[tc-list] Codex capacity (four gospels)
- Annette Reed mentions the earliest date for a four-gospel codex. While
pondering such matters, I noticed the following strange phenomenon:
If you plot relative size versus estimated date of publication for Luke,
Pauls's letters, the four gospels and the entire New Testament, you get a
Before I go further, I should explain how I arrived at the estimated
Luke: 60 CE -- published soon after the events mentioned at the end
Pauline letters: 100 CE -- see Zuntz, Text of the Epistles, 1953, 14.
Four gospels: 160 CE -- twenty years before Irenaeus' defence
Entire NT: 350 CE -- twenty years before Athanasius' canon list
No doubt, long arguments could be had over each one of the above. Kenyon
(Chester Beatty biblical papyri, fasc. 1, 1933, 13) thought that Irenaeus'
defence may be evidence that four gospel codices already existed when he
wrote. One comment I would like to add -- Tatian may have been tempted to
make a gospel harmony around 150 CE because maximum codex size had, by
then, almost reached the size required for all four gospels. A harmony
would fit whereas the gospels themselves would not.
As far as relative sizes are concerned (taking Paul's letters as a
reference), counting pages of the UBS text leads to:
Plot the relative sizes against the estimated dates and you get a
reasonably straight line.
Maybe codex capacity was developing in a linear fashion. Luke, being an
innovative soul, used a codex note-pad like the one's that Paul used.
(Speculation heaped upon speculation.) The gospel might even have been
tailored to the available capacity. Paul's letters were published once
codex capacity sufficed to hold them. The four gospels had to wait
another fifty years for codex capacity to increase to the required point.
But as soon as the technology became available, it was put to good use.
I have made the assumption that Irenaeus was defending an established four
gospel codex tradition -- hence the twenty years lead time. The same
reasoning stands behind my speculation that codices of the entire NT began
to circulate some twenty years before Athanasius published his canon list.
The four data points relate to papyrus codices. The last one (350, 3.83)
is located around the time that large capacity parchment codices began to
appear (e.g. Sinaiticus, Vaticanus). I wonder whether there ever was a
papyrus codex of the entire NT?
On Wed, 29 Dec 1999, Annette Reed wrote:
> Many thanks for the helpful references and insightful comments (esp.
> concerning Koester's hypothesis, about which I suspected as much, yet am
> pleased to have a more learned confirmation). On a somewhat related
> is there any general consensus about the earliest probable date for the
> of a four-gospel codex? I recently purused an article by Skeat,
> date as early as 170 CE, albeit on somewhat speculative grounds (i.e.
> suggesting that Ireneaus based his defense of the "four-formed gospel"
> Adv. haer. 3.11 on an earlier non-extant source, due to the order of the
> evangelist-animals therein), and was wondering if such suggestions are
> generally accepted, or if most remain more cautious about this issue,
> the continued preponderance of single-gospel codices.
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