Kurt Aland and Barbara Aland's

Manuscript Categories

Contents: * Introduction * The Categories * Summary * Appendix: How the Alands Classify Leading Minuscules


In 1981, Kurt and Barbara Aland published Der Text des Neuen Testaments (English translation: The Text of the New Testament, translated by Erroll F. Rhodes, Second edition, Eerdmans/ E. J. Brill, 1989). The most noteworthy feature of this edition was its new classification of manuscripts. Based primarily on the "Thousand Readings in a Thousand Minuscules" project (the results of which are now being published in the series Text und Textwert der griechischen Handschriften des Neuen Testaments, K. Aland et al, 1987 and following), the Alands set out to place the vast majority of known manuscripts into "Categories."

As a classification scheme, their attempt was at once a success and a failure. A success, in that it has conveniently gathered data about how Byzantine the various manuscripts are. A failure, because it has not been widely adopted, and in any case does not succeed in moving beyond Byzantine/non-Byzantine classification.

The Categories

We may briefly outline their classification scheme as follows (excerpted from Aland & Aland, p. 106):

The Alands base their categorizations on a very simple set of statistics. All of a manuscripts's readings are broken up into "Type 1" readings (Byzantine), "Type 2" readings (readings which agree with GNT, i.e. almost without exception Alexandrian readings; some readings, which are both Alexandrian and Byzantine, are "Type 1/2"), and "Type S" readings, which belong to neither Type 1 nor Type 2.

It will thus be observed that the Alands have only one way to measure the nature of a manuscript: By its ratio of Type 1 (Byzantine) to Type 2 (Alexandrian) readings. The Type S readings are unclassified; they might be "Western," "Cæsarean" -- or anything else imaginable (including simple errors).

Thus in practice the Alands' categories become:

A handful of examples will demonstrate the imperfections of this system (note that these are not defects in the data, merely the results of the Alands' simplistic analysis which counts only Type 1 and Type 2 readings, rather than the rates of agreement between manuscripts which they also calculated):

The same problem occurs, to an even greater extent, among the Category III manuscripts. While almost every manuscript in this category is mixed, with Byzantine readings combined with other types, the nature of the mixture varies. We have Byzantine/"Western" mixes (629); Byzantine/"Cæsarean" mixes (family 1, family 13, 28, 565, 700), family 1739/Byzantine mixes (6, 323, 424**, 945, etc.), and a large number of Alexandrian/Byzantine mixtures (of which 104 and 579 are typical examples). Taking only Paul as an example, there are also at least two family groups which are heavily Byzantine but highly distinct: Family 1611 (family 2138): 1505, 1611, 2495, etc. and Family 330 (330, 451, 2492).

We should also note that the Alands fail to assign a category to many manuscripts. In general these are manuscripts with a small handful of non-Byzantine readings, but not enough to qualify as Category III. (In effect, one can treat unclassified manuscripts as another category.) This non-category Category has its own problems, however. For example, the leading manuscripts of the large and well-known Family P -- P itself and K -- are listed as Category V (which is fair enough, since this family is clearly Byzantine though obviously distinct from Kx and Kr). Of the minuscule members of the family, however, most are included among the Uncategorized.

We may also compare the results of the Alands' classifications with the results of the Claremont Profile Method in Luke. Wisse lists a total of 36 groups. Excluding Group B as a text-type rather than a legitimate group, we still find that in 19 of 35 cases the Alands reach no consensus as to the classification of the members of a group (i.e. the members fall into two categories -- sometimes even three! -- and at least 25% of the members of the group fall into each of the leading two categories; only seven groups -- including the members of Kx and Kr -- are treated entirely consistently. (For details see the entry on the Claremont Profile Method.) In some instances this is likely due to block mixture undetected by Wisse -- but one must also suspect that the Alands did not rigidly define their categories. This generally will not matter in practice -- but one should always allow for the possibility that a manuscript might need to "shift" a category following further examination.


Thus as a classification system the Alands' categories fail. A manuscript simply cannot be described by the few statistics they use.

However, the Categorization should not be deemed a complete failure. It is, in fact, one of the most important results of recent years. For the first time, we have a nearly-comprehensive and, within its limits, accurate examination of the minuscules. If Categories II and III, as well as the unclassified manuscripts, contain an immense diversity of material, Category V is absolutely clear: It is the Byzantine text. Manuscripts found here are Byzantine, and manuscripts found in Categories III and higher are not -- at least not purely. In addition, the manuscripts in Category I (with the exception of the fragmentary early papyri, which are too short to classify this way, and 1175, which is block-mixed with the Byzantine text in Paul and the Catholic Epistles) are all very pure representatives of their types. As long as appropriate care is taken to correctly understand the manuscripts in Categories I, II, and III, and the arbitrary Category IV is ignored, the system can be very useful.

Appendix: How the Alands Classify the Leading Minuscules

The table below lists all the minuscules which are cited as "Constant Witnesses" in the Nestle-Aland 26th and 27th editions, along with their Aland categories in each of the five sections of the New Testament. The final column, Comments, shows the categorization I believe should be applied (where it differs from the Alands'), or gives further detail on their categorization.

Manuscripteap crComment
28III (Mk)
V (MtLk)
81IIIIII described as "at least Category II."
323IIIIIIII Actually probably Category V in Paul; block-mixed and so probably Category III in the Catholics
365VIIIV Member of Family 2127. Most members of this family are listed as Category III, although 2127 itself is Category II.
565III "the average is raised by Mark, with Matthew and Luke far lower." (John appears to be more Byzantine than Mark but less so than the other gospels.)
579II (MkLk) Although it is not explicitly stated, the manuscript is probably Category II in John and Category III in Matthew.
614IIIIIIIII Paul should be Category V, not Category III. Listed as a sister to 2412; the pair belong to Family 2138 in the Acts and Catholics but are Byzantine in Paul.
892II Portions of John from a later, much more Byzantine hand
1010V Listed as a possible member of Family 1424, but 1010 is much more Byzantine than the other members of that group and probably does not belong with it. (So also Wisse.)
1175II Probably should be Category I in Acts, II in Paul (except for Romans, which is Byzantine), perhaps III in the Catholics (there are some interesting readings in the earlier letters, but the Johannine Epistles are Byzantine)
1241IIIVIIII Probably should be Category II in Luke, III in the other gospels, V in Acts, I in the Catholics. In Paul, the basic run of the text is Category V. The manuscript has supplements, however (possibly a third of the total) which are clearly Category III
1424III (Mk)
V (MtLk)
1505VIIIIIIIII Pair with 2495. Member of Family 1611/Family 2138 in Acts, Catholics, Paul
1506VII Fragment in Paul, but clearly strongly Alexandrian. May be Category I in that corpus (based on unusual text which omits Romans 16!)
1611IIIIIIIIIIIMember of Family 1611/Family 2138 in Acts, Catholics, Paul
1739IIII Text of Acts is more Byzantine than in Paul or Catholics, but still stands at the head of an independent family, implying Category I
2030III Fragment (about six chapters); categorization must be considered tentative
2050II Fragment (about eight chapters); categorization must be considered tentative
2062I Fragment (about nine chapters); categorization must be considered tentative
2344IIIIIIIIClassification in Catholics perhaps questionable. Manuscript is badly water-damaged and often unreadable
2351III Fragment (about thirteen chapters); categorization must be considered tentative
2427I Mark only
2464IIIIII Classification is too high; probably should be Category III. Romans is Byzantine.
2495IIIIIIIIIIIIIII Listed as "Category III with reservations, but higher in the Catholic Epistles." In fact a sister or nearly of 1505, and should be classified accordingly.