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Monday, May 01, 2017

From the Library: GA Lect 2468

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.

A New Discovery

The next feature in our From the Library Series is GA Lect 2468, which is one of the manuscripts CSNTM “discovered” while on expedition at the National Library of Greece (NLG). This manuscript was considered a discovery because it had not been officially catalogued by the Institute for New Testament Textual Research (INTF) in Münster, Germany. INTF maintains a list of all known Greek New Testament manuscripts. The National Library of Greece knew of its existence and had catalogued it as NLG 1910, but most biblical scholars were unaware of it until CSNTM digitized it and made it publicly available. This manuscript is a lectionary, which means that it contains a collection of scripture readings and comments to be used in Christian services on particular days of the year. Lectionaries like this one played a vital role in the Church’s worship throughout history.

Cover

GA Lect 2468 is an example of the urgent need for digitization. This medieval codex has had a tumultuous existence, and it shows. The first thing you will notice is the broken back cover. The manuscript’s cover is a wooden board wrapped in leather. More than half of the wooden board on the back was broken at some point, leaving the pages exposed to the elements.

As a result, the final pages of the manuscript are tattered and torn. 

GA Lect 2468 Back Cover

The broken back cover of GA Lect 2468

Water Damage

The manuscript has also been severely damaged by water. Water is one of the most significant threats to manuscripts because it damages both the parchment and the text. GA Lect 2468 has major portions at the beginning and end of the manuscript that have been washed out by water. In those spots, the text is faint or totally erased.

The first two pictures in the set below demonstrate how water damage affects the leaves in a manuscript. The one on the far left shows how the water receded across the page as it dried, but fortunately most of the text is clear. In the second image, we can see how the water receded, but here the text has become faint or totally erased.

Finally, water can also cause the ink to rust quickly because manuscripts were often written with iron-based ink. The third image shows a leaf where the water pooled, causing the ink to rust in certain spots and then spread across multiple lines. The text is smudged and distorted where there is rust.

GA Lect 2468 Damaged Leaves

Damaged leaves in GA Lect 2468 showing water damage (left and center) and rust (right)

Digitization to Preserve and Recover

It is remarkable that any manuscript has survived through the centuries and come down to us. Every manuscript is subject to an ever-changing environment and the eccentricities of history. Manuscripts were made to be used, and they were read and used for generations before they were intentionally preserved. Students of the New Testament are fortunate because the Greek New Testament suffers from an “embarrassment of riches” in manuscript attestation. Nearly 6,000 copies, in varying states of decay, are known to scholars today. There are even more manuscripts, like GA Lect 2468, that scholars have not yet identified. 

Digitization is a critical component in the preservation of these important and fragile documents. First, digitization captures the manuscript at a particular point in time. Then if it further deteriorates or is destroyed, we can still examine the document and its text through the archival images. Second, digitization extends the physical life of the manuscript because it can be examined closely—often more closely than looking at the codex in person—without being handled. This greatly reduces the risk of further deterioration. Finally, digitization using multi-spectral imaging or ultraviolet light can, in a sense, turn back the hands of time by revealing text that was erased by environmental damage or intentional erasure.

 UV Comparison

An example of the difference UV can make, from another manuscript

Manuscripts like this one invigorate our efforts to continue our work. GA Lect 2468 was damaged and deteriorating, and may soon become too fragile for researchers to handle. Because of the NLG expedition, however, not only has this manuscript become known to NT scholars, it is now preserved for all time through digitization and is available for everyone to study on our website. It is a great privilege to partner with libraries like the NLG in preserving the wealth of manuscripts that have come down to us, and ensuring that the next generation can enjoy them as well. You can view the complete manuscript in CSNTM’s Digital Library.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Five More CSNTM Discoveries Added to INTF’s Kurzgefasste Liste

Dr Wallace in MS Room

When we go on an expedition, we intend to preserve known manuscripts. In the process, however, we often have the exciting privilege of uncovering new ones as well. Dr. Daniel B. Wallace, the Executive Director of the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts (CSNTM), and his team of experts inspect each manuscript that will be digitized. During this intensive first-hand study and in consultation with library staff, Dr. Wallace has found numerous New Testament manuscripts that were previously unknown to the broader scholarly community. Sometimes these are tucked away inside a codex along with another manuscript. At other times, an entire codex had not previously been recognized as a NT manuscript.

After making a potential discovery, CSNTM partners with the Institute for New Testament Textual Research (INTF) to add the new manuscript to the INTF Kurzgefasste Liste—the official catalogue of all Greek NT manuscripts. This involves assigning the discovery a Gregory-Aland (GA) number, which is the way that scholars commonly refer to each manuscript. 

We are glad to announce that INTF has just added five additional CSNTM discoveries to the Liste. These are now added to the four new minuscules that we announced last December. All nine of these manuscripts were discovered during our expedition at the National Library of Greece (NLG) in 2015–16.

Below is a list of the manuscripts, with both their NLG shelf number and new GA number, along with a brief description of the contents.

NLG 158 (pp. 1–4) – GA Lect 2466

Fourteenth-century lectionary of the Apostolos and Paul; the first two leaves of NLG 158/GA 765 

GA L2466 Leaf

Lection from the beginning of 1 John in GA Lect 2466

NLG 158 (pp. 405–461) – GA Lect 2467

Twelfth-century lectionary of the Apostolos and Paul; 27 leaves at the end of NLG 158/GA 765

GA L2467 Leaf

Lection from the beginning of Acts 2 in GA Lect 2467

NLG 1910 – GA Lect 2468

Fifteenth-century lectionary; 264 leaves

NLG 3534 – GA Lect 2469

Fifteenth-century lectionary of the Gospels, Apostolos, and Paul; 64 leaves

NLG 4002 – GA Lect 2470

Eighteenth-century lectionary of the Gospels; 172 leaves

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Holy Week in a Twelfth Century Manuscript

Happy Easter to everyone who is celebrating Christianity’s most holy day! We have been sharing images from the Passion narratives on our social media accounts. All the images are from manuscript GA 777 from the National Library of Greece, a special twelfth century minuscule decorated with miniature icons of the life of Christ. In this post you can see how this manuscript depicted Holy Week in stunning detail.

Triumphal Entry (Luke 19.28–44)

Last Supper (Luke 22.7–38)

Trial (Mark 15.1–15) / Luke (23.8–15)

Simon the Cyrene (Mark 15.21)

Crucifixion (John 19.16–37)

 

If you want to dig deeper into this amazing manuscript, check out our From the Library article.

Friday, March 31, 2017

From the Library: GA 1424

The Digital Library of the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts (CSNTM) contains hundreds of Greek NT manuscripts, each with its own story to tell. In our “From the Library” series, we 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.

GA 1424 Cover

The front cover of GA 1424

Recently, Codex 1424, a ninth-century New Testament manuscript, made major news because the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago returned the historic manuscript to the Greek Orthodox Church in a ceremony attended by His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios, Geron of America. CSNTM had the privilege of digitizing GA 1424 in 2010, preserving this important manuscript and making it available online.

The beginning of Matthew in GA 1424 

Earliest Complete NT Minuscule

This manuscript holds a singular importance in the textual history of the New Testament for several reasons. First, GA 1424 is a complete Greek New Testament. Of the nearly 6,000 extant Greek NT manuscripts, only about 60 contain the entire New Testament. In addition, GA 1424 is regarded as the first complete Greek NT in minuscule text. Minuscule is a form of cursive writing that came into common use during the medieval era, beginning at about the ninth century. So this manuscript stands at the beginning of a new era and new method of copying the biblical text, a trend that would dominate until the advent of the printing press six centuries later. Finally, the Nestle-Aland critical edition of the Greek NT (the edition used by nearly all modern English translations of the NT) considers GA 1424 a “frequently cited witness” in the Gospels, meaning its readings of the Gospels were considered highly important for determining the original text of the NT. 

Unique Order

Along with its importance, GA 1424 is also notable for its uniqueness. The order of the books within the codex follows an unusual pattern: Gospels, Acts, General Epistles, Revelation, and then Paul. It is highly unconventional for Paul’s letters to follow Revelation, and it is unknown why such an ordering would have been chosen. 

The beginning of Romans in GA 1424, which immediately follows Revelation. Marginal commentary surrounds the text. 

Commentary

In the margins surrounding the New Testament text, scribes have included commentary by ancient Christian commentators. The Gruber Collection’s description of the manuscript notes that the original scribe included commentary on Revelation by Oecumenios (sixth century), and then scribes in the twelfth century added commentary from important church fathers from the fourth and fifth centuries: Chrysostom for the Gospels, and Theodore, Severian, and Theodoret for Paul’s letters. The marginal commentary not only shows how the church’s reading was guided by earlier exegetical traditions, but the commentary also implicitly speaks of the longevity of the codex itself. We must remember that the scribes who added these commentaries were working on a document that was already 300 years old at the time. This is a testament to the craftsmanship used in making manuscripts, as well as the useful life that they had. The work that Sabas (the ninth century scribe who wrote out the NT text in GA 1424) did went well beyond his own lifetime, not only to those still using the codex in the twelfth century, but even to all of us today.

We are grateful to have had the opportunity to digitize such a unique and important manuscript. There are other interesting textual features in this manuscript including the later addition of the story of the woman caught in adultery (John 7.53–8.11) in the margin. We hope that you will enjoy viewing the rest of the codex in our Digital Library.

Friday, March 03, 2017

From Scribe to Screen: How Technology is Changing Textual Criticism

By: Jacob W. Peterson, PhD Candidate at the University of Edinburgh 

I had just turned eight when the first edition of The Text of the New Testament in Contemporary Research was published in 1995, but my first interaction with the book didn’t come until more than a decade and a half later in grad school. One of the final chapters of that book dealt with the use of computers in textual criticism and the promise that the digital revolution had for the field. Reading that chapter in late 2011 caused more gratefulness that I skipped that era than hope for some Jetsons-like future. To say that technology had changed in the interim between publication and my reading would be a severe understatement. When the second edition landed on the shelves in late 2012, the editors made the decision not to update that chapter because as soon as the volume was printed it would be outdated. With an eye to the fact that the pace of technological innovation has still not slowed, I will now offer some current and future tech that brings promise to the study of ancient documents, particularly of the New Testament.

The first technological advance showing great promise is multi-spectral imaging (MSI). Specialists working with MSI are just beginning to understand the range of its applications. I was recently at a presentation by representatives of the Early Manuscripts Electronic Library (EMEL) who were working on items in the David Livingstone collection. They had used MSI to create a topographical analysis of a diary page that revealed a wet cup had once rested on the page. This was all but invisible to the naked eye but perfectly explained why certain parts of the text had smudges. While this is now only marginally exciting, it points to a bright future for the technology. There are so many important manuscripts that are difficult to read or are illegible for any number of reasons that MSI enables us to finally analyze. Beyond providing scholars with accurate pictures of the text contained in the ancient sources, MSI seems to have great potential for informing us about secondary details, too. Text critics should be excited that more and more libraries are utilizing MSI because it finally provides clear access to our most inaccessible texts.

The next piece of technology holds, I think, the most potential to change the way that text criticism is done. Only a few years ago the idea of a successful application of optical character recognition (OCR) to handwritten texts was labeled impossible. By “OCR” I mean having a computer scan an image of a text and convert that into a digital text than can be searched and edited in a computer program. I’ve now seen prototypes that not only demonstrate that Greek manuscript OCR is possible, but that it is realizable in the not-too-distant future. The traditional way of analyzing manuscripts involves a human comparing a manuscript to a known text and recording the differences or actually transcribing each letter. You can imagine the feasibility of doing this for 5800 manuscripts, which is why text critics have created methods for sampling a manuscript’s readings rather than looking through the entire text. When provided with high quality digital images like those from CSNTM, OCR promises to automate this laborious process. Lifetimes’ worth of work will be compressed into mere months. OCR is not a magic wand that will eliminate the need to confirm readings in the manuscripts, but it will provide unprecedented amounts of raw data. That data can then be fed into tools like the Coherence-Based Genealogical Method to provide an even better picture of textual transmission, which ultimately impacts our understanding of the earliest form of the New Testament text. OCR, when achieved, will drastically transform what text critics have available to them and will open new avenues of research that will shed more light on the transmission of the New Testament.

A final and probably overlooked element of the increased incorporation of technology into textual criticism that I want to mention is its social impact. In the 19th century, text critics were predominantly Western European and, if not independently wealthy, funded by a benefactor. By the 20th century, the practice expanded to America but remained a discipline of Western culture. In the 21st century, organizations like CSNTM and its European counterparts, along with individual libraries, have opened up many resources to the rest of the world. For instance, students and scholars in South America, where the only known manuscript is in Brazil, now have free online access to thousands of manuscripts that previously were inaccessible because of distance and financial resources. In this way, technology has allowed textual criticism to soon become a global enterprise. New perspectives and new voices will make welcomed contributions to the field.

These are but a few examples of the ways I see technology changing textual criticism. The forecast may change tomorrow so that what I’ve written today becomes obsolete, but what will not change is the ever-increasing role of technology in the discipline. The good news is that these new developments, whatever they may be, move us in the direction of a better and more complete understanding of the history of the New Testament text.

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