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July 25, 2010

Finney: Missing MSS

Excerpt from: T. Finney, internet post, (TC-List, 1996)

T. Finney
Message #760
Wed Jun 12, 1996
Yahoo Groups TC-List

It's a strange thing that Robert Waltz brought up the question of where the 8th century uncials went when he did. Last week I was looking at the distribution by date of the pre-1000 AD MSS of Hebrews and was struck by the hole in the 6th to 8th centuries.

The following is derived from NA27 appendix 1, where:

cent. = century,
n = total no. of MSS dated to that century;
nc = no. of (relatively) complete MSS that seem to have survived unmolested;
nm = no. of MSS made of multiple fragments including palimpsests and MSS with sizable continuous sections; and
ns = no. of MSS comprised of single fragments.

The multiple fragments category is meant to include MSS that do seem to have suffered bad treatment.

The age distribution of the papyrus MSS of Hebrews is then:

Papyri: Quantity by Century

and the age distribution for the uncials (excluding 0280 which I don't have data for) is:

Uncials: Quantity by Century

Apart from an anomalous 7th century papyrus, there seem to be two extinctions:

(1) the first is of the papyri from the 5th century on, and

(2) the second is of the uncials during the 7th and 8th centuries.

(The anomalous papyrus is p79. Having looked at it, I am surprised that anyone managed to identify it, let alone date it.)

The disappearance of the papyri can be explained as being due to the increasing popularity of parchment as a writing material. But the clear gap in the uncials for the 7th and 8th centuries requires a different explanation.

It may be that this is evidence of the Moslem conquest around 640 of Palestine and Egypt which, until then, had probably been primary MS production regions. However the survival of the uncials predating 640 must be accounted for. The following leans heavily on speculation and hearsay. Nevertheless I beg your indulgence.

Ignoring single fragments, these older uncials are 01, 02, 03, 04, 06, 015, 016, 048, 0285. Assuming they were in Palestine or Egypt around 640, how did they survive?

01 survived by finding its way to St. Catherine's Monastery.

02 survived through being adopted by the Patriarchate at Alexandria.

03 somehow escaped to Constantinople, possibly from the same place as 01 (Caesarea?), and ended up in the Vatican after Constantinople fell in 1453.

04 was washed and used for Ephraim's sermons in minuscule script (more on this later).

06 I don't know the history of 06, but to survive it would most likely have found refuge in a safer north-westerly location or protection in a tolerated Christian community within the Islamic sphere.

015 made it to Athos but was seriously injured, while

016 hid in the sands of Egypt.

048 was also washed and used for something else.

0285 also survived by finding its way to St. Catherine's Monastery

A mass extinction of Palestinian and Egyptian MSS is a possible explanation for the ascendancy of the Byzantine text. The Palestinian and Egyptian copying workshops had been shut down, leaving only Byzantium to make copies of the text that had developed there. (Here I have made the postulate that refugees like 03 did not have the same status as Byzantines when it came to being exemplars. I have no evidence for this, except that there probably would have been more Byzantines than refugees. In fact MSS like 1739 may well be descendants of refugees. Also, conformation of MSS to the Byzantine text as found in the 7th century corrector of Sinaiticus, indicates a Byzantine standardisation in process at this very time.)

Now to explain the 200 year gap in uncials extending even to Byzantium. Perhaps Byzantium had never been a major copying centre but was forced to become one by the sudden Moslem conquest of the traditional centres. Accordingly the number of uncials would start at a low number and increase from the time of the conquest, which is what we see above. Perhaps the minuscule innovation was so complete that all of the older uncials were disdained as things of the past and used to heat ovens (cf. the wonderful story of Tischendorf's discovery of Sinaiticus). 1

The new writing style made for faster, more compact copying. Like slide rules and digital calculators, the old were neglected once the new arrived.

A weakness in the foregoing theory is that uncials exist after the 200 year gap. 2 In defence I note that many of the 9th and 10th cent. MSS are a mixture of uncial and minuscule writing. Others have the angular (Slavonic) type uncial script of regions further removed from the Moslem frontier.

As a final observation, it occurred to me today that there is a similarity between minuscule and Arabic script. Perhaps the cursive concept was borrowed from the Moslems. One possible advantage would be that minuscule MSS would look more like Arabic MSS, and so promote their survival in hostile environments.

Tim Finney
Baptist Theological College
and Murdoch University
Perth, W. Australia

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Nazaroo's Footnotes:

1. Tischendorf's account of manuscripts in a bin waiting to be burned is obviously fraudulent, and was part of his cover-story in the deception and theft of Codex Sinaiticus from the Monastery.

2. Better would be a theory of recycling, which allows for the steady manufacture of fresh MSS, in the face of dwindling supplies or budget for expensive parchment. See our article on missing MSS here:

Missing Manuscripts - Article by Nazaroo, Click here.

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