Tuesday, November 15th, 2016 was a momentous occasion for inter-Christian relations and for the history of the New Testament (NT). An important 9th century AD Greek NT codex that had been stolen in 1917 from the Monastery of Panagia Eikosiphoinissa near Drama, Greece was officially returned to the custody of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople in the person of His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios of America. The codex, known as Codex 1424, will soon be taken by Archbishop Demetrios back to the Monastery of Eikosiphinissa. Codex 1424 was legally purchased by Levi Franklin Gruber in 1920 from an international book dealer in Germany and was brought to the USA. Codex 1424 and other rare books in Gruber’s library were eventually incorporated into the rare book collection at Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago (LSTC) that has been in the recent care of Professor Emeritus Ralph W. Klein, renowned biblical scholar and curator of that collection. As part of a thanksgiving ceremony at LSTC on Nov. 15th, Codex 1424 was given by the president of LSTC, Rev. Dr. James Nieman, to His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios. Feelings of gratitude, humility, love, and emotion were palpable among all those in attendance. The return of Codex 1424 to the Orthodox Church is an indescribable act of generosity and a remarkable example of Christian love and witness to the world.
Codex 1424 is the oldest complete Greek NT manuscript written in miniscules (lower case letters) of cursive script. Its Greek NT text is representative of the Byzantine text-type, but the order of NT books within Codex 1424 is very interesting in that it is quite different from most other Greek NT manuscripts. After the usual order of the four gospels and Acts of the Apostles can be found James, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, Jude, and Revelation followed by the traditional order of letters attributed to Paul, with Hebrews as the final book of the codex. However, just after the completion of Revelation and just before the start of Paul’s Letter to the Romans can be found Euthalius the Deacon’s Prologue to the Fourteen Letters of Paul followed by the Martyrdom of the Apostle Paul. These texts are written on the front and back (recto and verso) of five full pages of the codex rather than in the margins. However, in the margins throughout the codex appear homilies of great patristic interpreters of Scripture such as John Chrysostom, Theodore of Mopseustia, Theodoret of Cyrus, and Severian of Gabala, along with various other catenae (comments explaining the meaning of biblical texts) added by various scribes after the codex was first created.
Codex 1424 originated in the 9th century at the famous Stoudion Monastery in Constantinople, and the NT writings were copied by a monk named Savas whose name and prayer for forgiveness appear toward the end of the codex. However, there are at least two other scribes that added marginal texts in the codex who also signed their names, Nikandros and Christophoros. Another interesting feature of Codex 1424 is the absence of the pericope adulterae (The Woman Caught in Adultery) from text of the Gospel of John. The pericope adulterae does not appear in the earliest, best Greek NT manuscripts and there is a consensus among NT scholars that the pericope adulterae was a later addition to the Gospel of John. Codex 1424’s textual omission of the pericope adulterae makes its textual pedigree all the more interesting in light of its 9th century date.
Orthodox Christians everywhere owe an immense debt of gratitude to the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago and to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) for the loving return of Codex 1424 to the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and to the Monastery of Panagia Eikosiphoinissa.
John Fotopoulos is an Associate Professor of New Testament in the Department of Religious Studies at Saint Mary’s College, Notre Dame, Indiana.