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Friday, December 09, 2016

From the Library: GA 774

The latest feature in CSNTM’s “From the Library” series is Gregory-Aland 774, a manuscript we digitized in 2015 at the National Library of Greece. This 11th century Gospels manuscript is dubbed “the most precious manuscript of the National Library” in the NLG’s 1892 catalog. It is worthy of this distinction because of the astounding icons and headpieces at the beginning of each Gospel, which remain in pristine condition.

 

The Christmas Story in GA 774

Matthew 1:18 in GA 774

In this Christmas season, we thought it would be appropriate to see how a beautiful medieval manuscript such as GA 774 has preserved the story of Jesus’ birth. So we compared the text of Matthew 1:18-23 in GA 774 with the most recent critical text of the New Testament, the Nestle-Aland 28th edition (NA28). The Nestle-Aland text represents what many scholars believe is the earliest text of the New Testament, and it is the base text used for most modern English translations.

When we compared the two, we found that they were in exact agreement more than 95% of the time, down to the letter. There are only five differences between the NA28 and GA 774 in this passage. Three of these differences merely involved different ways of spelling the same word. This includes the Greek spelling of “birth” (v.18), the verb “to disgrace” (v.19), and the name “Mary” (v.20). The other two differences involve adding a word to make what is implicit in the Greek more explicit. In one instance, GA 774 has the Greek article (in English: “the”) before the word “Lord” in 1:22, whereas the NA28 does not. It may have been added for extra emphasis: “the Lord” (NA28) has become “the Lord” (GA 774), making a closer connection with the mention of the “Lord” in v. 20.

The other instance is in Matthew 1:18 (pictured above), where GA 774 contains the Greek word gar. The word means “for” in English and signals a logical connection with the previous sentence. This word is not present in the NA28 text.

 

So here is how the NA28 text of v. 18 would read in English:

“Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.” 

Here is how GA 774 would read in English:

“Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. For when his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.”

It is clear in the NA28 text that the first sentence is an introductory statement to the topic of the paragraph, whereas the second sentence begins to tell the story. The word “for” in GA 774 makes this a bit clearer, but for the reader this connection is already obvious. Again, what is added may make connections more explicit, but it does not materially affect the meaning.

This example shows how remarkably stable the New Testament text has been for centuries. The few differences that do exist here are minor and do not affect the text’s meaning. Remember that GA 774 is nearly 1,000 years old, and GA 774 itself was made more than 1,000 years after Mary gave birth to Jesus. Yet throughout all this time, the Christmas story remains intact for us to read and celebrate today.

 

Fragile Binding

The spine and front cover of GA 774 

For all of its fine internal quality, GA 774 has very fragile binding. Its 370 leaves are fastened between two modern wooden boards by four exposed strings. That means that this manuscript must be opened carefully so that undue stress is not put on the spine, which could cause the leaves to detach from the binding.

 

A virtual reproduction of the beginning of Matthew, combining two individual images into one bifolio

 

CSNTM’s images play a critical role in the preservation of this treasure. Our Conservation Copy Stand cradles the manuscript so that it cannot be opened at greater than a 105º angle, which prevents significant damage to the binding of manuscripts. Furthermore, CSNTM’s digitizers use the strategic placement of foam and other tools to reinforce the spine and pages so that the manuscript is undamaged during the process of digitization. After digitization, the images allow anyone to digitally open the manuscript and read it without putting the codex at further risk—from anywhere in the world!

It was a privilege to digitize this beautiful medieval manuscript that is a treasure in the Greek National Library's large collection. You can view the complete manuscript, including ornate Eusebian Canon Tables and gilded icons of all four evangelists, in our digital library.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

New Manuscripts Added to Our Searchable Library

Ten additional manuscripts from our archives have just been uploaded and tagged.

Turning Parchment Page

All of these new uploads are medieval manuscripts of the Gospels, most of them from the 11th-12th centuries. These include:

These images have now become part of our growing searchable library, which gives everyone free access to the best available digital images of New Testament manuscripts.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

New Manuscripts from the National Library of Greece

New manuscripts digitized by the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts (CSNTM) have just been added to our searchable collection. These include 8 manuscripts from the National Library of Greece (NLG) in Athens, the site of our recently completed digitization project.

Codex in MS Room

  • GA 1610: 14th/15th century minuscule of the Apostolos and Paul.

  • GA 1692: 12th century minuscule of the Gospels.

  • GA 2091: 15th century minuscule of Revelation with commentary from patristic writers such as Gregory the Theologian, Cyril of Alexandria, Irenaeus of Lyons, Hyppolytus of Rome, and others.

  • GA 2243: 17th century minuscule of the Apostolos and Paul.

  • GA Lect 433: 12th century lectionary of the Gospels.

  • GA Lect 589: 15th century lectionary of the Apostolos and Paul plus Psalms and Odes.

  • GA Lect 1522: 12th century lectionary of the Gospels.

  • GA Lect 1523: 13th century lectionary of the Gospels.

These images have now become part of our growing searchable library, which gives everyone free access to the best available digital images of New Testament manuscripts.

Friday, November 11, 2016

From the Library: GA 760

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 recent addition to our collection is GA 760 from the National Library of Greece in Athens. This is a twelfth century manuscript containing all four Gospels. It is classified as a minuscule manuscript because it is written in the cursive handwriting typical of the late medieval era. The scribe who copied this manuscript had a very steady hand which can be seen in his consistent, legible handwriting.

 

Eusebian Canon Tables

The decorative work on the Eusebian Canon Tables in this manuscript is beautiful and ornate. A Eusebian Canon Table is a series of charts, usually found immediately before the Gospels, that note parallel passages between Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Then, the references located in the tables were placed in the margin next to the passage listed in the table. The canon tables played an important role in an era before the New Testament was divided into chapters and verses. These tables are usually decorated in an architectural structure, which you can see in the images from GA 760.

Eusebian Canon Tables in GA 760

 

Book Headpieces

Another example of the artistic work in GA 760 are the headpieces at the beginning of each gospel. The first page features a large, colorful square with a detailed pattern inside of it. This square is surrounded by decorative floral illustrations and birds, in the case of Matthew and Mark. Beneath the headpiece, the title of the book is written in large gold letters and the first line of text begins with ornate ekthesis (when the first letter is written into the left margin).

The use of gold leaf along with red, blue, and green paints, was very costly. The choice to devote significant resources to create a beautiful manuscript reflects the importance of the New Testament to the people who made and used the manuscript. Headpieces like this one are a common feature in Greek Gospels manuscripts, but the ones in GA 760 leave a particularly stunning impression on the viewer.

The first page of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John in GA 760

 

Scribal Mishaps and Corrections

While GA 760 is an excellent example of human artistry, it is at the same time an example of human limitation and imperfection. There are several instances within the manuscript where the scribe has left out important portions of text. Another scribe then added it back in the margins when he realized the mistake! Here are a few examples of this.

Manuscript page containing corrections on Matthew 12:31–32

Manuscript page containing correction on Mark 6:37–38

Manuscript page containing correction on John 1:1–3

 

All of these accidental omissions resulted from situations in the biblical text where two lines end with the same word or series of words. Scribes had to look back and forth frequently between their manuscript and the exemplar (the manuscript from which they were copying the text). When they did this many times over the course of a long day, it was rather easy to skip portions of text without noticing.

For instance, the scribe accidentally skipped text twice in a row in Matthew 12:31–32. The text should read: “Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven people. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come.”

However, what the scribe wrote is: “Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, [skipped text: but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven people.] And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven him, [skipped text: but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven him,] either in this age or in the age to come.”

Even in English, you can see how similar the lines are. When the scribe saw the word “people” in Greek, he thought that he had finished verse 31, so he started writing verse 32. Likewise, when he saw “him” in Greek, he went on to the last part of verse 32 and continued writing. Then a corrector, writing about a century or two later, came in and added the missing (and very important!) information in the margin. The same problem occurs again in Mark 6:37–38.

Finally, perhaps the most illustrative example of the beauty and imperfection inherent within all manuscripts is the first page of John’s Gospel. The page is outstanding for its color and design, using gold ink for the beginning of the text. However, even amidst such splendor, the scribe has accidentally omitted verse 2!

 

The purpose of this is not to describe the scribe as sloppy or unskilled; he is not. Rather, the point is that scribes are human, just like us. Every manuscript is a human production—beautiful and broken. There is no perfect manuscript, just like there is no perfect person!

This manuscript has many other interesting features that are worth seeing, including a partially remaining icon and cruciform text (text written in the shape of a cross). To see these and the rest of the manuscript, please visit CSNTM’s Digital Library.

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

CSNTM Search Helps: Jump to Book

At CSNTM, we are constantly working to improve our website. Making manuscripts available for everyone begins with digitization, but merely having beautiful images is not enough. We want people to be able to find what they need quickly and easily. That is why we have integrated robust search features into our website.

One of our website’s best search helps is the “Jump to Book” feature.

“Jump to Book” allows you to navigate a manuscript’s text by jumping quickly to the beginning of a biblical book within the codex. When you are looking for a manuscript’s reading in a specific verse, this can be an excellent way to cut down on time spent searching through the manuscript.

Here’s an example of how to use the feature. Imagine that you wanted to find a reading from 2 Timothy within GA 794. This is what you would do:

Step 1: Navigate to the Manuscripts Page

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Step 2: Find GA 794 Using the Search Bar

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Step 3: Enter the Manuscript Viewer

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Step 4: Scroll to 2 Timothy (“2Tim”) in Jump to Book

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Step 5: Begin Reading!

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Now that you are at the beginning of 2 Timothy, you can begin looking through the text for the specific verse you want to find. Within manuscripts that have not yet been fully indexed (i.e., not yet having every verse on every page tagged), this is a nice way to find what you need. It is available on all of the new manuscripts from the National Library of Greece, all papyri, many of the majuscules, and almost all manuscripts digitized since 2011.

If you ever have questions about how to find what you need on our website, please email manuscripts@csntm.org. We’re glad to help!

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