What is the Codex Gigas?Question: "What is the Codex Gigas?"
Answer: The Codex Gigas is an interesting piece of medieval literary history. The codex, or book, is a handwritten manuscript written on 624 pages of vellum. It was created in the thirteenth century in the Benedictine monastery of Podlazice in Bohemia, which is today in the Czech Republic. The Codex Gigas contains a copy of the Latin Vulgate Bible, texts of Jewish history by Flavius Josephus, a history of Bohemia, medical texts, a liturgical calendar, incantations against demonic forces, and various other literary works.
The codex itself is large, measuring about three feet by three feet when open. The book weighs about 165 pounds. The Codex Gigas is the largest existing medieval manuscript in the world. In fact, its large proportions give the codex its name: “Codex Gigas” means “Giant Book.”
The Codex Gigas is well known not only for its size but for the profuse number of its colorful decorations and illustrations, known as “illuminations.” The most famous illustration in the book is a large portrait of the devil, pictured as a clawed, horned, double-tongued fiend in a menacing crouch. Because of this portrait, the Codex Gigas also goes by the nickname of “the Devil’s Bible.”
Most historians believe that the Codex Gigas was written by a monk named Herman the Recluse over a period of at least 20 years, but there is a fanciful legend that puts forward a different story. According to the legend, Herman was to be executed for breaking his monastic vows. Then, on the night he was to be put to death, the monk said he would produce an amazing book that would glorify the monastery, and he promised to produce the book all in one night. Thus began the process of creating the Codex Gigas. When the monk realized he would never finish the book in the amount of time he promised, he prayed for Lucifer to help him, in exchange for his soul. Satan obliged, Herman sold his soul to the devil, and the book was completed in one night. As a sign of gratitude, Herman added the portrait of the devil to the Codex Gigas.
Of course, the legend concerning the Codex Gigas and the monk’s pact with the devil is fictional. Scripture indicates we cannot sell our souls to Satan. Ezekiel 18:4 says that all souls belong to the Lord. Souls are not for sale; God owns them all. The only thing this legend shows is that people have imaginations.
The Codex Gigas is a historically valuable piece of antiquity and a work of art in its own right. The book is currently kept in the King’s Library in Humlegården in Stockholm, Sweden.
Recommended Resource: A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament by Bruce Metzger
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