Description

The catena, a biblical commentary that proceeds verse by verse, was a popular interpretative tool in the Byzantine world. The catena could be transmitted as marginal commentary to the text of the Bible, or, as is the case in this sixteenth-century manuscript, in a separate volume. This particular catena deals with the Octateuch, or the first eight books of the Old Testament (Genesis-Ruth). It is prefaced by the well-known Letter of Aristeas, which describes how Ptolemy II Philadelphus, Pharaoh of Egypt between 283 and 246 BCE, ordered the translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek.

The manuscript was copied by the scribe Ioannes Nathanael, who was known to have worked in Venice, as well as in Ancona (in central Italy) and on Crete. This, combined with the watermark found on the paper, suggests an origin in north-eastern Italy. It was in England by the first half of the eighteenth century at the latest, when it was owned by the physician and bibliophile Richard Mead, who bequeathed it to another doctor and book collector, Anthony Askew. At the sale of Askew’s books in 1816, it was purchased by Charles Burney, whose vast collection of manuscripts, theatrical ephemera, and newspapers was acquired by the British Museum after Burney’s death in 1818.

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