James R. Adair, Jr.

This brief article is an expanded version of the article which appeared in the Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible.

The term "uncial" refers to a rounded form of Greek or Roman majuscule (capital) letters. Although some scholars derive the word "uncial" from the Latin uncus, "hook" (a reference to uncials as hooked or bent capitals), most trace the word to the Latin uncia, "a twelfth part," a term used by Jerome in the introduction to his translation of Job to refer disparagingly to Greek manuscripts that used ostentatious letters "an inch wide." Both Greek and Latin texts from the third through ninth centuries C.E. were written in uncial script; after this time, minuscule characters almost completely replaced uncials. Uncial letters were used to write early lectionaries and papyrus manuscripts, but the term "uncial" is often used to refer to those manuscripts of the Old and/or New Testaments written in uncial characters on parchment. More than 300 uncial manuscripts, most fragmentary, are extant. Among the more important uncial manuscripts that contain significant portions of both the Old and the New Testaments are Codices Alexandrinus (A), Vaticanus (B), and Sinaiticus (Aleph or, in reference to the Old Testament, S).

© James R. Adair, Jr., 1997