Uncatalogued MSS at Stephanou, Meteora

Meteora is one of the most stunningly beautiful and other-worldly places on earth. Over a millennium ago, monks traveled throughout Greece in search of a place where they could get away from it all. Ultimately, six monasteries were established there, all but one perched atop stone pillars rising hundreds of feet above the plain below.

There are dozens of Greek New Testament manuscripts in Meteora, most being at Metamorphosis. The Institut für neutestamentliche Textforschung (INTF) in Münster, Germany has catalogued these. There are 45 at Metamorphosis, 9 at Barlaam, and 9 at Stephanou (total: 63). 

Of the nine NT manuscripts at the Monastery of St. Stephen (Stephanou) that INTF has catalogued, the earliest is from the 11th century. In our visit there, we came across two others, prominently displayed in their museum.

  1. A tenth-century fragment of an unidentified text. The text was rather small, too small to read while on display. It may or may not be a NT manuscript.
  2. A sixth century (according to Stephanou’s dating, which is doubtful) fragment (two leaves were on display). Majuscule script. 24 cm x 20 cm. 18 lines per column, 2 columns per page. There is one image in the book, The Treasures of the Monastery of Saint Stephen: The Collection in the New Sacristy, [Holy Meteora] (Meteora, Greece: 1999) 47. A brief look at the manuscript suggests that it is to be dated 7th to 9th century.

Transcription of the text on the one leaf in this book1 is as follows:

(Matt 14.24) [ ] βασανιζ[ομενο]ν υπο των κυματων• ην [γα]ρ εναντιος ο [ανε]μα.2
(Matt 14.25) [Τεταρ]τη δε φυλακη της νυκτος απηλθε προς αυτους ο [Ιησους], περιπατων επι της θαλασσης. 
(Matt 14.26) Και ιδοντες αυτον οι μαθητ[αι]3 επι την θα[λασ]σαν περιπατ[ουν]τα εταραχ[θησ]αν, λεγ[οντες…] 
(Matt 14.27) Ευθεως δε ελαλησεν αυτοις ο Ιησους, λεγων, Θαρσειτε• εγω ειμι• μη φοβεισθε. 
(Matt 14.28) Αποκριθεις δε αυτω ο Πετρος ειπεν, Κυριε4, ει συ ει, κελευσον με προς σε ελθειν5 επι τα υδατα. 
(Matt 14.29) Ο δε ε[ιπεν…]

A second leaf that was on display (I’m not sure how many leaves later it is than the first one) has αναστρεφομενων δε αυτων εν τη γαλιλαια, Matt 17.22. This was about all I had time to transcribe (with my iPhone!) in the few minutes I had in the museum.

In consultation with INTF (particularly with help from Ulrich Schmid), it seems evident that this manuscript is an uncial lectionary rather than a continuous-text majuscule. The reason is twofold: first, the manuscript is in two columns. Lectionaries regularly are formatted in two columns for ease of public reading, while majuscule manuscripts are not. Second, there are several musical notations (known as ekphonetic markers), in various colors, to mark out how the text is to be pronounced/sung. 

This is almost surely a new discovery since only two uncial lectionaries are listed in the K-Liste for Meteora: lect 2258 and lect 2061. Both are dated 11th century. lect 2061 is in Metamorphosis (or the Great Monastery, as it is commonly called). It measures 26 cm x 20 cm. Though close to the measurement of the Stephanou MS, it is two cm taller. We have found several MSS to be one or two cm shorter than INTF describes, so this might not be significant6. It also has two columns and is only two leaves. However, the Stephanou MS has 18 lines per column while lect 2061 has c. 24 lines per column. Further, its readings are for Thursday of the fifth week through Sunday of the sixth week, while this MS would be for Sunday of the ninth week (Matt 14.22–34) and Sunday of the tenth week (Matt 17.14–23). Further, although we believe that Stephanou’s dating is too early (sixth century), the MS is almost surely seventh to ninth century, and closer to the earlier date. 

Lect 2258 is a better candidate because it is housed at Stephanou. But its measurements are even further off (28 cm x 20 cm vs. 24 cm x 20 cm). It has four leaves, is in two columns, and would have had 20 lines per column. Again, the date is off by four centuries by our calculations. However, what it has going for it is that the recto of the first leaf is from Matt 14.22–34 and the verso of the last leaf is from Matthew 22.15–22. This means that lect 2258 has Matt 14.22–34, 21.18–22, 23–27, 28–32, 43–46, 22.23–33, 17.24–18.4, 17.14–23, 23.13–22, 23–28, 29–39, 24.13–28, 27–33, 42–51, 19.3–12, 18.23–35, Mark 1.9–15, 1.16–22, 1.23–28, 1.29–35, 2.18–22, Matt 20.29–34, 19.16–26, Mark 3.6–12, 13–21, 20–27, 28–35, 4.1–9, Matt 22.15–22, 21.33–42. That’s over 23,000 characters in 264 verses. I’m not sure how there could be that many verses in four leaves (!), but this is what the K-Liste says. Our MS, however, has less than 600 characters and only seven or so verses per page. This means that in four leaves it would have about 4800 characters and less than 60 verses. Thus, the differences are so great that this must surely be a new discovery.

1 The book only says this about the MS: “Fragment of parchment. Majuscule script. 6th cent. 24 x 20 cm.” No content is given. The book also speaks of a complete catalog of all the MSS in the monastery, published in 1986 (Dimitrios Sofianos, no title given; published by CMMGR).

2 The reading ο ανεμα makes no sense and is otherwise unattested.

3 Και ιδοντες αυτον οι μαθηται agrees with the Robinson-Pierpont 2005 Majority Text; NA27 has οι δε μαθηται ιδοντες αυτον.

4 Words in bold print are nomina sacra written plene.

5 The order ελθειν προς σε is found in the NA27; this MS agrees with the Majority text.

6 On a regular basis, CSNTM’s examination of MSS listed in INTF’s Kurzgefasste Liste reveals a smaller size, especially in length, for the average leaf. It is so routine that this phenomenon cannot be due to error on the part of either institute. Many of the data in the K-Liste seem to be from earlier catalogs, several decades old. It seems that the MSS have been shrinking or wrinkling over time. Why they would shrink by one or two centimeters, however, is still puzzling: CSNTM measures several leaves in each MS and attempts to find leaves that are as flat as possible.

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