Scribes and the Manuscripts they Wrote

Most scribes left no records of themselves except the manuscripts they wrote. Some, however, left their names and other information in the colophons of the manuscripts they wrote. Colophons -- a scribe's "signature" of his manuscript -- are almost unknown in early documents, but become relatively normal in late minuscules.

The name "colophon" is relatively recent. Erasmus concluded many of his writings with the phrase colophonem addidi, and the phrase came to be applied to anything at the end of a work. But the principle of a brief note at the end of a copied work is very much older.

Colophons could contain almost anything: The date of the manuscript (usually in the form of the Year of the World and/or the indiction), the scribe who wrote the manuscript, the type of manuscript it was copied from, the place it was copied, or the person for whom it was copied. The date on which a manuscript was copied is always useful, of course. But it can also be useful to know where it came from (since it allows us to say that a certain sort of text was in circulation there at a certain time). Knowing a scribe's name is also interesting, though it really doesn't matter much unless we have other works from his pen.

Colophons could also contain various petitions and requests (e.g. a prayer for God to forgive the scribe or a request for a reader to take good care of the copy), but these have little importance except, perhaps, as a source of information about the liturgical usage of the time. The colophon in S (the first and only uncial to have an intact colophon, though we find earlier scribal signatures, e.g., in the minuscule 461 and in the Latin Codex Fuldensis) is not atypical:

εγραφει η τιμια δελτος αυτη δια χειρος εμου Μιχαηλ μοναχου αμαρτωλου μηνι μαριωα α'. ημερα ε', ωρα ς', ετους συνζ. ινδ ζ' -- i.e. it is the work of "a monk, a sinner" named Michael who finished his task in the sixth hour of the fifth day of March in the year 6457 (949 C. E.).

The subscription to the Pauline Epistles in 1739 is not all that different; although it omits the date (possibly given in one of the excised portions of the codex, as each part had a colophon), it too gives the scribe's name Εφραιμ μοναχου) and begs God for mercy. Elsewhere in 1739, Ephraim gives us information about how his manuscript was compiled.

There seems to be a certain tendency for colophons to grow more elaborate over time, though of course they continue to be highly individual.

Interestingly, not all colophons are accurate; some are forgeries. Colwell, in "Method in Validating Byzantine Date-Colophons: A Study of Athos, Laura B.26" (now available in Colwell's Studies in Methodology in New Testament Textual Criticism, pp. 142-147) offers the case of manuscript 1505, which has a forged date of 1084 (note: letterforms are modernized and the line breaks of the original are not retained):

Εγραφη επι της βασιλει[ας] του ευσεβεστατου κ[αι]
φιλοχριστου κ[υριο]υ αλεξιου μ[ε]γ[α]λ[ου] δουκα
σεμβαστου του κομνηνου επι ετ[ους] ςφϘβ
κυ[κλω ελιου] θ κυ[κλω] [σεληνης] ιη ενδ[ικτιωνος]
η η αποκρεα ιανουριω λα νομ[ικον] φασκ[α] μ[α]ρ[τιω]
κε χρ[ιστιανον] πασχ[α] μ[α]ρ[τιω] κη η νηστεια τ[ων]
αγ[ιων] αποστολ[ων] ημερ[αι] λς

Taking the first two items first, we see that the manuscript dates itself to the reign of the Byzantine Emperor Alexius Comnenus (reigned 1081-1118), and specifically the year 6592 (=1084 C. E.). However, the remaining data (sun cycle, moon cycle, indiction, Sunday of abstinence from meat, legal passover, Christian passover, and fast of the holy apostles) do not correspond to 1084, and indeed other colophons from the eleventh century often do not even list most of these last, which are typical of the fuller colophons of about the fourteenth century. The data appears to correspond, in fact, to the year 1445. As the colophon is not in the same hand as the rest of the manuscript (which would appear to date from the twelfth century), it seems clear that it was forged to make the manuscript appear older and more valuable (though, interestingly, the colophon makes it only slightly older than what seems to be its actual date, and since 1505 belongs to Family 2138, its basic text is in fact older than the colophon suggests). Colwell cites other instances of this sort of forgery. Therefore even colophons must be treated with some care.

We also seem to have instances of scribes forging names. 223 has a colophon attributing it to Antonios of Malaka (who is also associated with 1305 and 𝓁279) -- but the colophon to 223 is not by the same hand as the manuscript, and the other two Antonios manuscripts are dated 1244 and XII, respectively, while 223 appears to be from the fourteenth century.

This is not confined to Greek manuscripts. The Book of Dimma is a small Irish copy of the Vulgate Gospels (Trinith College, Dublin, MS. A.4.23 (59)). It claims to have been written by Dimma Mac Nathi. There is a mention in the Life of St. Cronan that a Dimma wrote a gospels book in the life of that saint, the founder of Roscrea monastery. Cronan died in 619, so the colophon seems to be trying to make the book both older and more significant than it is. (It would be interesting to know if the scribe tried to put it in the Roscrea library with that inscription, or if it was destined to be sold or given away, with the scribe trying to increase its value.)

In some cases it is quite interesting to know the several manuscripts from a scribe's pen. This is true, e.g., of Ephraem, who gave us two of the most important of all minuscule manuscripts (1582 and 1739), plus texts of Aristotle and Polybius. We also observe that manuscripts from the same scribe are often akin textually (observe the Kx Cluster 74 manuscripts written by Theodore of Hagiopetros; these represent a third of the manuscripts of this type. Even more extreme is the case of George Hermonymos, who wrote at least five of the seven manuscripts of Kx Cluster 17).

On the other hand, sometimes a scribe would copy manuscripts of very different types. We don't know the name of the scribe of 1505, mentioned above -- but we believe that he wrote at least three manscripts, 38, 1505, and 2400, all of which contain the Gospels, Acts, and Epistles. Yet 1505 has a Family 2138 text of the Acts and Epistles, 38 seems to have a weak form of the Family 1319 text, and 2400 is just an ordinary Byzantine text. Clearly this scribe, at least, had no clear preference for a particular type of text.

It is unfortunate to note that some monasteries discouraged scribes from including their names in colophons (including one's name was seen as a mark of pride). This not only makes it harder to identify manuscripts from the same copyist, but discourages the inclusion of other useful information in colophons. Fortunately, not every scribe paid attention. And even a colophon without a name or date can often help us date a manuscript. This can happen, e.g., if the scribe uses datable words or phrases. This is more typical of secular works (an example is the Peterborough manuscript of the Anglo-Saxon chronicle, which has been interpolated with stories localized to that area; we learn much from the language used in the insertions), but it can apply to Biblical manuscripts too if the colophon is long enough.

The table below lists certain of the scribes known to have written New Testament manuscripts, along with the manuscripts copied and their text-types as far as known (Gospels classifications are generally from Wisse, unless marked VS: for Von Soden; other descriptions are from Von Soden or the present writer). Note: Some manuscripts are identified with particular scribes only by the handwriting; no attempt is made to distinguish these.

After each scribe's name, in square brackets [], are the dates at which the manuscripts ascribed to him were written (based on the colophons or paleography).

Abraham Teudatus [XI]507 (Kx)
Andreas [1111]203 (VS: ap: Ic2, r: K)
Andreas [XI/XII?]180 (in gospels; John added the rest of NT later; Kx Cl 180)
Angelo Vergèce [XVI]296 (VS: e: Kx, apc: Ib1, r: Ia2), 1931 (VS: Ia)
Anthony [XI]343 (Cl 343/Kmix)
Anthony [1506]445 (VS: Kx)
Arsenius [XII]862 (VS: Θε29)
Athanasius [1434]616 (VS: Ic?)
Basil Argyropolus [1140]229 (Πa/Kx)
Calistus [1432]286 (Kx)
Constantine [1052]174 (Λ)
Constantine [1326]492 (Kx)
Constantine Chrysographus [XII]347 (Kx)
Cosmas Vanaretus [XIII]503 (VS: Kx)
Dionysus [XI]506 (e: Cl 276; VS: ap: Ic2 r: K)
Ephraem [949, 954, X]1582 (Family 1), 1739 (Family 1739), Cod. Marcianus 201 (of Aristotle's Organon, at Venice; dated 954), Cod. Vat. gr. 124 (the leading manuscript of Polybius, probably to be dated to 947)
Euphemius [1043]609 (Greek/Arabic; M609),
Eustathius [XII]129 (Kx)
George Hermonymos of Sparta [1478, XV]17 (Kx Cl 17), 30 and 30abs (30 is Kx Cl 17 with 288), 70 (Kx Cl 17), 287 (Kx Cl 17), 288 (Kx Cl 17 with 30), 1848 (VS: Kc)
George [XIII]579 (B)
George [XIII/XIV]429 (George is responsible only for the Acts and Epistles; r is from another hand. VS: ap: Ib1; r: K; despite von Soden, it is easily shown that 429 is part of the group 206-429-522, which is goes with Family 1739 in Acts and Family 2138 in the Catholics.)
George [1305?]649 (VS: Θε408)
Gabriel [XV]525 (Greek/Slavonic, with the Greek later and probably by an anonymous hand; Kmix/Kx/TR)
Gerasimus [XIV]498 (e: M1386 ap: VS: Kr)
Gregory [XII]438 (Kx)
James of Sinai 1316]489 (e: Πa with 1219; ap: VS: Ia2)
Joachim, George, and others [XII-XIV?]632 (VS: p: K)
Joasaph [XIII]410 (M349)
Joasaph [1366, 1369, 1376, 1394]480 (Kr), 634 (VS: Kr), 1100 (VS: Kr), 1960 (not classified by Von Soden or Aland/Aland; seems to have at least some Kr readings)
John [1044]81 (VS: H)
John (of Patmos) [XI]1194 (M10)
John [1179]688 (Kx Cl Ω)
John [1199]245 (Kmix/1167)
John [XII/XIII]421 (VS: K)
John [1273]180 (in Acts, etc.; written by Andreas in the Gospels)
John Rhosus of Crete [1478]448 (Kx Cl 183)
John Serbopulos [XV]47 (Mix/Kr), 56 (Kr)
John Trithemius [XV]96 (VS: Kx)
John Tzutzuna [1092]459 (VS: ap: H? r: Ib2)
Joseph [XI]422 (Kmix/Kx; John probably from another hand)
Leo [1039]164 (Λ with 1443)
Leo [XII]502 (Kx Cl 74)
Leo [1330]425 (VS: K)
Leontius [XI]186 (VS: Ac)
Lucas [1625]289 (VS: Kx)
Makarios [XII]1199 (Kr)
Manuel [1153]162 (Kx/Kmix)
Manuel [1262]293 (M1195)
Maurus [XIII]427 (Mix/Kx/Kmix)
Meletius [1275]248 (Kmix/M27)
Metrophanes [XIV]1595 (Kr)
Michael [949]S/028 (Kx Cl Ω)
Michael [1330]394 (e: Kr Gr 35)
Michael Damascenus [1515]522 (VS e: Kx; ap: Ib1, r: Ib; in fact part of the group 206-429-522, which is Family 1739 in Acts and Family 2138 in the Catholics.)
Neophytus [1305]645 (Kr)
Nepho [1159]439 (Kx with 877)
Nicephorus [1092]276 (Cl 276)
Nicetas Mauron [1296]341 (VS: Kx)
Nicholas [835]461 (Kx Cl Ω)
Papadopoulous Kerameus [1344]1766 (VS: Kc)
Paul [XI]26 (Kmix/Kx)
Philip [XIV]414 (M349)
Philotheus [1314]235 (Kmix/Kx)
Synesius 1033]504 (Kx)
Theodore of Hagiopetros [1278, 1280, 1284, 1292, 1295, 1301] 74 (Kx Cl 74), 234 (Kx Cl 74), 412 (Kx with 1394), 483 (e: Kx Cl 74; ap: VS: Kc), 484 (Kx Cl 74), 856 (Cl 2148), 1594 (Kx Cl 74), 2085?
Theodore [1037]623 (VS: Ia2; Richards: Family 1739, but with too low a percentage to be meaningful)
Theodosius [1338]54 (Kmix/Kx)
Theodosius ρακενδυτης [1302] 413 (Kx Cl 143)
Theophilus [1285]482 (Kxa)
Theophylact [984]619 (not classified by Von Soden or Aland/Aland)

Even when a scribe does not need a colophon, we can often tell something about him beyond his approximate date. Letterforms, artwork, marginal equipment -- all can tell something about the scribe. An obvious example is Irish scribes. Robin Flower wrote of these, "Irish scribes -- and only Irish scribes [during the ninth century] -- had a habit of setting down in the margins and on blank spaces of their manuscripts personal memoranda, invocations of saints, little fragments of verse, and all the flotsam and jetsam of idle fancy" (Robin Flower, The Irish Tradition, [1947], p. 36). Flower's examples are mostly from non-Biblical manuscripts, but there is a well-known example in Codex Boernerianus (Gp) of a scribbled note, in Gaelic, regarding a pilgrimage to Rome. This may not be from the original scribe, but other examples are.

Sadly, New Testament critics seem to make little use of the peculiarities of scribes. Many scribes had peculiar spellings (e.g. both D/06 and 462 have problems with -ε versus -αι. In the sections I checked, 462 has not a single verb ending in -ε; all had been changed to end in -αι). Obviously such manuscripts are useless for variants involving such verb endings. But such peculiarities may also tell us something about the nationality or dialect of the scribe, or the school in which he was trained.

We also know, e.g., that the chief peculiarity of the scribe of 𝔓75 was omitting short words.

Useless information? Hardly! Shakespearean scholars write whole theses about the peculiarities of the typesetters who set individual pages of his works. Although this is partly of necessity (they have nothing else to work on), the amount of information they gain is simply astonishing. New Testament scholars could surely derive many of the same benefits -- but it's a rare discussion of a reading which makes any reference to scribal habits. It's a clear lack.

Scribe at work

This is not the place for a long list of such peculiarities (since I have not the data to compile such a list), but knowledge of such features belongs in every paleographer's toolkit, and such peculiarities should be noted in editions of manuscripts.

Incidentally, we know more about scribes than just what they tell us in colophons. There are several sources of information: The manuscripts themselves, the artifacts left by scribes, and illustrations in the manuscripts. Very many manuscripts, e.g., contain illustrations thought to be the evangelists. What is noteworthy about these is how often they contain the same sort of image: The evangelist sitting before a codex (not a scroll!), with a pen in the right hand and a knife in the left. The illustration at right, from a late Latin manuscript of John, is quite typical. The knife is not just used to sharpen the pen; it is kept always in the left hand, presumably to scrape off mistakes before the ink can dry.