From the Library: GA 800

By Zachary Skarka

Zachary Skarka (ThM, Dallas Theological Seminary) is a doctoral student at the University of Birmingham and an adjunct professor at Southeastern University in Bradenton, FL. His doctoral thesis is “The Text and Transmission of Colossians” under Professor H.A.G. Houghton. Skarka worked as a graduate student intern at the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts in 2018–2019 while he was a student at Dallas Theological Seminary. His internship research project focused on Gregory Aland 800, a medieval manuscript at the National Library of Greece. Over the past year, he continued to analyze this manuscript and presented the initial results in the TC Thursday Seminar hosted by the IGNTP. We’re delighted to welcome Zack back to CSNTM as a guest contributor to the From the Library series.


It was November 2018, and I was at my first academic conference, the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in Denver. Since it was my first conference, I was meeting a lot of scholars for the first time. One of these scholars was Tommy Wasserman, a CSNTM board member. I was an intern at CSNTM, and two of the Center’s staff members introduced me to Tommy. Tommy asked me what I was researching during my internship. I told him that I was studying a Gospels manuscript, GA 800. Tommy responded with one word, “Why?”

This was a very good question. Why study a Byzantine minuscule when there are so many more interesting manuscripts out there? Majuscules! Papyri! The short answer is that Dan Wallace wanted me to. In a recent trip to the National Library of Greece, CSNTM digitized GA 800. During his initial look at GA 800 while he was at the National Library of Greece, Dan noticed that, in Mark 1:2, where most manuscripts have the reading τοῖς προφήταις, GA 800 had the minority reading τῷ ἡσαΐᾳ τῷ προφήτῃ. Seeing this, he thought that there might be more worth studying in GA 800. He was right.

In this post, I will demonstrate the significance of GA 800 by discussing some of its physical features, one of the scribe’s habits, and some of its rare and unique readings.

First, I would like to give a general introduction to manuscript GA 800. This manuscript contains most of the four Gospels. It is dated between the twelfth and fourteenth centuries. It was written on parchment in a cursive minuscule script. It is one column and does not contain any illustrations. Lastly, one of the most noteworthy features of GA 800 is that it is a catena manuscript.

The Catena

To be more specific, GA 800 is frame catena, which means the biblical text of GA 800 is surrounded by commentary on the top, bottom, and outside of each page. I spent a significant amount of time studying the surrounding commentary in the Gospel of Mark. The catena that GA 800 contains is commonly attributed to an otherwise unknown Victor of Antioch or to Cyril of Alexandria.

To study the Markan commentary in GA 800, I compared it to the two published editions of the catena, by John A. Cramer and Christian F. Matthaei. According to Joseph Reuss, Cramer’s edition reflects one recension of the catena, while Matthaei reflects another recension of the catena. After studying GA 800’s commentary in Mark 1, it was immediately evident that its commentary followed Matthaei’s recension rather than Cramer. Unfortunately, Matthaei’s work was in two volumes, and, after much effort, I was unable to track down the second volume. The first volume only included the commentary for chapters 1 through 10 of Mark, with chapters 11 through 16 in the second volume.

The reason that this is so unfortunate is that the commentary on Mark 16 in GA 800 differs substantially from Cramer’s edition. Most notably, the last eighty-eight words of the commentary in GA 800 are not present in Cramer’s edition. I have translated this ending into English: 

Christ Jesus went up to his father in heaven being of years according to the flesh thirty-two, not, according to the Egyptians, eleven. And he is always with the pure flesh. Now eternal life is to him alone together with the Father and the Holy Spirit over above every ruler and authority and power and lordship and every name which was named and whoever is remaining who is called divine who is not eternal because they would thus be enthroned with the eternity of the trinity. And the son of God and man will come to judge every nation of mankind and to render to each according to their actions. 

Most of this information is fairly standard and predictable, but the mention of Jesus’ age when he ascended, 32 and not 11, is quite surprising! The biggest question I have is how anyone could think that Jesus accomplished all that he did before the age of 11!

There is a possibility that the words at the end of GA 800’s commentary appear elsewhere, but I have not found them yet. Even if they do appear elsewhere, the preservation of this commentary in this manuscript is enough to demonstrate that GA 800 is worthy of study. 

Scribal Habits

Having looked at the Markan commentary in GA 800, let’s turn to the biblical text of GA 800. The first thing I will discuss is the habits of the scribe of GA 800. A curious feature of this manuscript is that it abbreviates the name John quite regularly, even though this is not one of the regular nomina sacra. The name John appears ninety-one times in GA 800. Thirty-eight times it is abbreviated, and fifty-three times it is not. I searched the Center for New Testament Textual Studies’ (CNTTS) apparatus to see which manuscripts it listed as abbreviating John. I then looked at every occurrence of the name John in each of those manuscripts. Of the eleven manuscripts listed in the CNTTS apparatus, none abbreviate the name John as frequently as GA 800 does, with GA 118 coming the closest, abbreviating John thirty of the ninety-nine times it appears in that manuscript. CNTTS lists no papyri or majuscules with the abbreviation (it lists the supplement to majuscule 011, but the supplement is written in a minuscule script). In GA 800, the abbreviation appears in all four gospels and it refers to both John the Baptist and John the Apostle. While abbreviations do not tend to be genealogically significant, it is interesting that this manuscript may abbreviate the name John more than any other manuscript.

Notable Shared Readings

Now I will discuss two significant readings in GA 800 that it shares with very few manuscripts. The first of these readings occurs at the end of Matthew 27:58. GA 800 does not repeat the words τὸ σῶμα (“the body”) at the end of this verse as most manuscripts do, leaving the object of ἀποδοθῆναι (“to give”) implicit based on Joseph of Arimathea’s request to Pilate for Jesus’ body earlier in the verse. Despite this manuscripts’ habit of omission, NA28 prefers this shorter reading in its editorial text, because the reading without the object is more difficult. What is striking about this reading is that very few manuscripts share it. The CNTTS apparatus lists only manuscripts 01, 03, 019, 33, and Family 1 as sharing this reading with GA 800. This is clearly a very early reading, even though it is only preserved in few manuscripts.

As I have already mentioned, one of the most significant readings in GA 800 occurs in Mark 1:2. This verse introduces two quotations; one from Malachi 3:1, and one from Isaiah 40:3. The majority of manuscripts introduce these quotes with the phrase “as it is written in the prophets,” while GA 800 and several older manuscripts, including manuscripts 01, 03, 05, 037, 038, have the phrase τῷ ἡσαΐᾳ τῷ προφήτῃ (“Isaiah the prophet”) instead of τοῖς προφήταις (“the prophets”). The reading in GA 800 is the more difficult reading, because Isaiah did not write the first quote. It is more likely an editor would produce the reading in the majority of manuscripts to avoid an apparent contradiction in the text than that an editor would change the general “prophets” to the partially incorrect “Isaiah.” This is an apparent link to the earliest text of Mark in GA 800 that is not found in most other manuscripts.

Notable Unique Readings

Lastly, after looking at significant readings that GA 800 shares with other manuscripts, we will look at two significant readings that are not otherwise attested in the CNTTS apparatus. One of the most unusual features of this manuscript is the genealogy in Luke. It covers two pages of the manuscript. The genealogy is numbered throughout, with the numbers following a left right left right pattern. On the first page, the genealogy follows this numbering, but on the second page, it does not. Instead, it goes down the left column and then down the right column, except it still has Adam and God on the very bottom and Abraham and Nahor on the right. 

Not only does the genealogy go against the numbering on the manuscript, but it also has two additions and an omission. In Luke 3:25, GA 800 adds τοῦ συμεών after the name ναγγαί. In Luke 3:26, this manuscript adds τοῦ ἰούδα after the name μαάθ. CNTTS lists no manuscripts that share these additions.  In Luke 3:35, the scribe omits τοῦ σερούχ. CNTTS lists two manuscripts that share this omission: 032 and 579.  By contrast, the genealogy in Matthew in GA 800 has no additions, no omissions, and no variation in order. How might these changes to the Lukan genealogy in GA 800 have occurred? Where did the extra names come from? How did the text end up not matching the numbering? What happened to poor Serug?

I saved what I consider the most interesting variant for last. In John 1:40, we are first introduced to two of Jesus’ disciples: Andrew and his brother, who is normally called Peter. While every manuscript except for one in the CNTTS apparatus refers to him as σίμωνος πέτρου (the original hand of P75 has σίμωνος πέτρος, which is corrected to σίμωνος πέτρου), GA 800 omits the word πέτρου. This is significant not only because it may be a singular reading, but because it is a reading that makes a lot of sense internally. It is not until John 1:42 that Jesus gives Simon the name Cephas, which is translated into Greek as πέτρος, so we should not expect him to be referred to as Peter before he is named Peter. In fact, in John 1:41, every manuscript listed in CNTTS’ apparatus refers to him simply as Simon, though this raises the possibility that GA 800 is harmonizing this this verse.

Considering the internal evidence, it is far more likely that an editor would add the name Peter to the name Simon in this introduction to clarify which Simon was being introduced than that an editor would remove the name Peter to make it less clear. There is the possibility that the scribe, like me, realized that Simon had not been named Peter yet and removed the name, but I have yet to see any evidence of the scribe making these types of edits elsewhere in the manuscript. While it is unlikely that this reading arose intentionally in GA 800, it is possible that it arose unintentionally. It is possible that the exemplar had σίμωνος πέτρος like the original hand of P75, and that he skipped the name Peter because of the repeated ος ending. This would be almost as interesting as a singular reading, because it could indicate a relationship to an early reading.


In conclusion, we have seen many indications of the value of studying GA 800. We have seen an interesting variant at the end of the Markan catena in this manuscript. We have seen the habit of this scribe to abbreviate the name John. We have seen minority readings in GA 800 that were likely the early readings, as well as readings that are possibly unique to this manuscript that pose questions about how they entered the history of the transmission of these gospels. So, why study a Byzantine manuscript? Because you never know what you might discover. There could be more than meets the eye.

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