The latest feature in CSNTM’s “From the Library” series is Gregory-Aland 774, a manuscript we digitized in 2015 at the National Library of Greece. This 11th century Gospels manuscript is dubbed “the most precious manuscript of the National Library” in the NLG’s 1892 catalog. It is worthy of this distinction because of the astounding icons and headpieces at the beginning of each Gospel, which remain in pristine condition.
The Christmas Story in GA 774
In this Christmas season, we thought it would be appropriate to see how a beautiful medieval manuscript such as GA 774 has preserved the story of Jesus’ birth. So we compared the text of Matthew 1:18-23 in GA 774 with the most recent critical text of the New Testament, the Nestle-Aland 28th edition (NA28). The Nestle-Aland text represents what many scholars believe is the earliest text of the New Testament, and it is the base text used for most modern English translations.
When we compared the two, we found that they were in exact agreement more than 95% of the time, down to the letter. There are only five differences between the NA28 and GA 774 in this passage. Three of these differences merely involved different ways of spelling the same word. This includes the Greek spelling of “birth” (v. 18), the verb “to disgrace” (v. 19), and the name “Mary” (v. 20). The other two differences involve adding a word to make what is implicit in the Greek more explicit. In one instance, GA 774 has the Greek article (in English: “the”) before the word “Lord” in 1:22, whereas the NA28 does not. It may have been added for extra emphasis: “the Lord” (NA28) has become “the Lord” (GA 774), making a closer connection with the mention of the “Lord” in v. 20.
The other instance is in Matthew 1:18 (pictured above), where GA 774 contains the Greek word gar. The word means “for” in English and signals a logical connection with the previous sentence. This word is not present in the NA28 text.
So here is how the NA28 text of v. 18 would read in English:
“Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.”
Here is how GA 774 would read in English:
“Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. For when his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.”
It is clear in the NA28 text that the first sentence is an introductory statement to the topic of the paragraph, whereas the second sentence begins to tell the story. The word “for” in GA 774 makes this a bit clearer, but for the reader this connection is already obvious. Again, what is added may make connections more explicit, but it does not materially affect the meaning.
This example shows how remarkably stable the New Testament text has been for centuries. The few differences that do exist here are minor and do not affect the text’s meaning. Remember that GA 774 is nearly 1,000 years old, and GA 774 itself was made more than 1,000 years after Mary gave birth to Jesus. Yet throughout all this time, the Christmas story remains intact for us to read and celebrate today.
For all of its fine internal quality, GA 774 has very fragile binding. Its 370 leaves are fastened between two modern wooden boards by four exposed strings. That means that this manuscript must be opened carefully so that undue stress is not put on the spine, which could cause the leaves to detach from the binding.
CSNTM’s images play a critical role in the preservation of this treasure. Our Conservation Copy Stand cradles the manuscript so that it cannot be opened at greater than a 105º angle, which prevents damage to the binding of manuscripts. Furthermore, CSNTM’s digitizers use the strategic placement of foam and other tools to reinforce the spine and pages so that the manuscript is undamaged during the process of digitization. After digitization, the images allow anyone to digitally open the manuscript and read it without putting the codex at further risk—from anywhere in the world!
It was a privilege to digitize this beautiful medieval manuscript that is a treasure in the Greek National Library’s large collection. You can view the complete manuscript, including ornate Eusebian Canon Tables and gilded icons of all four evangelists, in our digital library.