CATENA Project publishes rediscovered early interpretations of the Gospels

Recent articles in academic journals make available previously unknown Greek extracts from early Christian writers and new information on the ending of Mark

A manuscript

A frame catena manuscript: British Library, MS Add. 39599 (GA911)

The CATENA project, funded by the European Research Council, has been running at Birmingham's Institute for Textual Scholarship and Electronic Editing (ITSEE) since June 2018. As the project enters its final phase, more of its groundbreaking research on this special type of Greek New Testament commentary manuscript is being published in leading academic journals, including three papers which have appeared in the last month leading to new insights into the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke.

Most excitingly, following ITSEE's earlier Codex Zacynthius project, which reconstructed the text of this fragmentary catena manuscript back in 2020 using multispectral imaging to recover the erased text of an eighth-century palimpsest manuscript, Dr Panagiotis Manafis has identified a new witness to the text of this commentary. Until now, Codex Zacynthius was thought to be unique, transmitting the text of an otherwise unattested early commentary on Luke. Many of its extracts preserve portions of writings from the third to the sixth century which have otherwise been lost, including passages from authors condemned for heresy at later church councils. However, because Codex Zacynthius only survives in fragmentary pages, later reused for the copying of a liturgical book in the twelfth century, there are many gaps in the text.

Dr Manafis' research has revealed the existence of another, fragmentary witness to this commentary in the endpapers of a manuscript in the Vatican Library, Palat. gr. 273. Copied in the twelfth century, these pages inserted into the binding of the manuscript, transmit the commentary of Codex Zacynthius on the first two chapters of the Gospel according to Luke. This supplies the text for seven pages missing from the beginning of Codex Zacynthius. In an article which has just appeared in the Zeitschrift für Antikes Christentum / Journal of Ancient Christianity, Dr Manafis provides the first ever edition of thirty-three extracts from early Christian authors, including Eusebius of Caesarea, Origen of Alexandria, Titus of Bostra and Severus of Antioch. This new material fills in the gaps of the edition and English translation of Codex Zacynthius produced in ITSEE in 2020.

Another manuscript

The reconstructed multispectral image of folio IVr of Codex Zacynthius.

Another research fellow on the project, Dr Georgi Parpulov (now at the University of Göttingen) has published a paper in the Italian journal Adamantius: Annuario di Letteratura Cristiana Antica e di Studi Giudeoellenistici. This too provides the first edition of several extracts from early Christian writers, this time on the Gospel according to Matthew. Entitled "Some New Patristic Scholia on the Gospel according to Matthew", the article gives a text and English translation of six comments on Matthew 23–26 from Origen, Apollinarius of Laodicea, Theodore of Heraclea and Severus of Antioch which are preserved in just two manuscripts. One of these documents is currently housed in the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Alexandria and was only brought to scholarly attention by Dr Mina Monier and Professor Hugh Houghton, the Principal Investigator of the CATENA project, in one of the project's first publications.

Finally, Professor Houghton himself is the author of an article in the current issue of New Testament Studies. His consideration of "Unfinished Business: The Ending of Mark in Two Catena Manuscripts" resolves a long-standing question about whether an eleventh-century gospel book, known as GA 304, is a third and much later witness to the so-called "Short Ending" of Mark attested by the fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus. Prof. Houghton shows that the catena commentary in this later manuscript is a reworking of two other catenae which both attest the "Long Ending" of Mark 16:9–20. The abrupt ending of this manuscript is therefore due to damage to the exemplar from which it was copied or some other interruption to the work of the scribe and, despite finishing at Mark 16:8, GA 304 should not be cited as testimony for the "Short Ending".

A full list is available of the publications of the CATENA project, including open access links for all online outputs.

I am delighted that the CATENA project is leading to these new findings for scholarship on the transmission and interpretation of the Greek gospels, and the recovery of previously unknown material. Panagiotis Manafis' identification of a new witness to the catena of Codex Zacynthius is particularly significant, and would not have been possible without the earlier work of the AHRC-funded Codex Zacynthius project.

Prof. Hugh Houghton, Principal Investigator of the CATENA project and Director of ITSEE.