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Monday, December 17, 2018

From the Library: Luke's Genealogy in NT Manuscripts

By: Andrew K. Bobo and Andrew J. Patton

The Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts' (CSNTM) digital library contains hundreds of Greek NT manuscripts, each with its own story to tell. In our “From the Library” series, we will feature individual manuscripts from our collection in order to showcase their unique beauty and importance. This is part of CSNTM’s mission to make NT manuscripts accessible for everyone.

If we’re honest, the genealogy is often considered the most boring part of the birth narratives in Luke. When was the last time you heard a message about that part of the Christmas story? But throughout the centuries, the Christian tradition developed unique ways of presenting this part of the biblical story—often setting it apart to make it more readable and more identifiable. In this blog we’re going to show you how some scribes copied Luke 3.23–38 and explain one example where it went terribly wrong.

Copying the Genealogy of Jesus

Of course, some manuscripts do not differentiate the genealogy from the rest of the biblical text. A manuscript we digitized at the National Library of Greece, referred to by scholars as Gregory-Aland (or GA) 780, is one example of this pattern. As you can see, there is no break in the text where the genealogy begins, and it is written in the same single column style.

GA 780

The text of Codex Vaticanus (GA 03, or “B”) was written in three columns, but the scribe clearly differentiated Jesus’ genealogy by listing the names in a new format. The first word, ΤΟΥ (tou) is set on the left margin, and then there is a noticeable space before each name is written.

GA 03

Other manuscripts break their normal pattern of copying the text by arranging Jesus’ lineage into separate columns. GA 773, also from the National Library of Greece, organizes the names into two columns. The scribe also included commentary in the margins. 

GA 773

The scribe who copied CSNTM’s manuscript (GA 2882) wrote the Scriptures in a single column with very neat handwriting. At Luke 3.23, the scribe broke the flow of the text to copy the list of names in three columns. The names proceed from left to right with the article ΤΟΥ (tou) written with a large red tau before the name.

GA 2882


A Scribal Error in the Genealogy

When scribes copied Jesus’ genealogy in columns, it was perhaps intended to make the passage more prominent and easier to read. But one scribe who copied GA 109, a fourteenth century Gospels manuscript in the British Library’s collection, made an infamous mistake. The scribe completely rearranged Jesus’ genealogy. As you probably know, Luke traces Jesus’ ancestry from Joseph all the way back to Adam, concluding with “Son of Adam, Son of God.” In GA 109, the scribe wrote, “Son of Adam, Son of Aminadab, Son of God, Son of Aram”! Apparently, God was born from Aram! How did the scribe make such a serious mistake?

It seems the scribe’s exemplar—the manuscript from which GA 109 was copied—had Luke’s genealogy written in two columns. These should have been read going down each column completely before going back to the top of the next column. But this scribe read the columns from left to right, putting Jesus’ descendants all out of order. At one point, there are two names in the proper order: “Son of Melki, Son of Addi.” We conjecture that at this point the exemplar proceeded to a new page, so the scribe happened to get two correct in a row, but then continued to make the same mistake. Regardless of how absentmindedly the text was copied, we have to wonder whether the scribe knew Greek because “son of God” is written with a nomina sacra, which should have given enough pause to catch the mistake. Whatever the scribe’s Greek proficiency, leaving Jesus’ genealogy out of order is a serious error which was only possible because of the varied ways Luke 3.23–38 was copied in columns in some manuscripts.

GA 109 Exemplar Comparison


Though it is easy for us to gloss over the list of Jesus’ ancestors when studying the birth narratives in Matthew and Luke, the ancient and medieval scribes deliberately copied the story in ways that set it apart and drew attention to it. The various ways the Lukan genealogy was copied caused us to wonder why they took the time to write the names like this. There could be a few practical reasons. The scribes may have done this because it was easier to write the names (some of which are duplicated in the text, like Joseph in 3.23 and 3.30) without error in column form. Or it could be that they found it easier to read the names for public recitation when they were listed in columns rather than written in paragraph form. But we speculate that in their era of kings and heroes they found greater significance in the genealogy of Christ—a significance that is often missed by modern readers. Whatever the reason may be, the genealogy of Jesus in Luke 3.23–38 has a fascinating and infamous place in the textual history of the New Testament. So this year if you read the story of Christ’s birth, don’t skip over the long list of names Luke gave us. Take a moment to reflect on what a long lineage like Jesus’ would have meant to the early readers of Luke’s Gospel.

* If you’re interested in looking at additional examples of how scribes copied Luke’s genealogy, there are a few easy ways to do this in our manuscript library. You could use the “Jump to Book” feature to navigate easily to the beginning of Luke in all the manuscripts we have tagged on our site. The other way would be to search “Luke 3” or “Luke 3.23-38” in the search bar of our website. This guide will explain how to use these features if you need extra help.

We suggest taking a look at some of the most famous manuscripts like Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Bezae (05). You also could look at GA 800, which has commentary from church fathers surrounding the text.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

A Letter from Dan Wallace

By: Daniel B. Wallace

I feel like a student in the class of a proverbially unreasonable professor. The prof gave a final exam, with one question: “Define the universe. Use three examples.” So much has happened in the last year at the Center! Where to begin? I think I’ll just give three examples.

First, CSNTM is growing! Three new staff members have joined our team. Kelsey Hart is now our office manager. Stephen Clardy is our Development Coordinator, working closely with Andy Patton, our Development Manager. And Jacob Peterson is CSNTM’s Research Fellow. (You might recognize Jacob’s name; he worked for the Center before heading off to the University of Edinburgh for his PhD in New Testament textual criticism.) We are excited to see how Kelsey, Stephen, and Jacob will complement the team, enabling us to continue our mission of preserving ancient Scripture for a modern world.

Second, through a generous grant and magnificent gifts from you, our partners in preservation, we were able to purchase a multispectral imaging (MSI) camera. This camera, which came with a $100,000 price-tag, uses 15 points on the light spectra, including invisible bands on both ends. With it we can now see texts that disappeared over the centuries, were washed out in floods, became burnt in fires, or were scraped off by scribes who then penned something different over the erased text. And these ancient texts have been lost to the ages—until now. What natural disasters and man-made destruction did, with this equipment we can undo. With MSI, the age of rediscovery is born.

In May, four members of the CSNTM staff took an intensive course on using this new camera. We are now one of a handful of organizations in the world using a portable MSI camera. And this means that more doors are opening for us across the globe.

And third, while the staff was learning the ropes with this game-changing camera, I was in Tbilisi (Republic of Georgia) with two former interns, Brit Burnette and Laura Peisker. We were on a ‘front trip’ to make contact with two libraries in Tbilisi and one in Mestia. A native of Georgia, Nino Fincher, translated for us as we built relationships, examined manuscripts, and wrote up our findings for the digitizing team that would follow. Then, as we were flying back home, Rob Marcello, CSNTM’s Assistant Executive Director, and Jacob Peterson flew to Tbilisi with the new camera.

I met up with Rob and Jacob in Greece where we did more photography. Finally, we traversed northern Europe, landing in Heidelberg. In these locales, words on ancient papyrus and parchment—words that time forgot—have come to life again!

So, where do we go from here? We are working out contracts for next year’s expeditions with institutes in Greece, Germany, and the U.S. Libraries, museums, and monasteries are seeking CSNTM’s help to digitally preserve these ancient artifacts, these irreplaceable treasures of the Church.

We have the opportunities. We have the staff. We have the equipment. But we don’t have all the funds needed to do this work. We are making aggressive plans for upcoming expeditions. This Christmas season, we hope to raise the first $150,000 needed to begin our work on these critical expeditions.

It is CSNTM’s mission both to protect the past and to ensure the future of these sacred Scriptures. As you ponder your end-of-the-year giving, please consider making a generous investment in this work. Our equipment and staff are opening doors across the globe, but it takes a team to make these expeditions possible.

Will you make an investment that ensures the handwritten text of the New Testament is preserved for the next generation? Together, we can accomplish our mission by having:  

• 2 people who give $25,000

• 2 people who give $15,000

• 2 people who give $10,000

• 4 people who give $5,000

• 15 people who give $1,000

• 15 people who give $500

• 15 people who give $250

• 25 people who give $100

• 10 people who give $50

• 30 people who give $25

Monday, November 26, 2018

25 Days of Christmas

Multispectral imaging is a gift that keeps on giving. After using our new equipment this summer in Tbilisi and Heidelberg, even more institutes have expressed interest in CSNTM digitally preserving their Greek New Testament manuscripts. There are so many of these potential partners that we simply could not digitize all their treasures in a single year or even three years!

At this season, many of you are thinking about your year-end giving and the impact you want to have in the world. Your donations could unlock the partnership between CSNTM and a library or monastery. You could preserve a unique manuscript before it experiences further deterioration. And you could give a text critic access to the best images of the New Testament manuscripts she or he uses to study the original text of the Christian Scriptures.

We are inviting 25 of you to give $25 monthly by December 25th. This new campaign is called the 25 days of Christmas initiative. Together, your partnership will give $7,500 in year-round support for CSNTM’s mission to preserve, study, and share Greek New Testament manuscripts. Monthly donations are a critical part of CSNTM’s planning for future expeditions and special projects. 

Will you join our team of 25 and make a monthly gift of $25? 


Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Thank You from Dan Wallace

As the holidays approach, we want to wish you and your loved ones a happy Thanksgiving and thank you for your invaluable support this year. 2018 has been another successful year for CSNTM. Over the course of the year, we completed four significant expeditions. The year began with an expedition to the Library of Hellenic Parliament in Athens. Then in the summer we worked at the National Centre of Manuscripts in Tbilisi, the Byzantine Museum in Ioannina, and the University of Heidelberg. Altogether, we digitized seventeen of the most significant and fragile manuscripts we have ever handled, adding up to 9,159 total images. 

Happy Thanksgiving

Our work this year was enhanced by our new access to multispectral imaging technology. This technology allows us to view and preserve text otherwise invisible to the naked eye. In 2018, we were able to purchase this equipment, train our staff, and use it for the first time, leading to the discovery of two manuscripts by our team this summer. All this work allows anyone to examine Greek New Testament manuscripts from anywhere in the world. So far this year, over 45,000 people have visited our website to study manuscripts or learn about digital preservation.

Your faithful and generous support – shown by your involvement, gifts, and encouragement – made all of this possible. Because of your enduring partnership with us in our mission the task of preserving these important documents continues to move forward. For that we are immensely grateful. Thank you.


Daniel B. Wallace

Executive Director

Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

From the Library: Codex Koridethi

By: Andrew K. Bobo and Andrew J. Patton 

The Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts (CSNTM) digital library contains hundreds of Greek NT manuscripts, each with its own story to tell. In our “From the Library” series, we will feature individual manuscripts from our collection in order to showcase their unique beauty and importance. This is part of CSNTM’s mission to make NT manuscripts accessible for everyone.

CSNTM’s staff digitized arguably the most significant parchment manuscript we have ever handled at the National Centre of Manuscripts in the Republic of Georgia. Scholars call this famous manuscript Codex Koridethi (Gregory-Aland 038, also known as Θ [theta]). Koridethi, copied in the 9th century, contains all four Gospels written in majuscule script, which means it was written in capital letters. However, we believe the scribe may not have known Greek well because of many unnatural syllable breaks, odd letter formations, and corrections to the text. Koridethi is also an important witness for several major textual variants, such as the omission of “Son of God” in Mark 1.1 and the story of the woman caught in adultery (John 7.53–8.11). This unique manuscript raises interesting questions about our understanding of the relationships between Greek New Testament manuscripts and contains curious oddities in its physical production.

Koridethi OT Markings 

What Text?

Since J. A. Bengal in the 1700s first discussed “families, tribes and nations” of manuscripts, text critics have often divided New Testament manuscripts into categories called text types based on similarities in their texts. The predominant text types that came to the fore were the Alexandrian, Western, Byzantine, and (sometimes) Caesarean types. The past several decades, however, have seen scholars move away from this system because more comprehensive analysis of manuscripts has not only become more possible but also shown that the divisions are not so distinct or definable. (However, Byzantine manuscripts continue to be recognized as a text type because they do have a remarkable degree of uniformity.)

Codex Koridethi is one manuscript that exemplifies the challenge and inherent problems with classifying manuscripts into text types. Studies of the Gospels in Koridethi have shown a partial alignment with different textual traditions—some parts appear to be “Alexandrian,” others “Byzantine,” and still others an idiosyncratic blend. Koridethi exposes the difficulty of fitting some manuscripts into particular categories and further highlights how much work remains to understand the transmission history of our New Testament manuscripts. Accordingly, this manuscript has consistently been identified as a significant witness to the original wording of the Gospels, and scholars producing editions of the Greek New Testament consult its readings whenever they are evaluating a textual problem in a passage it contains. 

Imperfect Parchment

Something you will notice as you scroll through the images of Codex Koridethi are a number of holes in the parchment. It is not unusual that in the daily use of a manuscript there would be damage, tears, burns, or other events that could cause parchment to go missing. But if you look closely, it is clear that the vast majority of the holes in Koridethi’s leaves are original to the parchment’s production. The scribe chose to work the text around them. In a quick search, we found 22 leaves containing various types of production defects. Below are a few examples:

Leaf 128

From Leaf 128.

Leaf 180

From Leaf 180. Notice that the text is not only written around a pre-existing hole in the leaf, but a tear in the parchment has also been sewn back together, with the text written around it.

Koridethi collage

From Leaf 151 (top left), Leaf 154 (top right), Leaf 165 (bottom left), and Leaf 212 (bottom right).

In the production of parchment, as the animal skin was scraped and stretched repeatedly, it was easy to scrape a section too thin, which could result in larger and larger holes developing as the skin was stretched to its final size. It is unclear why parchment with such significant defects would have been allowed for use in a Bible, but we can make a decent guess. Parchment, because it is made from animal skins, was highly valuable in the medieval world, and the bill for an order the size of Koridethi would have been steep. So it is possible that whoever produced Koridethi got a bit creative here and was willing to have a few imperfections present in their codex if it meant it could contain all four Gospels. This would certainly have been preferable to undertaking again the laborious and expensive process of producing parchment. Whatever the case may be, the scribe made it work, and this small feature provides us yet another window into the world of ancient book production.


Every manuscript has a story to tell. We are grateful for the privilege to digitize Codex Koridethi and share images of it freely in our digital library. The exceptional staff at the National Centre of Manuscripts are also to be thanked for conserving this codex and collaborating with CSNTM. You can see all the images of this Greek New Testament here in our digital library.

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