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The number of manuscripts used by Stephanus in the production of his first three editions was elucidated by Huyshe at the beginning of the nineteenth century. His findings can be downloaded in PDF format here. HTML version: here. A summary is found in The British Magazine vol. 3, London 1833, pp. 285:

“Upon his1 petition to his high-minded patron, Francis I.,2 he was accommodated with the use of fifteen MSS. from the royal library; out of these, and some one private MS., he formed the text of the “O mirificam,” of 1546.3 This stock he nearly doubled while he was preparing for the glory of his life, the folio of 1550; and when the text of that splendid edition had been formed from it, he selected seven of the fifteen royal MSS. and six of the private, numbered 2-14, to give opposing4 readings to his first volume (the Gospels and the Acts) which together with those of one of the previous editions,5 No. 1, are given in the inner margin. As a sufficient number of these thirteen MSS. contained the epistles of St. Paul, and the remainder of the third part of the sacred text (the catholic epistles) there was no alteration made in the opposing materials for giving various readings thus far, in the second volume. But in the Revelations (the 4th part of the sacred text) all the thirteen of the first selection failed. A new selection then became necessary, and No. 15 was taken out of the royal MSS., and No 16 out of the private MSS., with the printed edition,6 to furnish opposing7 readings to the new text, there. A reading or two was given from each of the two last selected MSS., in the previous part of the work, probably (as I have imagined) to shew that the royal MS., No. 15, contained the whole of this second volume;8 and that the private one, No. 16, contained the whole New Testament. The original set of MSS. then amounted to little more than half of what were obtained in the whole, for the text of the folio; and exactly half of that set, (viz., eight of the royal MSS.) and about one half of those that were obtained afterwards, together with the Complutensian print, made up the set that was taken first and last to oppose9 the text of the folio in the marginal readings. Such was the theory of a pamphlet10 entitled “Specimen of an intended publication &c”,11 namely, that Stephanus had fifteen MSS. from the royal library, but that he had, in all, 16 MSS., “posterioribus diebus,”12 for the first edition of 1546; that these were increased, as might naturally be expected, by his keeping his son so long searching the libraries of Italy, to thirty, and more, for the folio;13 and that a selection was made out of the whole, to furnish opposing14 readings in the margin. ”

Huyshe’s conclusions are based on the totality of written statements in relation to his sources by Stephanus himself, and not on a priori assumptions that Stephanus was mistaken or misleading, which is the usual approach of text-critics. The Royal Library drawn on by Stephanus had benefited recently from the attention of the Greek scholar John Lascaris (1445-1535). Not only an evangelist of Greek language and literature in Renaissance Italy, and a member of the Greek Academy of the printer Aldus Manutius in Venice, Lascaris was also a pioneer himself in the printing of Greek texts. He had fled Constantinople with his father when it fell to the Turks, and in his new home of Italy had served Lorenzo de Medici on a mission to Greece, with permission from the Sultan, aimed at recovering valuable Greek manuscripts. He made a second journey for the same purpose somewhat later. He brought trunk-loads of rare and precious manuscripts across to Italy as a result, and subsequently helped Francis I, Stephanus’ royal patron, furnish his library at Fontainebleau on the outskirts of Paris. The Medicis’ personal library wound up in the French Royal Library, too, through the marriage of Catherine de’ Medici with Henry II, the successor to Francis I, in 1533. We may well believe Stephanus when he says his manuscripts from the Royal Library had “that appearance of antiquity which calls forth a feeling, almost, of adoration”.

The folio edition of 1550 is the foundational Textus Receptus. The first edition, the “O mirificam” of 1546, like almost all first editions, was capable of improvement, and was so improved in the second of 1549, but mainly in the third of 1550, by reconsulting the precious manuscripts from the Royal Library. The fourth edition of 1551, on the other hand, was produced at a time when Stephanus no longer had access to those manuscripts, and he was compelled to leave Paris because of threats from his ecclesiastical enemies jeopardizing his life and liberty. The manuscripts from the Royal Library were returned, according to Stephanus’ own testimony, to the Royal Library, and, like those used for the Complutensian, have never been seen again. Stephanus’ fourth edition of 1551 was done for the benefit of Latin readers, not principally as a separate edition of the Greek text. The Greek text in the edition of 1551, almost identical, of course, to that of 1550, stood in the middle column between the Vulgate’s Latin on the left and Erasmus’ Latin on the right, presumably by way of mockery of the Complutensian, and commentary on the comparative worth of Erasmus’ Latin, as if his is the “thief on the right”. Where this printing differs from the 1550, excepting mere printing errors, the 1550 is always to be preferred, considering Stephanus’ reduced circumstances at the time and his lack of access to the Royal Library. Later some of Stephanus’ secondary manuscripts passed to Beza, who also had notes of Robert’s son Henri collating those and other manuscripts, some discovered by Henri in Italy. Where Beza preferred this or that reading for his various editions of the New Testament, he relied mainly on these resources. His formed the basis of the Elzevir editions, which provided the form of text received on the Continent. However, Beza was more interested in producing a Latin translation for regular use by the Christian public, and not another Greek edition. At no time, more importantly, did he have access to the manuscripts from the Royal Library, which are the basis, letter by letter, of the Textus Receptus of Stephanus 1550. The Elzevir editions, therefore, are not in the same category as the Stephanus 1550, and do not represent the Received Text sensu stricto.

The following quotations from standard historical authorities are intended to background the life and work of Lascaris and to illustrate the high quality of the Greek and other manuscripts in the French Royal Library at this period. First a summary of Lascaris’ life from Aldus Manutius and the Development of Greek Script and Type in the Fifteenth Century, by Nicolas Barker, 2nd ed., Chiswick Book Shop, 1992, p. 15f.:

“Janus Lascaris was arguably the greatest of all Greek scholars of the first generation after the Fall of Constantinople. Born in or near the city about 1445, he escaped with his family who fled first to the Peloponnese, and thence c. 1458-60 to Crete. His ability must already have been evident, for Cardinal Bessarion asked him to come to Venice, whence he sent him to the University of Padua. There he studied under Demetrius Chalcondyles and probably remained in Bessarion’s service until his death in 1472. At this point there is a gap in what is known of Lascaris’ life. In March 1472 Chalcondyles with Theodore Gaza and Andronicus Callistos had gone to Bologna to pay their respects to Bessarion. Chalcondyles was clearly restless and considering other projects, which he may well have discussed with Lascaris; eventually he decided to go to Florence, in succession to Argyropoulos, and he arrived there in September 1475. It is possible that he and Lascaris had been together in the interval; it was probably about 1475 that Lascaris too went to Florence, also to teach Greek. Among his pupils was Marcus Musurus, who became the chief editor of Aldus’ Greek texts. Between about 1489 and 1492 Lascaris was sent by Lorenzo de Medici on two extensive journeys to search for Greek manuscripts in the Levant. While in Constantinople he made a contract with Niccolò da Siena, a doctor living there, for the purchase of manuscripts. The contract is dated 17 December 1491, and among the authors listed are Plato, Plutarch (both first published by Aldus) and Lucian (first published by Lascaris himself); one of the witnesses is ‘Aristobulus yerodiaconus’, the son of Michael Apostolis ….

“Returning to Florence five days before the death of his patron Lorenzo, he soon set up his own Greek press, using the capital alphabet only. His reasons for this, that the letter forms hitherto used were neither easy to print nor hung well together and were altogether too interwoven and convoluted, led him to revive the ‘ancient forms of the letters, now long obsolete’, which he considered much better adapted to printing, for the printers and other craftsmen associated with them. His first three books are all in capitals, without accents; accents and lower-case alphabet, of the ‘convoluted’ form, were introduced about 1495, inspired, Proctor suggests, by the example of Aldus. The press of Lascaris survived the fall of Piero de’ Medici and the entry into Florence of Charles VIII of France. In August 1495 he drew up an inventory of the Medici manuscripts which detained him in Florence until October. Pretty soon after, he followed Charles VIII back to France, but not before he had time to visit Venice where Aldus was printing Theocritus and other pieces (in the first major piece of Greek printing), and to correct some proofs, possibly currente prelo. Knös suggests that he joined the court at Lyon in November.

“The rest of Lascaris’ life was preoccupied with the creation of a permanent base for the teaching of Greek, first abortively in France and then successfully with the establishment of Pope Leo X’s college on the Quirinal at Rome. His life was spent between France and Italy; he died in Rome in 1535. His other main interest had been the reclamation of his native country from the Turks, and this dominated his time as French ambassador at Venice (1503-13). He also found time to aid his fellow Greeks there; his charities are recorded in Musurus’ preface to the Aldine Pausanias (1516). He was a member of the Aldine academy. Aldus dedicated his edition of the Rhetores Graeci to him in terms which show how much he owed Lascaris, for encouragement, help and manuscripts. He was, in short, the Colossus of Greek scholarship in the first generation of the Greek press.”

Next from The Literature of the French Renaissance, vol. 1, Cambridge, 1904, by A. A. Tilley, p. 18f.

“In 1522 Budé had been appointed to the newly-created office of ‘master of the king’s library’ at Fontainebleau, and not long afterwards the king began to form there a collection of Greek manuscripts. His first acquisition was made in 1529; it consisted of fifty volumes purchased for him by Girolamo Fondulo, a native of Cremona and a man of considerable learning. In 1542 he bought the collection of Georges de Selve, and in 1545 Cardinal d’Armagnac presented him with twenty-four volumes. The chief hunting-ground for Greek manuscripts at this time was Venice, and here the copying of manuscripts formed a regular industry among the exiled Greeks.15 About 1540 the most renowned of these copyists, Angelo Vergecio, was persuaded to enter the French king’s service.

“In 1544 Francis moved to Fontainebleau the library at Blois which he had inherited from his predecessor Louis XII. It contained 1891 volumes, including about forty manuscripts which Janus Lascaris had brought to France in 1508. The great majority of these volumes consisted of manuscripts, there being only 109 printed volumes. In 1545 Vergecio made a list of the Greek manuscripts, which amounted to about 190. In a library like this which had a quasi-public character manuscripts were of more service to learning at this stage of its development than printed books, for they were freely lent to various Paris publishers, and books were thus rapidly multiplied. Before 1528 hardly any Greek books were printed in France, but in that year a real start was made, and four Greek books, all of some importance, were printed. In 1530 the work received an impulse from an unexpected quarter, for no less than eleven Greek books were printed in that year by Gerardus Morrhius in the Sorbonne itself. One of them was a Greek-Latin lexicon. Still greater encouragement came from the appointment of a king’s printer for Greek in 1539. The first holder of the post, Conrad Néobar, died a year after his appointment, and he was succeeded in 1540 by the well-known Robert Éstienne,16 who already held the office of king’s printer for Hebrew and Latin.”

The ultimate source of some of the most valued Greek manuscripts brought across to Italy and then into France by exiled Greek scholars was the monastic center at Mount Athos:

Edward Edwards. writing in The Library Chronicle Vol. 1, 1884 p. 106f.:

“The monks17 contrived to make fair terms with the Mohammedan conquerors of Constantinople. For a small yearly tribute, honestly paid, they obtained confirmation of their privileges, which were honourably observed. It is said that when under Mohammedan rule the number of the ascetics reached to 10,000; but long before they attained to these large numbers, MSS. and libraries had ceased to be a primary object of care.

“Some of the first and most precious of the early book-treasures of Mount Athos came from Caesarea.18 Thence, for example, came a portion of a Commentary on the Epistles of St. Paul, transcribed at Caesarea in the sixth century, bearing on its face the certificate of its transcriber, and made, there is good reason to believe, from a MS. in the handwriting of St. Pamphilus.

“If the good monks of S. Athanasius, who had treasured up this precious relic of the destroyed Caesarea, bringing with it associations for ever sacred, could have looked down upon their too-busy successor, Igoumenos or Abbot Macarius, who, at the beginning of the thirteenth century, plumed himself upon the energy with which he ‘restored’ his library and made it look respectable, — like some other ‘restorers,’ his congeners amongst ourselves, who hide Christian paintings, if they themselves are poor, behind whitewash; if rich, behind ‘the best wainscot,’ and who cut away Christian sculpture to make room for comfortable pews — they must have had a pang of horror. The too-antiquated MSS. were, thought Macarius, most usefully employed as stiffeners and end-papers for bindings of new ones. From S. Athanasius these relics came to Paris (hid in the bindings for which Macarius had used them), and they passed, with the noble collection of Seguier and of Coislin, to the Library of the Kings of France, as I have elsewhere related.

“Amongst the earlier explorers of these Monastic Libraries, when they had ceased to be amongst the primary objects of the care, the industry, and the pride of their owners, was John Lascaris, who is said on credible authority to have brought from Mount Athos about 200 volumes of Greek MSS. These, it is probable, were collected by Lascaris about the year 1480.

“Eventually, Abbot Macarius had successors even more unworthy than himself. Old travellers report that certain monks of S. Athanasius of a later date were such devoted lovers of the gentle craft, that when they ran short of appliances for attaching the bait to the line, they had recourse to the fly-leaves of early MSS., and when the fly-leaves were used up did not stop there. Others even sold manuscripts by the pound-weight to Turks of Salonica, to make cartridges.

“Yet, despite all these ravages, so rich were the libraries, so assiduous had been the labours of the monks of old time in the Convents of Monte Santo, that amongst the twenty subsisting communities recent explorers have reckoned an aggregate of about 8,000 manuscripts, Greek and other, ranging in date from the tenth to the sixteenth century. Those of the tenth century are especially numerous. Gospels and Psalters occur of all the schools of Eastern caligraphy — Greek, Roman, Cyrillic, Georgian, Armenian, Arabic. Greek fathers and Byzantine chroniclers are, of course, abundant. The few classical authors that occur in manuscript are of recent transcription, but most commonly they present themselves in the printed editions of Venice of the sixteenth century. Amongst these are many Aldines, especially at Xiropotamu, where there is also a considerable collection of the theology of the Reformation period, in German as well as in Latin.”

The work of Lascaris in Paris is summarized as follows by G. Sandy, The Classical Heritage in France, Brill, 2002:

“The classical literary riches of Italy had become known to French intellectuals in the course of the military campaigns waged in Italy between 1492 and 1518. Until that time, to rehearse Petrarch’s famous assessment, Greek works were scarcely known in western Europe outside of Italy. Janus Lascaris accompanied or followed King Charles VIII in 1495 from Naples to France. Thereafter, during his intermittent stays in France, among other duties to French kings from Charles VIII to François19 I, he managed Louis XII’s library at Blois and later, along with Budé, that of François I when it was transferred in the late 1520s to Fontainebleau.

“At Blois Janus Lascaris collaborated in the management of the library with Claude de Seyssel, who produced several French translations of Greek works for Louis XII. De Seyssel had studied Greek in Italy at the University of Pavia and was thus able to appreciate the value of the library of the dukes of Milan that Louis XII took to Blois after the military campaigns of 1499 to ‘recover’ his duchy. The preface to his translation of Xenophon’s Anabasis and Life of Cyrus reports that Janus Lascaris, who had been hired by Louis XII to catalogue the Greek manuscripts in the collection, provided a translation ‘de grégois en latin’20 that de Seyssel in turn rendered in French. De Seyssel’s translation of Diodorus Siculus’ History (or Bibliotheca, as it is now called) underscores the rarity of Greek manuscripts in France at this time. He and Lascaris were able to provide the translation of only Books 18-20 (of the total 40 books), which they complemented with Plutarch’s Life of Demetrius, because the other books were not to be found. De Seyssel’s French translation of Appian was also based on Lascaris’ version.

“The Greek nucleus of the library at Fontainebleau comprised some 40 manuscripts brought to France in 1508 by Janus Lascaris. François I commissioned the Italian Gerolamo Fondulo to search in Italy for other Greek manuscripts. By 1529 this enterprise had enriched the royal collection at Fontainebleau by some 50 Greek manuscripts. François I also made use of various ambassadors to Venice, which as the principal point of entry to Italy for Byzantine refugees and as the beneficiary of Cardinal Bessarion’s legacy of Greek works was especially well endowed with Greek exemplars readily available for copying. Like Jean de Pins, George de Selve and George d’Armanac, who were prelates as well as ambassadors, Guillaume Pelicier, the bishop of Montpellier, took advantage of his ambassadorial posting to Venice to acquire Greek exemplars, employing on occasions at least twelve copyists. He seems to have been an especially benevolent employer, asking François I several times to provide him with money so that he could pay the copyists, ‘Lesquels pour estre pauvres et chassez de leur pays de Grece ne peulvent attendre longuement leur payment.’21 During his first ambassadorship (1539-1542), Pelicier supervised the production of 136 Greek manuscripts, most of them secular and representing a rich cross section of ancient Greek literature, ranging from Aristotle and his commentators, medical and military writers to Homer and his commentators, Pindar and Aristophanes. Like Napoleon in Egypt almost 300 years later, the ambassadors were often accompanied by scholars who assisted in the enterprise of uncovering and interpreting the riches that were previously unknown in France. For instance, Pierre Danès joined Georges de Selve in Venice in 1535 and helped him procure Greek manuscripts. At Fontainebleau itself the French Crown employed the illustrious copyist Angelo Vergecio, who designed the Royal Greek types that were later (1552) purchased and used by Robert Éstienne.22 The result of these and other efforts was that by the time of François I’s death in 1547 the royal collection contained between 500 and 600 Greek works that would eventually enable the Bibliothèque nationale de France to house the largest number of ancient Greek manuscripts in the world.

Finally, under this heading of books and manuscripts a few words should be added about the printing of Greek books in France, since the topic is inextricably linked to the availability of Greek books there. …. The two names that were to become synonymous with the printing of Greek in France in the sixteenth century were Josse Bade and the Éstiennes23. …. The son-in-law of a Lyon-based German printer, Bade became in turn the father-in-law of four Paris-based printers, most notably the elder Robert Éstienne (Robertus Stephanus), whose father, the elder Henri, had established a press in Paris near the beginning of the sixteenth century. The Éstienne family was to be intimately involved in Greek printing and scholarship both in Paris and Geneva throughout most of the century, starting with the elder Henri’s attendance at the lectures of the first royal readers in Greek at the newly founded Collège royal. As royal printer (librarius regius), the elder Robert Éstienne was reimbursed by the French Crown for the cost of the Greek Royal Types that had been designed in 1540 at Fontainebleau by François I’s Greek scribe Angelo Vergecio and executed by the French engraver Claude Garamond in 1541. These types, the typii regii, were to be the model throughout Europe for approximately two centuries. Robert Éstienne used these types to print editiones principes, beginning with Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History in 1544 and concluding with the Appian of 1551.”

As an example of the quality of Lascaris’ MSS. the following is excerpted from “Demosthenes On the Crown”, W. W. Goodwin, New York, 1905 p. 281f.

“The Manuscripts of the Oration on the Crown.

“1. The chief of all the Mss. of Demosthenes, the basis of the present text, is S[igma] or S, of the tenth century, written on parchment, no. 2934 of the Greek Mss. of the National Library of Paris. On its last leaf is written, in a hand of a later period, Biblion monês tôn Sôsandrôn,24 showing that it once belonged to a society of monks named after Sosander, who is not otherwise known. The manuscript first appears in Europe in the possession of Janos25 Lascaris, a learned Greek, who left Constantinople after the Turkish capture and was in high favour with Lorenzo de’ Medici at Florence. Lascaris was twice sent by Lorenzo to Greece and the neighbouring lands in search of manuscripts for the Medicean library. How rich a store he brought back to Florence may be seen from the curious manuscript now in the Vatican library, which was published by K. K. Müller in the Centralblatt für Bibliothekswesen for 1884. This contains a wonderful list of 300 or 400 books which were “bought” for Lorenzo by Lascaris, and also a pinax tôn bibliôn tou Laskareôs, aper echei par’ eautou.26 Among the latter we find Dêmosthenês, pergamênon.27 The same volume probably appears in a list of the books of Lascaris made after his death at Rome in 1535. Here we find Dêmosthenês, palaios,28 no. 34 (corrected to 35). In the catalogue of the books of Cardinal Ridolfi, who is said to have acquired the books of Lascaris after his death, we find “35. Dêmosthenous logoi xb’ [Gk. = “62 Discourses of Demosthenes”],” evidently the same book.

“Ridolfi’s manuscripts after his death came into the possession of Queen Catherine de’ Medici. The title “Demosthenis Orationes” appears in a catalogue of the Queen’s library, in the inventory of her goods after her death in 1589, and again in 1597 in the list of her books which had passed into the Royal library.29 The Codex S[igma] still has a splendid binding of red leather, bearing the united arms of France and Navarre and monograms of Henry IV., with the date 1602. From this time it appears in the various catalogues of the Royal library, until it was entered in the catalogue of 1740 with its present number 2934. We are therefore safe in assuming that S[igma] is one of the manuscripts which Lascaris, as the envoy of the Medici, brought to Florence from Greek lands at about the time of Lorenzo’s death in 1492; and it may have come from Mount Athos, as Dindorf asserted.

“The manuscript is written with great care, in large square upright minuscules, which mark the transition from the uncial to the cursive text. It is unquestionably by far the best manuscript of Demosthenes, and with its recently discovered companion L it forms a distinct class, which preserves a purer and older text than any others. The passages are few in which S[igma] and L1 are not decisive against all other Mss.30

The text of Stephanus’ first edition of the Greek Testament of 1546, the “O mirificam”, was formed solely on the basis of the manuscripts from the Royal Library, but other texts provided support to that process, including the Complutensian, by way of collation. These supplementary texts agreed in a remarkable way with Stephanus’ own authorities. So says Stephanus in his Preface to that edition: “Inasmuch as we were provided with several book-form manuscripts, having that appearance of antiquity which calls forth a feeling, almost, of adoration, resources supplied to us without obstacle from the Royal Library, we produced our edition from those, in such a way that we did not allow a single letter to be included, which was not attested in the majority of them, and those the better quality books.31 In addition, we had the support of other texts, including the Complutensian edition, which Cardinal Franciscus Ximenes of Spain had instructed to be printed on the basis of the most ancient book-form manuscripts from the Library of the Pontiff Leo X. We found these, by the collation we undertook, to be most often in remarkable agreement with our texts.” (Latin: “Siquidem codices nacti aliquot ipsa uetustatis specie penè adorandos, quorum copiam nobis bibliotheca Regia facilè suppeditauit, ex iis ita hunc nostrum recensuimus, ut nullam omnino literam secus esse pateremur, quam plures, ii que meliores libri, tanquam testes, comprobarent. Adiuti praetera sumus cum aliis, tum uerò Complutensi editione, quam ad uetustissimos Bibliothecae Leonis X. Pont. codices excudi iusserat Hispaniarum Cardinalis Franciscus Simenius: quos cum nostris miro consensu saepissime conuenire ex ipsa collatione deprehendimus.”) The “O mirificam”, in turn, formed the basis of the Editio Regia of 1550. The major difference was the 1550 benefited from the manuscripts Stephanus’ son had gathered in Italy, in addition to those from the Royal Library, transcribed letter by letter in 1546, and still available for consultation and the confirmation of readings by Stephanus in Paris. It represented the acme of Stephanus’ critical work, and the finest edition of the Textus Receptus. It was based on manuscripts far surpassing any in circulation today, manuscripts which were almost immediately thereafter confiscated, destroyed, or secreted in the vaults of the Vatican by the censors. Still they are faithfully represented for us in the text it, and it alone, preserved, by the providence of God, through the medium of print.

1 Stephanus’.

2 The king of France.

3 Stephanus’ first edition.

4 I.e. variant.

5 The Complutensian.

6 The Complutensian.

7 I.e. variant.

8 Viz. the Pauline epistles.

9 I.e. give variants for.

10 By Huyshe.

11 London, 1827.

12 “At a later date”.

13 Viz. the Editio Regia of 1550.

14 I.e. variant.

15 Exiled, that is, from Constantinople and the Muslim-occupied areas of Greece and the neighboring territories.

16 I.e. Stephanus.

17 Viz. of Mount Athos.

18 I.e. Neo-Caesarea, Kayseri in Turkey, an early center of Origenic Christianity.

19 = Francis.

20 ‘From Greek to Latin’.

21 ‘Who, being poor and chased out of their country of Greece, cannot afford to wait long for their money.’

22 Stephanus.

23 The Stephanus family.

24 Gk. = “Book of the monastery of the Sosandrians”.

25 Otherwise “Janus” and “John”.

26 Gk. = “Table of the books of Lascaris, in his own possession”.

27 Gk. = “Demosthenes, a parchment”.

28 Gk. = “Demosthenes, ancient”.

29 Of the king of France.

30 My emphasis: note the quality of Lascaris’ MS.

31 My emphasis.