|Devotion to Our Lady||
THE OLDEST MANUSCRIPTS OF THE BIBLE
1. No Autographs (which means originals written by the hands of the inspired writers) of the books of the Bible have come down to us. This is due partly to the perishable material (papyrus) used by the writers, partly to the fact that the Roman emperors decreed the destruction of the sacred books of the Christians (Edict of Diocletian, A. D. 303).
Tertullian says that the originals of the Epistles of St. Paul were still preserved in his day in Thessalonica. “The alleged autographs of St. Mark in Venice and Prague belong to the realm of legend” (Schumacher, Handbook of Scripture Study, Vol. I, p. 14).
2. We possess very ancient copies of all of the books of the Bible. These copies are called Biblical Manuscripts (handwritings: the Latin manus meaning “hand” and the verb scribere, scriptus meaning “to write” and “written”). The oldest Hebrew manuscript, dating from the tenth century, was found in the Crimea in 1839. It contains only the later Prophets. Other Hebrew manuscripts were found among the Jews in China and on the coast of Malabar. Of the Greek manuscripts the following are the most important:
(a) THE SINAITIC MANUSCRIPT belongs to the fourth century. Constantine Tischendorf discovered it in 1859 in the Monastery of St. Catharine on Mt. Sinai. Tischendorf believed that it was one of the fifty precious Bible manuscripts which, as the Church historian Eusebius tells us, were made by order of Constantine the Great for the churches of Constantinople. It contains the greatest part of the Greek translation of the Old Testament and the whole of the New. The Sinaitic MS is in St. Petersburg (Leningrad).
(b) THE VATICAN MANUSCRIPT in the Vatican Library at Rome also dates from the fourth century and is believed to have been brought to Rome by St. Athanasius the Great in 342. It contains the whole Bible with only a few gaps. A beautiful facsimile edition in six volumes was published in 1868 at the expense of Pius IX.
(c) THE ALEXANDRINE MANUSCRIPT, which contains practically the whole Bible, belongs to the fifth century. It was discovered on Mt. Athos and is preserved in the British Museum in London.
(d) THE PARISIAN MANUSCRIPT, which also belongs to the fifth century, contains the greater part of the New Testament and some fragments of the Old Testament. It is a Palimpsest (re-written) manuscript, some writings of St. Ephraim having been written across the Biblical text, which had been more or less erased, but is still legible.
All these manuscripts, and very many later ones, are written on parchment or vellum (made of the skin of sheep, goats or calves in so-called uncial (capital) letters—small letters were not used till the tenth century—and bound in book form (codex, p1. codices). The words are not separated and, as no punctuation marks are employed, it is sometimes hard to distinguish the interrogative from the declarative sentences.—A few fragments of the New Testament written on papyrus and potsherds of clay (ostraca), the writing material of the poor, have been recently discovered in Egypt.
THE MOST IMPORTANT VERSIONS OF THE BIBLE
1. The Books of the Old Testament were translated from the original Hebrew into Greek long before the time of Christ, and those of the New Testament from the Greek original into Latin, Syriac, and other languages no later than the second century after Christ.
2. The most important translations are the Greek Septuagint (LXX) and the Latin Vulgate.
(a) THE SEPTUAGINT translation of the Old Testament was made in the third century before Christ to meet the religious needs of the Jews of Alexandria in Egypt.
In the year 320 B.C., Ptolemy Lagi, the Macedonian King of Egypt, captured Jerusalem and carried off 200,000 Jews to Egypt. The captives settled in Alexandria and the neighboring districts. Many of their countrymen followed them into voluntary exile. The Alexandrine Jews gradually lost all knowledge of their Hebrew mother tongue and adopted the Greek language. If they wished to practice their religion, a Greek translation of the Bible became a necessity.
During the reign of Ptolemy Soter (305-285 BC) the five Books of Moses were translated into Greek, as the legend has it, by seventy or seventy-two learned Jews from Jerusalem, whence the name Septuagint, that is, “the work of the Seventy” (Latin, Septuaginta). The name Septuagint, though it applies, strictly speaking, only to the Books of Moses, was afterwards extended to include the other books of the Old Testament as they were translated during the next hundred years. At about 130 BC, when Sirach translated the Book of Proverbs (Ecclesiasticus) of his grandfather into Greek, most of, if not all, the Old Testament Hebrew books had been translated.
Through the Septuagint translation, which is, on the whole, very faithful and reliable, many Greek-speaking pagans obtained a knowledge of divine revelation and were thus prepared for the preaching of the Gospel. The Apostles made use of the Septuagint in their preaching and writing, thus consecrating it, as it were, for all time.
(b) THE VULGATE is the most famous Latin translation of the Bible. It is almost exclusively the work of St. Jerome, who under-took it at the request of Pope Damasus (366-384).
Up to that time there had been several Latin translations in use, of which the so-called Itala was the most popular. The Itala version was made from the Greek and dates back to the second century. The whole New Testament and some parts of the Old Testament of the Itala have been preserved. The Scripture texts in the Missal are mostly taken from it.
Because the Itala was unsatisfactory in many respects, Pope Damasus asked St. Jerome, who was then acting as his secretary, to revise it. Before the Pope's death (384) St. Jerome published a revised text of the four Gospels, the Epistles of St. Paul, and the Psalms. Later on, during his retirement in Bethlehem, he translated the whole of the Old Testament, with the exception of a few deutero-canonical books, from the Hebrew and the Greek.
The translation of Jerome became by degrees the only Latin version of the Bible used in the Western Church, and for this reason it was known as the Vulgate (Latin: vulgata, meaning “disseminated” or “commonly used”).
In its fourth session the Council of Trent declared the Vulgate to be the authentic (official) Latin version, and the one to be used in public in the Western Church. The Council does not prefer the Vulgate before the original texts or the ancient versions, such as the Septuagint, that had always been in use in the Church. The sense of the decree is, “that the Vulgate is in substantial conformity with the original sacred text particularly in its expression of those truths of faith and morals which contribute in any way to the knowledge of God as man's supernatural end, and of the means of attaining that end.”
The decree of the Council does not imply that the editions of the Vulgate then in use were absolutely free from error. As a matter of fact, it ordered that a corrected edition should be published as soon as possible and henceforth used as the official text of the Bible. This revised text appeared in 1592 under Pope Clement VIII. Since 1907 a commission of Benedictine monks has been at work preparing a new edition of the Vulgate. Thus far, only a few books of the Old Testament have been published (Vatican Press).
3. Other Translations of the Bible.—A Gothic translation of the Bible was made in the fourth century by Ulfilas, an Arian bishop of the Goths (d. 383). This Gothic Bible, the earliest literary document in any Teutonic language, has been preserved in part in the famous Codex Argenteus, the “Silver Manuscript,” thus called because it is written in silver and gold ink on purple vellum. It was discovered in Werden on the Ruhr (Germany), and after many wanderings found a home in the university library of Upsala in Sweden.
4. Our English translation of the Bible is known as the Douay Version, because it was prepared at the English College of Douay (Douai) in France. The New Testament was published at Rheims in 1582, the Old Testament at Douay in 1609. In the course of time several revisions of the Douay Bible appeared, the best being that of Bishop Challoner in 1750. A new translation from the original Hebrew and Greek, with critical notes, called the Westminster Version of the Sacred Scripture, is in course of publication (Lon-don and New York: Longmans, 1914 seq.)
5. The English Protestant translation of the Bible most widely used is the so-called “Authorized Version” of 1611. It was dedicated to King James I and is generally known as the “King James' Bible.” A revised version was published in 1881-1885.