A recently published dissertation by James M Leonard at St. Edmund’s College, Cambridge, titled Codex Schøyen 2650: Discerning a Coptic manuscript’s witness to the early text of Matthew’s Gospel, suggests that the Codex Schoyen is the earliest surviving manuscript of the St. Matthew Gospel. The dissertation also concludes that the manuscript represents a hitherto unknown subdialect of Middle Egyptian Coptic language, and is one of the earliest translations from Greek into Coptic.

Codex Schoyen (MS 2650) is dated by Schenke to first half of 4th century and by Leonard to early 4th century. There survive only few very fragmentary manuscripts which are earlier than this, covering only 14 per cent of the Gospel. Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus with the full text of Matthew are both dated later to the mid 4th century. Provided the dating of all these manuscripts are correct, this implies that about 85 per cent of Codex Schøyen is the earliest surviving manuscript of the Gospel according to Matthew.

St Matthew Gospel Codex Schoyen

While Leonard does not agree with a previously published conclusion by Professor Hans-Martin Schenke that the Codex represents an otherwise unattested text of Matthew deriving from an Aramaic lost original, he concludes that the Codex is remarkably pure, and that the Greek text from which the Codex Schoyen was translated into Coptic,  together with the Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus, represents the closest and best manuscript of the original Greek St Matthew Gospel text.

Leonard's dissertation is the latest and the most substantial in a series of scholarly publications and exchanges about the St Matthew Gospel, which includes Professor Hans-Martin Schenke's landmark Coptic Papyri I. Das Matthäus- Evangelium im mittelägyptishen Dialekt des Koptischen (Codex Schøyen).

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