The Gospel of Mark, in Greek, fragment of a manuscript on vellum [eastern Roman Empire, fifth century]
a long thin fragment, 100mm. by 20mm., from the upper edge of a leaf from a codex with remains of 2 lines of text on front and back in light brown ink in a professional Greek uncial, also known as biblical majuscule, close to that of the Cotton Genesis (second half of fifth century) and perhaps also that of the Codex Alexandrinus (first half of the fifth century), parts of 13 words from Mark 4:9 “'ο εχων ωτα ακουει[ν] ακουετω' ” (whoever has ears to hear, let them listen, with the variant second word “εχων”, a reading shared with the Codex Alexandrinus and Codex Ephraemi) and 4:15 'την οδον. οπου ςπειρε[ται] ο λογος: και οτ[α]ν [ακου...]' (these are the ones on the path where the word is sown; whenever they hear …), thus from a single-column codex with about 22 lines missing between the lines here and with an original written space of approximately 160mm. by 130mm. (notably similar to other early Gospel books, such as a fourth-century leaf of John now New York, Metropolitan Museum, P.Oxy.847, with 19 lines within 162mm. by 146mm.; and a fourth- or fifth-century leaf of Luke in Vienna, ÖNB., Pap.G39778, with 26 lines within 153mm. by 136mm.), vellum brittle at upper edge and with small nicks and discolouration there, with only small damage to a few characters on back, text slightly faded in places, most probably recovered from a bookbinding, but overall in excellent condition
1. This manuscript is from an important cache of early fragments, discovered in 2003, and reported to have been from a pre-War Armenian collection of antiquities and manuscripts in France. Five Biblical fragments, including the present one, were published by P.M. Head in the Journal of Theological Studies, ns.59 (2008), with short earlier notices in TC: A Journal of Biblical Textual Criticism, 8 (2003), Bulletin of the International Organization for Septuagint and Cognate Studies, 36 (2003) and the Tyndale Bulletin, 56 (2005). They include fragments of Luke (fifth century, and probably the oldest witness to that part of the text), John (late fifth century or even c.500), another fragment of Mark (fifth to sixth century) and Romans (sixth or seventh century). Subsequently, the other fragments have been identified as the oldest extant witness to the Lucianic recension of Jeremiah in Greek (early to mid-fifth century: Head ibid., pp.1-11), the only surviving witness to the Greek original text of the Testamentum Domini Nostri Jesu Christi (fifth century: Corcoran and Salway in Journal of Theological Studies, ns.62 (2011) pp.118-35), and the only surviving fragments of a series of imperial edicts made by third-century emperors and now named the Fragmenta Londiniensia Anteiustiniana (fifth century: Corcoran and Salway in Zeitschrift der Savigny Stiftung für Rechtsgeschichte: romanistische Abteilung, 127 (2010) pp.677-8, and Roman Legal Tradition, 6 (2010).
Clearly these fragments of six early Bibles, a pseudo-Apostolic Church Order, and records of imperial edicts were once in a large and important library of the ancient world, in scope and chronological range far beyond that of a wealthy individual. There were large institutional libraries in Upper Egypt (such as that of the monastery founded by Pachomius c.320), Roman North Africa (as used by Augustine of Hippo in the late fourth and early fifth century), Milan (as used by Ambrose in the late fourth century) and Alexandria (as used by Bishop Gregory of Alexandria in the mid-fourth century), but the Eastern Empire was increasingly centred on Constantinople as its outlying territories fell prey to barbarian invasion. Jerome notes that the Lucianic recension of the Septuagint (including the fragment of Jeremiah noted above) was current only in Constantinople and Antioch in the early fifth century, and the collection of imperial edicts has been tentatively identified as also coming from the city. If so, it seems likely that they come from the Imperial Library in Constantinople, founded by Emperor Constantius II (reigned 337-61) as a scriptorium with the express purpose of copying fragile papyrus documents onto more stable vellum. Under Emperor Valens in 372 it employed four Greek and three Latin scribes. It survived a fire in 473, was sacked by the Normans in 1204 during the Fourth Crusade, and eventually destroyed only after the conquest of the city by the Ottoman Empire in 1453. The only other manuscript thought to be from this source is that of the Archimedes Palimpsest, which surfaced first in Constantinople in 1840 and is now in a private collection in America.
Armenians, unlike many of their neighbours, use vellum fragments in their bindings (see also lot 42 here), and it may be that the parent codex of the present manuscript was kept for its valuable vellum after the destruction and dispersal of the Imperial Library, and reused in the binding of a fifteenth- or sixteenth-century Armenian book.
2. Acquired privately by the present owner in 2008.
This is Gregory-Aland 0313, and holds a commanding position within the earliest witnesses to that Gospel in its original language. Within the vast Gregory-Aland census, the Gospel of Mark is surprisingly rare. Only three recorded papyri include any words of Mark at all (P.45, 84 and 88), and none before the sixth century include the present text (Louvain, Univ. Bibl. PAM. Khirbet Mird 4, 11, 27, 27). Among the vellum witnesses it is definitively preceded only by the Codex Siniaticus and the Codex Vaticanus, both of the fourth century, and the Freer Gospels in Washington, of the fourth to fifth century; and is contemporary or near-contemporary with the Codex Alexandrinus in London, the Codex Besa in Cambridge and the palimpsest Codex Ephraemi in Paris.