Codex Alexandrinus

The Codex Alexandrinus is a fifth-century Christian manuscript of a Greek Bible, containing the majority of the Greek Old Testament and the Greek New Testament. It is one of the four Great uncial codices. Along with the Codex Sinaiticus and the Vaticanus, it is one of the earliest and most complete manuscripts of the Bible. Brian Walton assigned Alexandrinus the capital Latin letter A in the Polyglot Bible of 1657. This designation was maintained when the system was standardized by Wettstein in 1751. Thus, Alexandrinus held the first position in the manuscript list.
It derives its name from Alexandria where it resided for a number of years before it was brought by the Eastern Orthodox Patriarch Cyril Lucaris from Alexandria to Constantinople. Then it was given to Charles I of England in the 17th century. Until the later purchase of Codex Sinaiticus, it was the best manuscript of the Greek Bible deposited in Britain. Today, it rests along with Codex Sinaiticus in one of the showcases in the Sir John Ritblat Gallery of the British Library. A full photographic reproduction of the New Testament volume is available on the British Library's website.
As the text came from several different traditions, different parts of the codex are not of equal textual value.


The codex is in quarto, and now consists of 773 vellum folios, bound in four volumes. Three volumes contain the Septuagint, Greek version of the Old Testament, with the complete loss of only ten leaves. The fourth volume contains the New Testament with 31 NT leaves lost. In the fourth volume 1 and 2 Clement are also missing leaves, perhaps 3.
The codex contains a nearly complete copy of the LXX, including the deuterocanonical books 3 and 4 Maccabees, Psalm 151 and the 14 Odes. The "Epistle to Marcellinus" attributed to Saint Athanasius and the Eusebian summary of the Psalms are inserted before the Book of Psalms. It also contains all of the books of the New Testament. In addition, the codex contains 1 Clement and the homily known as 2 Clement. The books of the Old Testament are thus distributed: Genesis — 2 Chronicles, Hosea — 4 Maccabees, Psalms — Sirach. The New Testament books follow in order: Gospels, Acts of the Apostles, General epistles, Pauline epistles, Book of Revelation.
There is an appendix marked in the index, which lists the Psalms of Solomon and probably contained more apocryphal/pseudepigraphical books, but it has been torn off and the pages containing these books have also been lost.
Due to damage and lost folios, various passages are missing or have defects:
The manuscript measures and most of the folios were originally gathered into quires of eight leaves each. In modern times it was rebound into sets of six leaves each. The material is thin, fine, and very beautiful vellum, often discoloured at the edges, which have been damaged by age and more so through the ignorance or carelessness of the modern binder, who has not always spared the text, especially at the upper inner margin.
Scrivener noted that "The vellum has fallen into holes in many places, and since the ink peels off for very age whensoever a leaf is touched a little roughly, no one is allowed to handle the manuscript except for good reasons."
The text in the codex is written in two columns in uncial script, with between 49 and 51 lines per column and 20 to 25 letters per line. The beginning lines of each book are written in red ink and sections within the book are marked by a larger letter set into the margin. Words are written continuously in a large, round and well-formed uncial hand. There are no accents and breathing marks, except a few added by a later hand. The punctuation was written by the first hand. The letters are larger than those of the Codex Vaticanus. There is no division of words, but some pauses are observed in places in which should be a dot between two words. The poetical books of the Old Testament are written stichometrically. The Old Testament quotations in the text of New Testament are marked on the margin by the sign 〉.
The only decorations in the manuscript are decorative tail-pieces at the end of each book and it also shows a tendency to increase the size of the first letter of each sentence. The capitals at the beginning of the sections stand out in the margin as in codices Ephraemi and Basilensis. Codex Alexandrinus is the oldest manuscript to use capital letters to indicate new sections.
The interchange of vowels of similar sounds is very frequent in this manuscript. The letters Ν and Μ are occasionally confused, and the cluster ΓΓ is substituted with ΝΓ. This may be an argument which points to Egypt, but it is not universally conceded. A lot of iotacistic errors occur in the text; for example, αὶ is exchanged for ε, εὶ for ὶ and η for ὶ. It has no more iotacisms than other manuscripts of the same date.
The handwriting of the text from the beginning of Luke to 1 Corinthians 10:8, differs from that of the rest parts of the manuscript. Some letters have Coptic shapes. The letters are more widely spaced and are a little larger than elsewhere. Delta has extended base and Pi has extended cross-stroke. Numerals are not expressed by letters except in Apocalypse 7:4; 21:17. In the past the codex had been judged to be carelessly written, with many errors of transcription, but not so many as in the Codex Sinaiticus, and no more than in the Codex Vaticanus.
Besides the other corrections by later hands there are multiple instances in which the original scribe altered what he had first written. The corrected form of text often agrees with codices: D, N, X, Y, Γ, Θ, Π, Φ and majority of the minuscule manuscripts.
The majuscule letters have elegant shape, but a little less simple than those in the Sinaiticus and Vaticanus codices. These letters, at the end of a line, are often very small, and much of the writing is very pale and faint. Punctuation is more frequent, usually on a level with the top of the preceding letter, while a vacant space, proportionate to the break in the sense, follows the end of a paragraph. At the end of each book the colophon is ornamented by pretty volutes from prima manu. The Ammonian Sections with references to the Eusebian Canons stand in the margin of the Gospels. It contains divisions into larger sections – κεφάλαια, the headings of these sections stand at the top of the pages. The places at which those sections commence are indicated throughout the Gospels, and in Luke and John their numbers are placed in the margin of each column. To all the Gospels is prefixed by a table of κεφάλαια.
The various sections into which the Acts, Epistles, and Apocalypse were divided by Euthalian Apparatus and others, are not indicated in this manuscript. A cross appears occasionally as a separation in the Book of Acts. A larger letter in the margin throughout the New Testament marks the beginning of a paragraph.
The number of scribes were disputed in the past. According to Kenyon's opinion there were five scribes, two scribes in the Old Testament and three in the New. Subsequently, Skeat and Milne argued there were only two or possibly three scribes. Present scholars agreed in that case.
Many corrections have been made to the manuscript, some of them by the original scribe, but the majority of them by later hands. The corrected form of the text agrees with codices D, N, X, Y, Γ, Θ, Π, Σ, Φ and the great majority of the minuscule manuscripts. Kenyon observed that Codex Alexandrinus had been "extensively corrected, though much more in some books than in others". In the Pentateuch, whole sentences were erased and a new text substituted. Kings was the least corrected of the books. In the Book of Revelation only 1 of its 84 singular readings was corrected. This is in stark contrast with Codex Sinaiticus, in which 120 of the Apocalypse's 201 singular readings were corrected in the 7th century.
Each leaf has Arabic numeration, set in the verso of the lower margin. The first surviving leaf of Matthew has number 26. The 25 leaves now lost must have been extant when that note was written.

Textual features

have had a challenging task in classifying the Codex; the exact relationship to other known texts and families is still disputed. The Greek text of the codex is of mixed text-types. It is a representative of the Byzantine text-type in the Gospels – the oldest examples of the type – and the rest of the New Testament books are of the Alexandrian text-type, with some Western readings. Kurt Aland placed it in Category III in the Gospels, and in Category I in rest of the books of the New Testament. The Byzantine text of the Gospels has a number of Alexandrian features, it has some affinities to the textual Family Π. Soden associated the text of the gospels with Family Π, though it is not a pure member of this family. According to Streeter, it is the earliest Greek manuscript which gives us approximately the text of Lucian the Martyr, but a small proportion of the readings seem to be earlier.
Alexandrinus follows the Alexandrian readings through the rest of the New Testament; however, the text goes from closely resembling Codex Sinaiticus in the Pauline epistles to more closely resembling the text of a number of papyri. The text of Acts frequently agrees with the biblical quotations made by St. Athanasius. The gospels are cited as a "consistently cited witness of the third order" in the critical apparatus of the Novum Testamentum Graece, while the rest of the New Testament is of the "first order." In the Pauline Epistles it is closer to Sinaiticus than to Vaticanus. In the General Epistles it represents a different subtype than the Sinaiticus and the Vaticanus. In the Book of Revelation it agrees with Codex Ephraemi against Sinaiticus and Papyrus 47. In the Book of Revelation and in several books of the Old Testament, it has the best text of all manuscripts. In the Old Testament its text often agrees with Codex Sinaiticus.
; Old Testament
In Deuteronomy 31:15 it reads εν στυλω for εν νεφελη ;
In Joshua 11:42 it reads ελαβεν for επαταξεν ;
In Joshua 11:1 it reads μαδων for μαρρων ;
In Judges 18:30 it reads υιου Μωυση, Vaticanus reads – υιος Μανασση;
In Ezra 10:22 it reads Ωκειδηλος for Jozabad;
In Psalm 9:35 it reads κοπον for πονον.
; New Testament
Mark 16:9–20 is preserved in its traditional form in the Codex Alexandrinus.
In Luke 4:17 Alexandrinus has textual variant ἀνοίξας together with the manuscripts B, L, W, Ξ, 33, 892, 1195, 1241, 547, syrs, syrh, syrpal, copsa, copbo, against variant ἀναπτύξας supported by א, Dc, K, Δ, Θ, Π, Ψ, f1, f13, 28, 565, 700, 1009, 1010 and other manuscripts.
In John 1:39, it has the unique reading ωρα ην ως εκτη, instead of ωρα ην ως δεκατη, as found in all other manuscripts.
In Acts 8:39 instead of πνεῦμα κυρίου it has unusual textual variant πνεῦμα ἅγιον ἐπέπεσεν ἐπὶ τὸν εὐνοῦχον, ἄγγελος δέ κυρίου ἥρπασεν τὸν Φίλιππον supported by several minuscule manuscripts: 94, 103, 307, 322, 323, 385, 453, 467, 945, 1739, 1765, 1891, 2298, 36a, itp, vg, syrh.
In Acts 11:20 the manuscript has textual variant Ἔλληνας together with the manuscripts 74, corrector c of Sinaiticus, and Codex Bezae, against Ἑλληνιστάς supported by the rest of manuscripts except Sinaiticus. In Acts 15:18 it has variant γνωστῶν ἀπ᾿ αἰῶνος τῷ κυρίῳ τὸ ἔργον αὐτοῦ supported only by 74.
In it reads του κυριου – instead of του θεου – along with the manuscripts 74 C* D E Ψ 33 36 453 945 1739 1891.
In Romans 2:5 it reads ανταποδοσεως for αποκαλυψεως.
In Romans 8:1 it reads Ιησου κατα σαρκα περιπατουσιν, for Ιησου. The reading of the manuscript is supported by Db, Ψ, 81, 629, 2127, vg. The Byzantine manuscripts read Ιησου μη κατα σαρκα περιπατουσιν αλλα κατα πνευμα.
In 1 Corinthians 2:1 it reads μυστηριον along with 46, א, C, 88, 436, ita,r, syrp, copbo. Other manuscripts read μαρτυριον or σωτηριον.
In 1 Corinthians 7:5 it reads τη προσευχη along with 11, 46, א*, A, B, C, D, G, P, Ψ, 33, 81, 104, 181, 629, 630, 1739, 1877, 1881, 1962, it vg, cop, arm, eth. Other manuscripts read τη νηστεια και τη προσευχη or τη προσευχη και νηστεια.
In Ephesians 1:7 it reads χρηστοτητος for χαριτος along with 365 copbo.
In Ephesians 4:14 it reads του διαβολου for της πλανης.
In 1 Timothy 3:16 it has textual variant ὃς ἐφανερώθη supported by Sinaiticus, Ephraemi, Boernerianus, 33, 365, 442, 2127, 599, against θεός ἐφανερώθη . Metzger's notation, Avid, signifies the reading is damaged and cannot be established with certainty.
In Hebrews 13:21 it reads παντι εργω και λογω αγαθω for παντι αγαθω.
In 1 John 5:6 it has textual variant δι' ὕδατος καὶ αἵματος καὶ πνεύματος together with the manuscripts: Codex Sinaiticus, 104, 424c, 614, 1739c, 2412, 2495, 598m, syrh, copsa, copbo, Origen. Bart D. Ehrman identified it as Orthodox corrupt reading.
In Revelation 1:17 it has unique reading πρωτοτοκος instead of πρωτος.
In Revelation 5:9 it has ἠγόρασας τῷ θεῷ. This textual variant is supported only by Ethiopian manuscripts, and has no other Greek manuscript with it.

Verses the scribe did not include

Alexandrinus is an important witness for the absence of Pericope Adultera. Gregory asserted in regard to the lost two leaves, "For by counting the lines we can prove that it was not in the book. There was not room for it"..


Place of origin

The manuscript's original provenance is unknown. Traditionally Alexandria is considered the place of its origin and it is the most probable hypothesis. Cyril Lucaris was the first who pointed to Alexandria as the place of origin of the codex. This popular view is based on an Arabic note from 13th or 14th century, on folio 1, which reads: "Bound to the Patriarchal Cell in the Fortress of Alexandria. Whoever removes it thence shall be excommunicated and cut off. Written by Athanasius the humble." "Athanasius the humble" is identified with Athanasius III, Patriarch of Alexandria from 1276 to 1316.
F. C. Burkitt questioned this popular view. According to Burkitt, the note reads: "Bound to the Patriarchal Cell in the Fortress of Alexandria. He that lets it go out shall be cursed and ruined. The humble Athanasius wrote." The manuscript had been found on Mount Athos, and the manuscript might have been taken to Egypt by Cyril in 1616, and that all the Arabic writing in the manuscript could have been inserted between that date and 1621, when Cyril was elected Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. On this supposition "Athanasius the humble" might have been "some person of Cyril's staff who had charge of his library". According to Burkitt's view the codex was found on Athos, but it was written in Constantinople, because it represents a Constantinopolitan text. This hypothesis was supported by Kirsopp Lake.
Frederic G. Kenyon opposed to the Burkit's view and argued that Cyril firmly believed in the Egyptian origin of the codex. A. S. Fulton, the Keeper of the Department of Oriental Printed Books and Manuscripts in the British Museum, in 1938 re-examined the Athanasius note, and gave it as his opinion that on palaeographical grounds it could be dated 13th to 14th century and that the 17th century was excluded. In 1945 T. D. Moschonas published a catalogue of the library of the Patriarch of Alexandria, in which he printed two Greek notes, both from 10th-century manuscripts of John Chrysostom, inserted by the Patriarch Athanasius III. The two notes must have been written between 1308 and 1316. Although the note in the Codex Alexandrinus is entirely in Arabic, and therefore no identity of hand the Greek notes can be expected, the similarity of wording leaves no doubt that this also is the work of Athanasius III.
Burnett Hillman Streeter proposed Caesarea or Beirut for three reasons: it contains, after the New Testament, the two Epistles of Clement; it represents an eclectic text in the New Testament, Antiochian in the Gospels and Alexandrian in the Acts and Epistles, it suggests some place where the influence of Antioch and of Alexandria met; the text of the Old Testament appears to be a non-Alexandrian text heavily revised by the Hexapla, the Old Testament quotations in New Testament more often than not agree with Alexandrinus against Vaticanus.
According to Skeat the note in the codex indicated that the manuscript had not previously been in the Patriarchal Library in Alexandria. The manuscript was carried from Constantinople to Alexandria between 1308 and 1316, together with two mentioned above manuscripts of Chrysostom. It remained in Alexandria until 1621, when Cyril removed it once to Constantinople. Whether was originally written, in Constantinople or in Alexandria, is another question. Skeat did not try to give the answer on this question. This view was supported by McKendrick, who proposes Ephesian provenance of the codex.
A 17th-century Latin note on a flyleaf states that the manuscript was given to a patriarchate of Alexandria in 1098, although this may well be "merely an inaccurate attempt at deciphering the Arabic note by Athanasius". The authority for this statement is unknown.


According to an Arabic note on the reverse of the first volume of the manuscript, the manuscript was written by the hand of Thecla, the martyr, a notable lady of Egypt, a little later than the Council of Nice. Tregelles made another suggestion, the New Testament volume has long been mutilated, and begins now in the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew, in which chapter the lesson for Thecla's Day stands. "We cannot be sure how the story arose. It may be that the manuscript was written in a monastery dedicated to Thecla." Tregelles thought that Thecla's name might have on this account been written in the margin above, which has been cut off, and that therefore the Egyptians imagined that Thecla had written it. Cyril Lucaris believed in Thecla's authorship, but the codex cannot be older than from late 4th century.
Codex Alexandrinus contains the Epistle of Athanasius on the Psalms to Marcellinus, so it cannot be considered earlier than A.D. 373 . In the Acts and Epistles we cannot find such chapter divisions, whose authorship is ascribed to Euthalius, Bishop of Sulci, come into vogue before the middle of the fifth century. It is terminus ad quem. The presence of Epistle of Clement, which was once read in Churches recalls to a period when the canon of Scripture was in some particulars not quite settled. It is certain that the writing of the manuscript appears to be somewhat more advanced than that of the Vaticanus or Sinaiticus, especially in the enlargement of initial letters. It is also more decorated, though its ornamentations are already found in earlier manuscripts.
Codex Alexandrinus was written a generation after codices Sinaiticus and Vaticanus, but it may still belong to the fourth century. It cannot be later than the beginning of the fifth. Currently it is dated by the INTF to the 5th century.

In Britain

The codex was brought to Constantinople in 1621 by Cyril Lucar. Lucar was involved in a complex struggle with the Turkish government, the Catholic Church, and his own subordinates. He was supported by English government and presented the codex to James I in 1624, as a gratitude for his help. The codex was presented through the hands of Thomas Roe, the English ambassador at the court of the Sultan. King James died before the manuscript started for England, and the offer was transferred to Charles I in 1627. It became a part of the Royal Library, British Museum and since 1973 of the British Library. It was saved from the fire at Ashburnham House on 23 October 1731, by the librarian, Richard Bentley.

Collations and editions

The Epistles of Clement of the codex were published in 1633 by Patrick Young, the Royal Librarian. A collation was made by Alexander Huish, Prebendary of Wells, for the London Polyglot Bible. The text of the manuscript was cited as footnotes. Richard Bentley made a collation in 1675.
The Old Testament was edited by Ernst Grabe in 1707–1720, and New Testament in 1786 by Carl Gottfried Woide, in facsimile from wooden type, line for line, without intervals between the words, precisely almost as in original. In 1 Tim 3:16 he edits ΘΣ ἐφανερόθη, and combats in his prolegomenon the opinion of Wettstein, who maintained that ΟΣ ἐφανερόθη was the original reading, and that the stroke, which in some lights can be seen across part of the Ο, arose from part of a letter visible through the vellum. According to Wettstein, part of the Ε on the other side of the leaf does insert the O. Wettstein's assertion was also disputed by F.H. Scrivener, who found that "Ε cut the Ο indeed... but cut it too high to have been reasonably mistaken by a careful observer for the diameter of Θ."
Woide's edition contained some typesetting errors, such as in the Epistle to Ephesians – ἐκλήθηθε for ἐκλήθητε and πραόθητος for πραότητος. These errors were corrected in 1860 by B. H. Cowper, and E. H. Hansell, with three other manuscripts, in 1860. The Old Testament portion was also published in 1816-1828 by Baber, in three folio volumes. The entire manuscript was issued in photographic facsimile by the British Museum, under the supervision of E. M. Thompson in 1879 and 1880. Frederic G. Kenyon edited a photographic facsimile of the New Testament with reduced size in 1909. The text of the Old Testament followed four parts in 1915.

Textual criticism

According to Bentley this manuscript is "the oldest and best in the world". Bentley assumed that by supplementing this manuscript with readings from other manuscripts and from the Latin Vulgate, he could triangulate back to the single recension which he presumed existed at the time of the First Council of Nicaea. Wettstein highly esteemed the codex in 1730, but he changed his opinion in 1751 and was no longer a great admirer of it. He came to the conviction that Athos was the place of its origin, not Alexandria. Michaelis also did not esteem it highly, either on account of its internal excellence or the value of its readings. The principal charge which has been produced against the manuscript, and which had been urged by Wettstein, is its having been altered from the Latin version. Michaelis countered that the transcriber who lived in Egypt would not have altered the Greek text from a Latin version, because Egypt belonged to the Greek diocese, and Latin was not understood there. Woide, who defended the Greek manuscripts in general, and the Codex Alexandrinus in particular, from the charge of having been corrupted from the Latin, discerned two hands in the New Testament.
Griesbach agreed with Woide and expanded on Michaelis' point of view. If this manuscript has been corrupted from a version, it is more reasonable to suspect the Coptic, the version of the country in which it was written. Between this manuscript and both the Coptic and Syriac versions there is a remarkable coincidence. According to Griesbach the manuscript follows three different editions: the Byzantine in the Gospels, the Western in the Acts and General epistles, and the Alexandrian in the Pauline epistles. Griesbach designated the codex by letter A.
Tregelles explained the origin of the Arabic inscription, on which Cyril's statement appears to rest, by remarking that the text of the New Testament in the manuscript begins with Matthew 25:6, this lesson being that appointed by the Greek Church for the festival of St. Thecla.


It was the first manuscript of great importance and antiquity of which any extensive use was made by textual critics, but the value of the codex was differently appreciated by different writers in the past. Wettstein created a modern system of catalogization of the New Testament manuscripts. Codex Alexandrinus received symbol A and opened the list of the NT uncial manuscripts. Wettstein announced in his Prolegomena ad Novi Testamenti Graeci that Codex A is the oldest and the best manuscript of the New Testament, and should be the basis in every reconstruction of the New Testament text. Codex Alexandrinus became a basis for criticizing the Textus Receptus.

Text of the codex

Introductions to the Textual Criticism of NT