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Friday, January 26, 2018

Why Digitize Manuscripts?

By: Daniel B. Wallace, PhD

In the beginning there was microfilm. And it was not good. The finer points of the text could not be read, the colors were rendered in various shades of gray, and marginal notes and commentaries were seen as lines and bumps. Erased text and corrections were undetectable, and dating the manuscripts was made more difficult because certain paleographical clues were invisible. A large percentage of the microfilm images were completely illegible. But this was all that NT scholars had to work with. And hundreds of manuscripts have never been microfilmed at all, quite a few of which were completely unknown to biblical scholars. Of these, CSNTM has already digitized nearly 100 previously unknown manuscripts.

Microfilm Image from GA 2813

Microfilm Image of Codex 2813

Then came digital photography. And it was very good. The Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts was founded in 2002. Our first digitization project was in Münster, Germany, at the Institute for New Testament Textual Research (INTF). We shot the NT manuscripts owned by the institute. These were the first NT manuscripts to be digitized, and it was appropriate that INTF was the place to launch our work. Our four and five megapixel cameras (state of the art at the time)—produced significantly better images than the microfilm. The shutter click to computer upload took 90 seconds. The whole job took several weeks.

Comparing microfilm and digital images of GA 1175

Microfilm and Digital, side by side

In the following years, digital cameras continued to improve. Today, we use 50 MP cameras that produce 300 MB images in TIFF. From shutter to camera is virtually instantaneous. The finest details on any given page can be blown up many times. The colors, marginal notes, even much erased text, can now be seen with ease. And posting these images on, making them free for all and free for all time, gives scholars accessibility to these manuscripts at the click of a button.

The beginning of John in Codex 800

Codex 800 at the National Library of Greece, Athens

One of the most significant values of digitizing these manuscripts is that an exquisite image of every page is preserved for ages to come. Every library where we digitize these documents gets a complete archival copy of each handwritten treasure. And the images can be enlarged multiple times without any pixilation. Even the finer hues—which often have interpretive significance—are clearly visible. The tiniest detail no longer hides from the scholar’s sight; the former blurs are now conspicuous letters.

A leaf from P46 from the University of Michigan

Page from P46, the oldest manuscript of Paul’s letters

So, why do we do what we do? CSNTM digitizes manuscripts for preservation, accessibility, clarity, recovery, and discovery. Ultimately, these images help scholars to produce Greek New Testaments that, in turn, are translated into modern languages. These priceless, one-of-a-kind codices, long obscured by microfilm, are coming to brilliant light, bringing glory to the libraries that own them and informing the New Testament text that you read today.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

CSNTM in 2017: In Case You Missed It

2017 was an exciting and busy year for CSNTM. We digitized manuscripts in both Greece and Scotland, and visited others for future work. We finished releasing the images from the National Library of Greece expedition. We also celebrated our fifteenth anniversary. We hope you enjoy reading (or re-reading!) these five posts that encapsulate our year.


1. From Scribe to Screen: How Technology is Changing Textual Criticism

Jacob W. Peterson discusses some recent technological innovations that are revolutionizing the field of textual criticism.


GA 1424

2. From the Library: GA 1424

In March, an important manuscript digitized by CSNTM in 2010 made headline news.



3. Manuscripts Digitized at Greek Monasteries

A team from CSNTM digitized three manuscripts at two remote monasteries in central Greece.


Helps for Readers   

4. Helps for Readers: A Page from GA 773

A guided tour through one page of a “medieval study Bible.”



5. 15th Anniversary of CSNTM

Dr. Daniel B. Wallace reflects on CSNTM’s 15 years of work and the continuing relevance and importance of its mission.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

11x12 Christmas Eve Announcement

Thank you to the many people who participated in the 11x12 campaign. Over the last two weeks 17 people were honored with at least an $11 monthly contribution to the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts.

Let us tell you about the difference your commitment will make. There are thousands of Greek New Testament manuscripts scattered among hundreds of libraries, museums, and monasteries. Many are decaying because of their great age and are inaccessible for study. Yet, it is these handwritten documents that are the basis for the translation and study of the New Testament. Through digitization, CSNTM is able to preserve these manuscripts and then share the images online so that they are available to the entire world—free for all and free for all time.

Digitizing ancient and medieval manuscripts is a high-tech and precise project. On our upcoming expeditions, it will cost $11 to digitize a single page. Each donation made in honor of these loved ones will allow CSNTM to digitize 12 such pages this year!

We are grateful that this Christmas season many people chose to partner with CSNTM to preserve ancient New Testament manuscripts for the modern world. And we appreciate the legacy of these honorees that have been recognized. Thank you and merry Christmas!


Dale Beaver

Doris DaCosta

Erica Janzen

Ron and Linda Jenkins

Charles Johnson

Rusty Kennedy

Michael Krueger

Jamie McLaughlin

Mark Patton

Rod Routen

Beecher and Nayda Wallace

Betty White

Edward and Virginia Wright, Sr.

Elizabeth Z.

Zacharias Zachariassen

Thursday, December 14, 2017

From the Library: Preserving the Christmas Story in Matthew

A Bifolio of the Beginning of Matthew in GA 776

As Christmas approaches each year, Christians around the world turn once again to the account of Jesus’ birth in Matthew 1–2. This beloved passage occupies a privileged position at the beginning of the NT. However, because of its prominent place at the front of each Gospels codex, it was also the portion of the Scriptures most likely to be damaged or destroyed. Nearly every codex has at least some deterioration on the first few and last few leaves, since these are the most exposed to the elements. 

In our own collection of medieval minuscules, a quick review shows that the Christmas story in Matthew has often experienced significant fading, water or other damage, and sometimes it was even completely destroyed and lost. For instance, GA 790, GA 764, and GA 898 are missing the first leaf of Matthew. GA 798 is missing the first two leaves. GA 768, GA 771, GA 784, GA 897, GA 1417, and GA 2526—though they once contained the entire Gospel of Matthew—are now missing the Christmas story entirely!

 GA 898 begins at Matthew 1:17.

GA 768 begins at Matthew 3:6.

GA 784 begins at Matthew 5:3.


Damage to the Christmas story in Matthew occurred in a variety of ways. Sometimes it was from water (GA 758, GA 782), dirt (GA 785, GA 791, GA 792, GA 793, GA 796, GA 799, GA 2524), wax drippings when readers read by candlelight (GA 763, GA 781, GA 783), fire (GA 786, GA 800, GA 1416), or some other kind of trauma (GA 798).

Water Damage

Water damage to the first leaf of Matthew in GA 782.

Dirt Damage 

Dirt damage to the beginning of GA 2524.

Wax Damage

Damage from wax drippings on the third leaf of Matthew in GA 781.

Fire Damage

Significant fire damage to the edges of the first leaf of Matthew in GA 1416.

Other Damage

An unknown event caused the first few leaves to be torn away completely from GA 798.


With the variety of ways that the Christmas story could be lost or damaged, it was essential that scribes who cared for these damaged manuscripts devise a number of ways to save the Christmas story from disappearing altogether from the codex. Sometimes scribes would trace back over faded or damaged ink, such as in GA 758 and GA 787. In GA 757, GA 772, GA 789, GA 1686, and GA 2528, a later scribe has remade lost leaves and placed them back where they go.

Retracing 1

A scribe retraced over a water-damaged leaf near the beginning of GA 758.

Retracing 2

A scribe retraced over the faded first verse of Matthew in GA 787.

Replacement 1

The beginning of Matthew was recreated and placed back into GA 789 (left) to replace a damaged or unreadable page. An original leaf from later in the Gospel is shown on the right.

Replacement 2

The first leaf of GA 1686 was remade and replaced (left). The next leaf, continuing the Christmas story, is on the right.

The Christmas story in Matthew 1–2 is an ancient narrative that has been handed down for generations in New Testament manuscripts. We are thankful for the work that nameless scribes throughout history did to ensure that this portion of the Christian Scriptures survived intact. This Christmas season, as you turn to read about Jesus’ birth in Matthew, remember the care and creativity required to preserve this story so that we could read it today.



Monday, December 11, 2017

11x12 Campaign

11x12 Feature Image

We are launching a brand new campaign called 11x12 for the two weeks leading up to Christmas. 11x12 is an invitation for you to give $11 a month for the next year in honor of someone. Why $11? We chose $11 because that is what it costs CSNTM to preserve one unique, handwritten page of a New Testament manuscript on our upcoming expeditions. Your monthly donation to CSNTM will see 12 pages preserved!

The exciting aspect of this campaign is the opportunity to honor someone else. This time of year is perfect for recognizing and remembering the important people in your life. They could be one of your family members, they could be someone who inspired your interest in the New Testament, or they could even be someone for whom it’s difficult to buy a present.

On Christmas Eve we will post a list of the honorees on our website so that you can share with them the commitment you made on their behalf. The New Testament Scriptures would not be available to us today apart from the work of numerous scribes whose legacy we carry on by preserving ancient New Testament manuscripts for the modern world. Now it’s your turn to become part of a mission that has been going on for almost two thousand years.

Let’s preserve New Testament manuscripts together, one page at a time. 

Donate Now

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