9th century ms of Chrysostom on Matthew for sale at Sothebys

I learn from the Twitter feed of the excellent and erudite Pieter Bullens of a curious story.  One of the most important manuscripts of Chrysostom’s Homilies on Matthew, currently University Library, Basle, under the shelf-mark B. II. 25, is to be sold at Sothebys after a 38-year loan.

The Sotheby’s catalogue contains a number of images, and some truly fascinating details.

The most recent edition of this work is F. Field, Sancti patris nostri Joannis Chrysotomi Archiepiscopi Constantinopolitani Homiliae in Matthaeum, 3 vols., 1839. (The Patrologia Graeca text being a reprint of the 17th century edition).  But this manuscript was unknown to Field, being published only in 1900.

What makes it special is a connection with the Latin translations of Chrysostom – in various passages it gives the same reading as Anianas of Celeda in the 5th century, where the majority of manuscripts are in error.

It would be nice to think that the university library in Basle have made a digital copy of the whole manuscript before it went to Sothebys.  It might be optimistic, too.

Sales of collections are always sad.  Sales of manuscripts often indicate the presence of death taxes, and other signs of the rapacity of the modern taxman.  It is probably the German state that is responsible for throwing this item to the mercy of the art market, but I don’t know this for fact.

As I don’t know how long this information will remain online, let me give a copy of the details here.  I wonder who wrote it?  It is magnificent!


(1) Palaeographical analysis by Ernst Gamillscheg and Michel Aubineau suggests that this manuscript was written in the late 9th century in Constantinople; the close relationship with manuscripts written by Nikolaus Studites, notably a codex signed by Nikolaos Studites in 835 (St Petersburg, National Library, MS 219; see S. Lake, VI: Manuscripts in Moscow and Leningrad, 1936, no.234) and another manuscript attributed to Studites (Vatican Library, MS gr.2079; see E. Follieri, Codices graeci Bibliothecae Vaticanae …, 1969, pl.13 and B.L. Fonkitch, ‘Notes paléographiques …’, Thesaurismata, 16, 1979, pp.154-56) may indicate an origin in the Studiu-Monastery. (2) The first and two last leaves replaced in the late 13th century by an accomplished scribe. (3) Liturgical rubrics added by a 14th-century scribe (e.g. ff. 8v, 36r, 54r) indicate that the manuscript was kept at the Hodegon Monastery in Constantinople; another example is the Codex Ebnerianus (Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Auct. T. inf. 1.10) that mentions the copyist and annotator Joasaph for the Hodegon Monastery in 1391 (see I. Hutter, Corpus der byzantinischen Miniaturhandschriften, I: Oxford, Bodleian Library, 1977, no.39 and E. Gamillscheg and D. Harlfinger, Repertorium aus Bibliotheken Grossbritanniens, 1981, no.208). (4) In England by 1900 (binding). Offered by Quaritch in their Catalogue No. 271: A Catalogue of Rare and Valuable Books, 1909, no.604; Catalogue No. 290: A Catalogue of Bibles, Liturgies, Church History and Theology, 1910, no.354; and probably also in subsequent catalogues; sold on 30 June 1914 to Karl W. Hiersemann, Leipzig, for £190 (BL, Add.64227: Quaritch, Account Ledgers 1913 onwards, p.174). (5) Bogislav Freiherr von Selchow (1877-1943), lyricist, naval officer and commander of Free Corps Marburg; his coat of arms inside the upper cover. (6) Martin Wahn (1883-1970), vicar and member of the Church Council of the Confessing Church in Kamienna Góra, Silesia, until 1947; died in Singen, southern Germany, just north of the German-Swiss border, in 1970. He may have received the manuscript through Bogislav’s sister Anni von Gottberg who was a member of the Confessing Church, Potsdam, and opponent of National Socialism. By descent to Martin Wahn’s grandson and then on deposit at the University Library, Basel, 1980-2018, under the shelf-mark B. II. 25.


The manuscript includes the first 44 homilies of John Chrysostom on the Gospel of Matthew. The most recent critical edition of the text is F. Field, Sancti patris nostri Joannis Chrysotomi Archiepiscopi Constantinopolitani Homiliae in Matthaeum, 3 vols., 1839. (Migne’s Patrologia Graeca edition of 1862 simply reprinted Montfaucon’s older edition of 1612). None of these editions took into account the present manuscript because it was unknown to them. It contains numerous instances where its text sides with the Latin translation of Annianus (5th century AD Alexandria) over against the other medieval Greek manuscripts of John Chrysostom, e.g. folio 54 line 34 (Homily 8, vol. 1 p.102 Field) the MS reads parresias (which is correct and adopted by Field) over against periousias as given by MSS A, B, and the Armenian version – so that it can be seen that this MS represents an older tradition.

The manuscript contains extensive quotations (pointed out by diplai [>] in the left margin) from the Greek text of the Gospel of Matthew and other Old and especially New Testament texts. It is worth mention that the 9th-century scribe writes incipits of individual homilies and sometimes quotations from the text of Matthew in older-looking majuscules rather than the 9th-century minuscules for the text of John Chrysostom. There are frequent marginal ANNOTATIONS, some in early hands (if not identical with the original scribe’s), some later (including the hand of the 14th-century rubricator) which provide exegetical glosses, notation of variants from collation with other manuscripts, corrections of copying errors, and addition of scribal omissions (including the missed out text appended by means of the tipped in binding strip before folio 230). Insertions of missed out texts are regularly signalled in the margin preceded by an insertion sign in form of a modern division sign.


E. Gamillscheg and M. Aubineau, ‘Eine Unbekannte Chrysostomos-Handschrift (Basel Universitätsbibliothek, B. II. 25)’, Codices Manuscripti. Zeitschrift für Handschriftenkunde, 7, 1981, pp.101-08.

P. Andrist, ‘Structure and History of the Biblical Manuscripts Used by Erasmus for His 1516 Edition’, in Basel 1516. Erasmus’ Edition of the New Testament, 2016, p.85 note 14.

Readers will understand if I admit that a purely temporary shortage of funds here at Pearse Towers means that regrettably I cannot save this item for us all.  Those truly interested in doing so had better have wallets with more than $250,000 inside them.  Petty cash to the well-connected, of course, but not a sum that most of us will dispose of.

Whoever buys the item is likely to be a gentleman and a scholar, as well as a rich man.  Let us hope that he will place the item online.


12 thoughts on “9th century ms of Chrysostom on Matthew for sale at Sothebys

  1. Very interesting: many thanks!

    The German Wikipedia informs me that Karl Wilhelm Hiersemann (1854-1928) was an antiquarian bookseller (among other things), and has an article about Bogislav von Selchow, who presumably purchased it from him – I wonder how quickly (as Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated two days before the MS. was sold to Hiersemann, and Britain was at war with Germany 35 days later)?

    Unlike his sister, Von Selchow is described by the German Wikipediast thus: “Obwohl antisemitisch eingestellt und glühender Nationalsozialist, war Selchow kein Parteimitglied.” Two of his works are scanned in the Internet Archive, one of which is not listed in his Wikipedia article. The Internet Archive also has a scan of a 1906 Hiersemann catalogue (with plates) of mediaeval and later MSS.

  2. Excellent catalogue account probably based on Gamillscheg/Aubineau article (guessing). The “transition” from Hiersemann to von Selchow is strange, but in uncertain times MSS et alia were safer than cash. (I know of 3vol ed. of Sixtus/Sienna that entered a library in post WWII years, but the library has “no record” of where it came from!
    Owners heave every right to “dispose” of it, but I hope it lands in a new ownership where it will be available to scholars. (There is one copy of 1st ed. of Rufinus ed. Vallarsi in US but for some reason the holding library took it off their catalogue… It’s now available on the net, so it isn’t a problem, but 20 yrs ago – when I needed it – it took some persuading to get a xerox of some pages from one of the very few libraries that own one.)
    Interesting that An(n)ianus is located in Alexandria. What is the source of that information?

  3. Alas the e-codices list, which seems to cover the digital MSS from univ.Basel, does *not* include B.II.25.

  4. An odd confusion? Long ago the name Annianus turned up in the comments on Roger’s blog, when I contributed my “piece” – to the effect that we know little or nothing about him. That remains true, I think. Hence my interest that in Sothebys catalogue he is referred to as “fifth century Alexandria”. Is the author confusing the Pelagian An(n)ianus [spelling varies] of Celada with Annianus who succeeded St Mark in Alexandria (Eusebius Hist.Eccles. II.24)?

  5. We all hope that the manuscript will not disappear in some remote safe.
    However, the Commentary on Matthew is transmitted (in all on in part) by at least 249 mss. (see http://pinakes.irht.cnrs.fr/notices/oeuvre/8198/), plus several ancient translations.
    A critical edition would be a daunting task, but we don’t even have a faint idea about the transmission of this understudied commentary.
    Field made a very good job, and PG uses his edition!

  6. My mistake – I didn’t verify the PG edition!

    Once more of those mss are online then maybe someone could attempt a stemma at least.

  7. There was another Annianus of Alexandria, the more likely candidate for the reference in the Sothebys catalogue. He “flourished” in the time of Theophilus of Alexandria (beginning of 5th cent.) and (as usual!) we know little or nothing about him. He is associated (right or wrong) with the creation of the Alexandrian (calendar) cycle, but then the discussion gets into the complexities of computus where I get lost. Discussed at length by A.A. Mosshammer, The Easter Computus and the Origins of the Christian Era, Oxford Early Christian Studies, OUP 2008.

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