Codex Boreelianus

A cut-up gospel

Cut, blotted, torn, damaged… The Gospel may be considered Holy Scripture, but that does not make it insusceptible to abuse. The Codex Boreelianus is proof that old manuscripts do not always receive the care they deserve. While this manuscript was being battered, others were actually searching for it.

From Constantinople…

Uitsnede uit fol 71r van de Codex Boreelianus uit de Bijzondere Collecties van de Universiteitsbibliotheek Utrecht
Beginning of the Gospel of Mark, fol 71r

Close inspection of the Codex Boreelianus reveals that it is written in a non-Latin script. Written in Greek uncials, or capitals, which was common practice in Constantinople at that time (ca. 1000), the Codex Boreelianus contains the Gospels according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, in two columns. Decorations are only found at the beginning of the Gospels, although there are also headings in gold or red letters.

The Codex Boreelianus just a standard Gospel. It was used for in the liturgy, or church services. This is evidenced by the notes of various writers, some of which refer to passages which were read aloud on certain holidays. There is also a note is in Arabic, and some of the quires (gatherings of folded leaves) are numbered in Arabic script. Zeeland

From his humble beginnings as a student of law and theology, later becoming the grand pensionary of Zeeland, Johannes Boreel (1577-1629) has been credited with bringing the manuscript to the west from the Orient. Although we know that Boreel travelled to the Middle East, the manuscript itself bears no evidence that it was ever in Boreel’s possession. Neither are there any references to that effect, except in the writings of Johann Jakob Wettstein.

The theologist Wettstein wanted to use old manuscripts to reconstruct the original Greek text of the New Testament. Thus he was also interested in a transcription, written by Izaak Verburg in 1730, of a Greek manuscript of the Gospel. The transcription reveals that the manuscript in question is the same one which is now known as Utrecht, University Library, Ms. 1. Wettstein remarked that the manuscript had been in the possession of Johannes Boreel, and so it was unofficially dubbed ‘Codex Boreelianus’.

Fol 179r van de Codex Boreelianus (Handschrift 1) uit de Bijzondere Collecties van de Universiteitsbibliotheek Utrecht
The beginning of Gospel of John, Folio 179r.

Lost and found

While Wettstein was reconstructing the Greek text of the New Testament using the text of the Codex Boreelianus (which he called ‘codex F’), he no longer knew of the manuscript’s whereabouts. It was not until 1823 - nearly a century later - that the manuscript was found by Jodocus Heringa, professor of Divinity at Utrecht University. A friend of his, Hendrik Herman Donker Curtius, had shown him a fragment, stating that the entire manuscript was in the hands of Arnhem council member Johannes Michaelis Roukens.

On borrowing the manuscript, Heringa realised it was Wettstein’s ‘codex F’. However, it is not clear how it came into the possession of the Roukens family. Heringa studied the manuscript and his successor, H.E. Vinke, published his findings in 1840, three years after his death. Vinke was also responsible for acquiring the manuscript for the Utrecht University Library.

The Gospel sustains damage

Codex Boreelianus uit de Bijzondere Collecties van de Universiteitsbibliotheek Utrecht

Although the pages of the Codex Boreelianus used to be bound together, it now consists of separate quires. Wettstein’s description suggests that a few parts were missing and even more quires and pages were lost later on. Conspicuously, around twenty pages of the manuscript have been torn or cut with a scissors or knife.

Een detail van de Codex Boreelianus uit de Bijzondere Collecties van de Universiteitsbibliotheek Utrecht

Who was responsible for this damage remains a mystery. Based on the scribbles found on 40r and 40v (Mijn heer de (?): 'My lord the (?)'), it is possible that children were to blame. Someone also wrote ‘NB 9 Febr 1756’ on 168r. It is difficult to pinpoint the whereabouts of the Codex Boreelianus prior to it being found by Heringa. Perhaps more will be discovered in the future to shed light on this mystery.

Author: Bart Jaski, 2011

Codex Boreelianus, Handschrift 1 uit de Bijzondere Collecties van de Universiteitsbibliotheek Utrecht