The Codex Vaticanus B 03 (Vaticanus Graecus 1209) is the oldest extant manuscript of the Greek Bible. The Codex has been stored in the Vatican Library since the 15th century, hence the name Codex Vaticanus. It is written on 759 leaves of vellum in uncial letters, and has been dated palaeographically to circa 325–350 A.D. Most lines of Vaticanus contain only 15-18 letters of text.
Codex Vaticanus originally contained a virtually complete copy of the Septuagint, lacking only 1-4 Maccabees and the Prayer of Manasseh. The original 20 leaves with the Genesis 1:1–46:28a (31 leaves), and Psalm 105:27–137:6b, have been lost and were transcribed by a later hand in the 15th century. 2 Kings 2:5–7.10-13 are also lost because of a tear to one of the pages.
The order of the books differs from that followed in Codex Alexandrinus. The order of the Old Testament books in the Codex is as follows:
- Genesis to 2 Chronicles as normal;
- 1 Esdras; 2 Esdras (Ezra-Nehemiah);
- Song of Songs;
- Minor Prophets from Hosea to Malachi;
- Lamentations and the Epistle of Jeremiah;
The Codex became known to Western Bible scholars as a result of correspondence between Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam (October 28, 1466 – July 12, 1536) and the prefects of the Vatican Library. Portions of the codex have been collated by several scholars, but numerous errors were made in the process. The Codex’s relationship to the Latin Vulgate was unclear, and scholars initially were unaware of the Codex’s value, which changed in the 19th century, when transcriptions of the full codex were completed. At that point scholars realised the text differed slightly from the Textus Receptus and the Vulgate.
Codex Vaticanus is considered by many textual scholars to be one of the best Greek texts of the New Testament, with that of the Codex Sinaiticus as its only competitor. Until the discovery of the Codex Sinaiticus by Constanstin von Tischendorf ( January 18, 1815 – December 7, 1874), the Codex Vaticanus was unrivaled. It was extensively used by Brooke Foss Westcott (12 January 1825 – 27 July 1901) and Fenton John Anthony Hort (23 April 1828 – 30 November 1892) in their edition of The New Testament in the Original Greek that was published in 1881.
Constantin von Tischendorf believed that Codices Sinaiticus and Vaticanus were among the fifty Bibles of Constantine prepared by Eusebius in Caesarea. According to Tischendorf, they were written with three (as Vaticanus) or four columns per page (as Sinaiticus). His view was supported by Pierre Batiffol, a French Catholic priest and Church historian.
A scribe in the Middle Ages (between the ninth and the eleventh centuries), who apparently was concerned with fading of the original ink, traced over the original ink of every letter of Codex Vaticanus unless it appeared to be incorrect.