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Codex Alexandrinus

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A most valuable Greek manuscript of the Old and New Testaments, so named because it was brought to Europe from Alexandria and had been the property of the patriarch of that see. For the sake of brevity, Walton, in his polyglot Bible, indicated it by the letter A and thus set the fashion of designating Biblical manuscripts by such symbols. Codex A was the first of the great uncials to become known to the learned world. When Cyril Lucar, Patriarch of Alexandria, was transferred in 1621 to the Patriarchate of Constantinople, he is believed to have brought the codex with him. Later he sent it as a present to King James I of England; James died before the gift was presented, and Charles I, in 1627, accepted it in his stead. It is now the chief glory of the British Museum in its manuscript department and is on exhibition there. [Editor's Note: The British Museum and the British Library split in 1973, and the Codex is now kept in the latter.]

Codex A contains the Bible of the Catholic Canon, including therefore the deuterocanonical books and portions of books belonging to the Old Testament. Moreover, it joins to the canonical books of Machabees, the apocryphal III and IV Machabees, of very late origin. To the New Testament are added the Epistle of St. Clement of Rome and the homily which passed under the title of Second Epistle of Clement — the only copies then known to exist. These are included in the list of New Testament books which is prefixed and seem to have been regarded by the scribe as part of the New Testament. The same list shows that the Psalms of Solomon, now missing, were originally contained in the volume, but the space which separates this book from the others on the list indicates that it was not ranked among New Testament books. An "Epistle to Marcellinus" ascribed to St. Athanasius is inserted as a preface to the Psalter, together with Eusebius's summary of the Psalms; Psalm 151 and certain selected canticles of the Old Testament are affixed, and liturgical uses of the psalms indicated. Not all the books are complete. In the Old Testament there is to be noted particularly the lacuna of thirty psalms, from 5:20, to 80:11; moreover, of Genesis 14:14-17; 15:1-5, 16-19; 16:6-9; 1 Samuel 12:20-14:9. The New Testament has lost the first twenty-five leaves of the Gospel of St. Matthew, as far as 25:6, likewise the two leaves running from John 6:50, to 8:52 (which, however, as the amount of space shows, omitted the formerly much disputed passage about the adulterous woman), and three leaves containing 2 Corinthians 4:13-12:6. One leaf is missing from I Clement and probably two at the end of II Clement. Codex A supports the Sixtine Vulgate in regard to the conclusion of St. Mark and John 5:4, but, like all Greek manuscripts before the fourteenth century, omits the text of the three heavenly witnesses, 1 John 5:7. The order of the Old Testament books is peculiar. In the New Testament the order is Gospels, Acts, Catholic Epistles, Pauline Epistles, Apocalypse, with Hebrews placed before the Pastoral Epistles. Originally one large volume, the codex is now bound in four volumes, bearing on their covers the arms of Charles I. Three volumes contain the Old Testament, and the remaining volume the New Testament with Clement. The leaves, of thin vellum, 12 3/4 inches high by 10 inches broad, number at present 773, but were originally 822, according to the ordinary reckoning. Each page has two columns of 49 to 51 lines.

The codex is the first to contain the major chapters with their titles, the Ammonian Sections and the Eusebian Canons complete (Scrivener). A new paragraph is indicated by a large capital and frequently by spacing, not by beginning a new line; the enlarged capital is placed in the margin of the next line, though, curiously, it may not correspond to the beginning of the paragraph or even of a word. The manuscript is written in uncial characters in a hand at once firm, elegant, simple; the greater part of Volume III is ascribed by Gregory to a different hand from that of the others; two hands are discerned in the New Testament by Woide, three by Sir E. Maunde Thompson and Kenyon — experts differ on these points. The handwriting is generally judged to belong to the beginning or middle of the fifth century or possibly to the late fourth. An Arabic note states that it was written by Thecla the martyr; and Cyril Lucar the Patriarch adds in his note that tradition says she was a noble Egyptian woman and wrote the codex shortly after the Nicene Council. But nothing is known of such a martyr at that date, and the value of this testimony is weakened by the presence of the Eusebian Canons (d. 340) and destroyed by the insertion of the letter of Athanasius (d. 373). On the other hand, the absence of the Euthalian divisions is regarded by Scrivener as proof that it can hardly be later than 450. This is not decisive, and Gregory would bring it down even to the second half of the fifth century. The character of the letters and the history of the manuscript point to Egypt as its place of origin.

The text of Codex A is considered one of the most valuable witnesses to the Septuagint. It is found, however, to bear a great affinity to the text embodied in Origen's Hexapla and to have been corrected in numberless passages according to the Hebrew. The text of the Septuagint codices is in too chaotic a condition, and criticism of it too little advanced, to permit of a sure judgment on the textual value of the great manuscripts. The text of the New Testament here is of a mixed character. In the Gospels, we have the best example of the so-called Syrian type of text, the ancestor of the traditional and less pure form found in the textus receptus. The Syrian text, however, is rejected by the great majority of scholars in favour of the "neutral" type, best represented in the Codex Vaticanus. In the Acts and Catholic Epistles, and still more in St. Paul's Epistles and the Apocalypse, Codex A approaches nearer, or belongs, to the neutral type. This admixture of textual types is explained on the theory that A or its prototype was not copied from a single manuscript, but from several manuscripts of varying value and diverse origin. Copyist's errors in this codex are rather frequent.

Codex Alexandrinus played an important part in developing the textual criticism of the Bible, particularly of the New Testament. Grabe edited the Old Testament at Oxford in 1707-20, and this edition was reproduced at Zurich 1730-32, and at Leipzig, 1750-51, and again at Oxford, by Field, in 1859; Woide published the New Testament in 1786, which B. H. Cowper reproduced in 1860. The readings of Codex A were noted in Walton's Polyglot, 1657, and in every important collation since made. Baber published an edition of the Old Testament in facsimile type in 1816-28; but all previous editions were superseded by the magnificent photographic facsimile of both Old and New Testaments produced by the care of Sir E. Maunde Thompson (the New Testament in 1879, the Old Testament in 1881-83), with an introduction in which the editor gives the best obtainable description of the codex (London, 1879-80).

About this page

APA citation. Fenlon, J.F. (1908). Codex Alexandrinus. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Fenlon, John Francis. "Codex Alexandrinus." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 4. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Sean Hyland.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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