Re: Punctuation in Codex Bezae (on the web)

From: Micheal Palmer (
Date: Sun Apr 12 1998 - 00:08:31 EDT

At 9:02 AM -0400 4/11/98, Jim West wrote:
>At 08:52 PM 4/10/98 -0700, you [Micheal Palmer] wrote:
>>In light of the recent discussion of punctuation (or the lack of it) in the
>>early Greek NT manuscripts, I thought I would point out that portions of
>>Codex Bezae are available on the web through the Greek Language &
>>Linguistics Gateway (URL below). The images of this manuscript illustrate
>>very well some of the issues which came up in the earlier
>>discussion--spaces separating clauses (but not individual words), and an
>>occassional raised dot to indicate a full stop.
Jim responded:
>Beza is- 1) far too late to be taken into account as an early example of
>scribal practice, and 2) not a very good copy at that. Thus, it is not
>really reliable as a textual base or as an example of the practice of 1st
>and 2nd century scribes.

Jim is right about all of this. Of course, what I said above should not
have been taken to imply otherwise. I mentioned Bezae because it is a good
example of the practices discussed in the thread on punctuation, not
because it is early. The practices that several people mentioned in that
thread (spaces separating clauses, an occassional raised dot to indicate a
full stop) become consistent only in some manuscripts as late as Bezae (+/-
sixth century--perhaps as early as the fifth century in the Gospels and
Acts). Before that time they are less consistent where present at all.

If you want to compare some earlier uncial manuscripts, portions of
Vaticanus and Sinaiticus are also accessible through the Greek Language &
Linguistics Gateway.

While Jim is certainly right about Bezae's lack of value for establishing
scribal punctuation practices in the earliest centuries CE, the manuscript
IS valuable to the discussion for a different reason. It illustrates quite
well an important stage (even if somewhat late) in the development of
punctuation practices. It is important to realize, though, that even at the
time of Bezae, many other manuscripts still had NOT incorporated even the
rudimentary punctuation devices found in Bezae. It is quite clear that the
earliest manuscripts had nothing like even this basic level of punctuation.

The rudimentary punctuation in manuscripts like Bezae (i.e. from near the
same period) is important because it helps us to see where someone much
closer to the original texts than we are felt the relevant breaks should
be. Of course, that is no guarantee that the breaks noted in Bezae are
correct; it just means that we have a witness to what a sixth century
copyist THOUGHT about those breaks.

As to the Bezae being "not a very good copy", that wouldn't matter too much
in this regard. The breaks in Bezae may have been added by the copyist, so
they may reflect what that copyist thought about where the breaks SHOULD
be, not how accurate he/she was in copying them.

Micheal W. Palmer
Religion & Philosophy
Meredith College

Visit the Greek Language and Linguistics Gateway at
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