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THE CODICES OF EPHRAEM AND OF BEZA

From the May 1937 issue of The Christian Science Journal


The Codex of Ephraem, often designated by the letter "C," now rests in the National Library at Paris, though it may have come originally from Egypt. It is what is called a palimpsest,—a word which, by its derivation implies that which has been "wiped (or rubbed-out) again." In the Middle Ages, vellum or parchment was somewhat costly, and it was not unusual for an impecunious writer to wash off or otherwise delete, as far as possible, the writing of an ancient manuscript, afterwards proceeding to use the parchment a second time. This is the fate which befell the Codex of Ephraem, which once contained the whole Bible. It is thought to have been prepared originally in the fifth century A. D., and we still find in it traces of every New Testament book with the exception of II John and II Thessalonians; though, in the nature of the case, it is not surprising that its script is now only faintly discernible, for, in the twelfth century, the treatises of one Ephraem the Syrian (from whom the codex is named) were written over what remained of the original text and often obliterated it entirely.

Unlike the Sinaitic, Vatican, and Alexandrian Manuscripts, which preserve the New Testament complete, or almost complete, the Bezan Codex which is marked for reference by the letter "D," now contains only the Gospels and the book of Acts, together with a few verses from III John. It is named after one of the sixteenth century reformers, Theodore de Beze (or Beza), who in 1581 presented it to the University of Cambridge, where it still is—stating that he had found it in a monastery at Lyons in France. Though its earlier history is veiled in obscurity, it is generally supposed to date from the sixth century A.D., thus forming a decidedly early witness to the text of the New Testament. In it the Gospels are not set down in the order familiar to us, for Matthew and John appear first, presumably because they were numbered among the twelve apostles, while Luke comes next, and Mark last of all. Another unusual characteristic of the Bezan Codex is that it is the earliest of the Biblical manuscripts to be written in both Greek and Latin—the Greek text being inscribed in a single column on each left-hand page, with the Latin rendering facing it. Then, too, it contains a number of noteworthy variations from the other early manuscripts, and indeed it is the only codex extant which inserts after Luke 6:4 the incident of a man who was working in his field on the Sabbath day, and was addressed by Jesus in the following terms: "O man, if thou knowest what thou doest, happy art thou, but if thou knowest not, thou art cursed and a transgressor of the law." The same manuscript, after relating how "the body of Jesus" was placed by Joseph of Arimathaea in the tomb which he had provided (see Luke 23:53), adds that there was set before the sepulcher a stone so great that "twenty men could hardly roll" it. While there is some question as to the authenticity of the variations and additions recorded by "D," they at least represent a very early tradition, and are thus of deep interest to the student.

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