The Smithsonian Institute’s Freer Gallery of Art is once again exhibiting its rare Codex Washingtonianus biblical manuscript.
If you have no idea what a codex is you’re probably not alone. It’s a fancy way of referring to a bunch of pages bound together. In other words a book as we think of it as opposed to the scrolls which historically preceded the creation of codices. Biblical manuscripts are sometimes identified by their location. For instance Codex Vaticanus is housed by the Vatican and Codex Leningradensis is now preserved by the National Library of Russia in (you guessed it) Leningrad.
Codex Washingtonianus is important because it dates back to either the late 4th or early 5th century making it one of the oldest existing New Testament manuscripts we have. The manuscript contains all four of the Gospels in the order we are used to reading them in our Bibles today (Matt, Mark, Luke, John). It was purchased by Charles Lang Freer for whom the Smithsonian Art Gallery was eventually named. Charles Freer bought the manuscript on a trip to Egypt all the way back in 1906. As the name implies it is permanently housed in Washington DC at the Freer Gallery.
For preservation purposes the manuscript is only occasionally displayed. The last time I remember the codex being exhibited was in 2006 when the Society of Biblical Literature held their annual conference in Washington. Since we have such a valuable treasure available let me encourage those of you in the area to make the trip downtown while it is still on display.
When the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in the 1940s scholars compared the Isaiah scroll (1qIsa) which was probably written around the 2nd century BC and the Masoretic Text which was the copied version of the Old Testament that dates from between the 7th and 10th century AD. They found that the two were essentially the same in spite of the 9 centuries that lapsed between the their creations. With that in mind consider the fact that there are only three to four centuries since the life of Jesus Christ and the creation of Codex Washingtonianus.
My faith isn’t based on the existence of this artifact but it is certainly strengthened by it. Take advantage of such a rich treasure being located in right here in our backyard.
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