 1209 – Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (Vatican City, State of the Vatican City) Copyright Photos: Ziereis Facsimiles

Publisher: Istituto Poligrafico e Zecca dello Stato – Rome, 1999
Limited Edition: 450 copies
Commentary: 1 volume by Paul Canart, Pierre-Marie Bogaert, Stephen Pisano
Languages: English, French
1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size) Reproduction of the entire original document as detailed as possible (scope, format, colors). The binding may not correspond to the original or current document binding.
Price Category: €€€ (3,000€ - 7,000€)
Edition available
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