Johann David Michaelis and the dating of Codex Alexandrinus

Steven Avery

Sister threads:

Bernard Janin Sage (P. C. Sense) questions great uncial dating edifice

Robert Lewis Dabney astutely questions uncial dating - Sinaiticus early dating reasons analysed and shown to be insufficient

Johann David Michaelis and the dating of Codex Alexandrinus.
Johann David Michaelis and the dating of Codex Alexandrinus

Johann David Michaelis (1717-1791)

By the time of Michaelis, the dating and history of Codex Alexandrinus had really been subject to searching study. Today we are facing scholars who try for a very limited date range on many mss (papyri and parchment.) Yet the terminus ante quem of a ms. is often very difficult to determine. Often the transition from uncial to minuscule scripts is considered a transition point (yet even that is questionable if there is a deliberate attempt to write in the old style). Allowing that changeover point, you still have uncials possible from something like 200 AD to 900 AD. Often the earliest date, the terminus post quem, is possible, if a known name is referenced, or a feature is included that is known to begin at a certain time, but that is only one side of the equation.

There are times that a ms. has a fixed date, for various reasons. A ms. of Pedanius Dioscorides (the Vienna Dioscorides) is said to be clearly 6th century, and that can be a guideline ms. for the scripts of its day. The problem is that too much can be read into that similarity, since script styles can last a long time, and can be copied in modern times.

That all said, let's go to Michaelis, who had handled Alexandrinus.

Introduction to the New Testament (1823 English edition, from the German c. 1780)
Johann David Michaelis

"It is written with uncial letters, without marks of aspiration, accents, or intervals between the words. This shews its high antiquity, and that it was not written so late as the tenth century, which some of its adversaries have asserted. p. 188"
A bit later:

That the antiquity of our manuscript cannot be precisely determined ; that those who refer it to the fourth century, ascribe to it too great an age, and that they who place it in the tenth make it on the other hand by far too modern, as appears from the form of the letters and the general character of the manuscript itself, will be observed in the description taken from the third edition, where I have examined the arguments for and against its antiquity. Whoever would examine this subject with still greater accuracy, may consult Woides Preface",§41—50. who has likewise examined the arguments of the patrons and adversaries of its antiquity, without having seen what I had written on this matter in the third edition of this Introduction. 32? The result of my inquiries was the following; that the limits of the period in which it was written, cannot be confined to a space that is less than two hundred years: it cannot possibly be more ancient than the sixth century, and I would hardly venture to place it in that early age; but, on the other hand, it is equally impossible that it should be more modern than the eighth century. I would not allow it therefore the foremost rank among the manuscripts of the Greek Testament, not even in respect to its antiquity; nor would I denote it by the first letter of the alphabet, as Wetstein has done, (though in other respects he is no admirer of this manuscript) an honour to which it is as little entitled in respect to its internal excellence, and the value of its readings p. 189
In opposition to Grabe's Notitia, Casimir Oudin published at Leyden, in 1717, Trias Dissertationum Criticaruin, in which he argues against the antiquity of the Codex Alex, and contends that it was written so late as the tenth century, for the use of a monastery belonging to the order of Acoemets. p. 194
Michaelis continues with a lot of the historical discussion, and then comments:

As so many of the learned have employed their pens on this manuscript, various conjectures have been unavoidably made, that rest on unstable ground ; and those critics especially who draw their arguments for its antiquity, and country, from the internal evidence of the text itself, seem to forget that it must have been copied from one that was still more ancient. The tokens of antiquity therefore, which they find in the text, and which are likewise alleged as proofs of its having been written in Egypt, may be used as arguments, that the ancient manuscript, of which the Alexandrine is a copy, was written in that age and in that country, but they lead to no positive conclusion in regard to the Codex Alexandrinus itself. p. 195
Which is quite similar to the points later made by P. C. Sense above. (Does he reference Michaelis? That should be checked.) This is explained again on p. 204.

The conjecture of Oudin, which was adopted by Wetstein, that the manuscript was written by an Acoemet is worthy of attention, because it contains a catalogue of the psalms, that were to be sung at every hour, not only of the day, but of the night. A description of the Acoemets, or monks, whose office was to sing psalms night and day, may be seen in Helyot's History of religious orders Vol. I. c. 29. p. 201
The antiquity likewise of this manuscript can be determined with no certainty, though it appears from the formation of the letters, which resemble those of the fourth and fifth centuries, and the want of accents, that it was not written so late as the tenth century. In this century it was placed by Oudin, while Grabe and Schulze have referred it to the fourth, which is the very utmost period that can be allowed, because it contains the epistles of Athanasius. Wetstein, with more probability, has chosen a mean between these two extremes, and referred it to the fifth century: but we are not justified in drawing this inference from the formation of the letters alone, for it is well known that the same mode of forming the letters was retained longer in some countries and monasteries than in others; nor must we forget to take into the account the above-mentioned likeness between these and the Sahidic characters. ... p. 201
That the reader may be able to see with what little certainty we can judge of the antiquity of this celebrated manuscript, I will produce the principal arguments which have been used both for and against it. He will probably learn, from the following statement, to pay less adoration to the Codex Alexandrinus than many eminent critics, and from this example will see the preference that is due in many respects to ancient versions before any single manuscript, because the antiquity of the former, which is in general greater than that of the latter, can be determined with more precision. p. 202
Michaelis goes on for a number of pages.

... Oudin .. written in the tenth century, an age extremely fertile in the invention of spurious productions. p. 205
While Michaelis is disagreeing, from our perspective we can learn and remember that spurious productions abounded in many different periods, not just the 1800s.

... that there is a circumstance which excites a suspicion, that the Alexandrine manuscript was written after Arabic was become the native language of the Egyptians, that is, one, or rather two centuries after Alexandria was taken by the Saracens, which happened in the year 640. The transcriber confounds, and that, if I am not mistaken, in many instances, the two letters M and B, an exchange which frequently takes place in Arabic. See my remarks on 1 Mace. ii. 1. and iii. 16. According to my opinion therefore, the Codex Alexandrinus is not more ancient than the eighth century.p. 207
The Latinizing discussion is interesting in many places, including here on p. 208, however the emphasis in this part is age.

The notes of Herbert Marsh on the above begin: Vol 2 Part 1 1823 or Vol 2 Part 2 1802

The scholarship was entering a new period that really desired early uncials for theoretical purposes, as the base of a new text. One purpose of this inquiry will be to see if there really is any basis to the drastic change in the dating of Alexandrinus. From that proposed by Michaelis to that which is commonly given today. Michaelis had a much greater range, and was comfortable with an eight century date, while some others went even later. Today, it is dogmatically stated 5th century (maybe allowing 6th). Why?

One special reason this is important is the interconnectedness of the "great uncial" dating. Vaticanus, Bezae and Alexandrinus and even Sinaiticus are dated in reference to each other. None has an external, solid date marker. Thus if any one can be dated hundreds of years too early, so can any other. (i.e. If they are even authentically from the first millennium, rather than a later replica, forgery or special work-piece.)

This was the question raised by P. C. Sense earlier in the thread. Is there really any basis for the cluster of 4th to 6th century dates for these mss?


And "the two letters M and B" - if I remember, this issue also comes up in Sinaiticus. Perhaps it relates to Sinaiticus using the Alexandrinus facsimile edition of Baber? (Search "Coptic mu" for some references.)


Steven Avery

More from Michaelis

337- As it appears from a comparison of different Greek inscriptions, that the Greek characters during the six first centuries underwent little alteration, the resemblance between the letters of the Cod. Vat. and those of the pillar of Hippolptus afford no proof, that the manuscript was written in the same century as the inscriptions as our author justly observes. For by a similar argument it might be shewn, that the Cod. Vat. was written in the first century, since Birch relates, in his Prol. p. 14 that its characters resemble those of the Greek manuscripts, which have been discovered in the ruins of Herculaneum. On the other hand, these circumstances united afford a very strong presumption, that it was not written later than the sixth century.