Christmas in the Early Codices: Jesus’ Genealogies as Structures of Salvation History

In preparation for the second Sunday of Advent, I decided to take a look at Matthew 1 in Vaticanus. I had read it a few times over the years and it stuck out to me because, at Matt 1:23, the copyist placed διπλῆ (>) (see Charles E. Hill, “‘In These Very Words’: Methods and Standards of Literary Borrowing in the Second Century,” in The Early Text of the New Testament [eds. Charles E. Hill and Michael J. Kruger], Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012) marks next to the lines where Isa 7:14 is cited. These διπλῆ are visible in the left margin of the left column below (images of Vaticanus taken from In the middle column, the copyist placed διπλῆ marks to note the citation of Mic 5:1, 3 in Matt 2:6.

When I turned to Matthew 1, I was struck again by the beauty of Vaticanus. The ornate first letter, the color combinations. And when I began to scan through the genealogy, I was struck by the beauty of the copyists’ literary discipline. When the name of the individual was the object of the verb ⲉⲅⲉⲛⲛⲏⲥⲉ(ⲛ) (“begat”), he placed it on its own line and then began the next line with that individual as the subject of the verb. This took foresight. The copyist’s arrangement of Jesus’ genealogy is visually striking. It is as if each name were a building block in the historical line that led to Jesus’ birth.

For comparison, I scanned Sinaiticus to see if the copyist of Matthew 1 had done the same. Though the text below is faded, it is clear that he did not (images of Sinaiticus taken from (

The differences in the copyists’ portrayals of Jesus’ genealogy in Matthew 1 in Vaticanus and Sinaiticus made me curious as to how the copyists of these manuscripts portrayed Jesus’ genealogy in Luke 3. There, the copyist of Sinaiticus took great care to list the family line of Jesus in a linear fashion. The names are arranged in a way that would immediately attract the reader’s attention. The names seem to be stacked upon one another like bricks of a building.

Intrigued, I turned attention back to Vaticanus to see if the copyist of Luke 3 set the genealogy off in some way. He followed the same pattern used by the copyist of Sinaiticus. On the second to the last line of the right column of the first image below, the copyist began the genealogy in Luke 3:23; Luke 3:24 (τοῦ Μαθθὰτ) begins on the final line.

As can be seen below, in the first and second columns of the next page of the manuscript, the copyist of Vaticanus shows the same methodology as the copyist of Sinaiticus.

And the copyist of Alexandrinus likewise stacked the names in Jesus’ genealogy in Luke 3 (Alexandrinus is vacant of Matt 1:1-25:6). That copyist listed two names per line, as can be seen below (images of Alexandrinus taken from

A comparison of the way that the copyists of Vaticanus, Sinaiticus, and Alexandrinus presented genealogies is beyond the scope of a simple blog. This would in fact not be possible since Sinaiticus is vacant in many of the genealogies listed in Numbers and Chronicles, and as noted, Alexandrinus is vacant of Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus.

One basis of comparison is the genealogies of 1 Chronicles in Vaticanus. There the copyist occasionally separates names with a raised dot, observable in the right column below in the image of 1 Chronicles 1.

I located only one place where the copyist of Vaticanus set off names in the genealogies of 1 Chronicles in a way that would visually attract the reader’s attention. The middle column of the image below is 1 Chron 1:51-54, the list of Edom’s chiefs.

I return again here to thoughts of Christmas and the genealogies of Jesus in Vaticanus, Sinaiticus, and Alexandrinus. In The Earliest Christian Artifacts: Manuscripts and Christian Origins (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006) et. al., the late Larry W. Hurtado argued that the nature and features of early Christian texts help us to understand the words written on those texts. The architectural arrangement of the names in Jesus’ genealogies inclines me to think that the copyists gave attention to presenting Jesus’ lineage in such a way that would create an image on the page. To me, the image looks like a building, a building of salvation history in reference to Jesus.