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.
Throughout our recent expedition to the National Library of Greece in Athens, we encountered an incredible variety of NT manuscripts. One of the most beautiful among these was an illuminated Gospels manuscript catalogued by NT scholars under the designation GA 777. Scholars have classified this as a minuscule manuscript because it is written in the cursive handwriting typical of the late medieval era. The manuscript is a complete Tetraevangelion, a manuscript containing all four Gospels.
Evangelist icons of Mark, Luke, and John in GA 777
This manuscript boasts wonderful artistry, with almost two-dozen icons of scenes from the Gospels. It is common for Greek NT manuscripts to include full-page icons of the four evangelists—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—before the beginning of his Gospel. This manuscript does not disappoint. It contains stunning gilded icons of Mark, Luke, and John. (Thieves may have cut out the icon of Matthew or that leaf came apart from the codex, being at the front of the book.) As you can see, the gold leaf applied to these works of art has been remarkably well preserved, even as the paint chipped away on Mark’s image. The icon of John is particularly interesting: John is seen dictating his Gospel to Prochoros, his scribe, as instructed by the Holy Spirit, from a cave on the island of Patmos.
While the evangelists’ icons are common, narrative icons that illustrate events in the text are rare. This manuscript is notable because it contains so many of them! In breathtaking detail, they depict famous scenes including Jesus healing the blind, his encounter with the Samaritan woman, and his crucifixion. Here, we will showcase four, but you can visit the manuscript’s page on CSNTM’s website to see the whole collection.
Jesus Heals the Lame Man
This beautiful icon depicts one of the most memorable stories in the Gospels when Jesus healed the paralytic who was lowered through the roof of a house while he was teaching (Luke 5:17–26).
Jesus Raises Lazarus from the Dead
This icon depicts Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead (John 11:38–44). Mary and Martha—Lazarus’s sisters—are shown mourning at the feet of Jesus, while Lazarus is wrapped in burial linens. This icon is especially unique because it includes a title.
The Triumphal Entry
This icon from the Gospel of Luke shows Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Luke 19:28–44). Visual details from the text are illustrated, including Jesus riding on a donkey and the crowd laying coats across the path.
The Last Supper
This magnificent icon illustrates the Last Supper in Luke (Luke 22:7–38). Jesus is shown reclining at the table with his twelve disciples. It is interesting that this artist chose to place the disciples at a round table unlike da Vinci’s famous painting of the Last Supper; it comes closer to the truth of the real shape of the table. This image is much older than da Vinci’s masterpiece, which was painted in 1498.
GA 777 dates from the twelfth century. For a book more than 800 years old, she is still in excellent shape! The scriptures are written on thin vellum, which is actually more fragile than ordinary parchment. Yet, it has not been damaged like other manuscripts even from the same time period.
As a comparison, here is the introduction to John in three manuscripts. On the left is GA 777. In the middle is another manuscript from the same century, also on parchment, but with some browning along the edges (perhaps due to being near a fire at some point in its history). On the right, this manuscript is about two hundred years younger. However, it is written on paper, and has some damage from silverfish and worms which ate through the edges of the page. These other manuscripts are still very well preserved! GA 777, though, stands apart as a magnificent specimen of a Byzantine biblical manuscript.
This Gospels manuscript is a unique treasure in the collection of the National Library of Greece, a collection that CSNTM digitized over the last two years. While there are many common patterns in every manuscript, each one contains distinctive features that make them fascinating to examine. We are delighted to have had the privilege of studying and digitizing this treasure so that it can be shared with you. If you would like to view the manuscript in its entirety, visit its page in CSNTM’s Digital Library.
The Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts (CSNTM) is proud to announce the completion of our digitization project at the National Library of Greece (NLG)! Beginning in 2015 and continuing into 2016, we have spent months working at the National Library digitizing their entire collection of Greek New Testament manuscripts. This collection is one of the largest in the world and has a multitude of priceless treasures, which are now digitally preserved for generations to come.
In total, almost 45 people fulfilled the Center’s mission in Athens over the past two years. Over 150,000 pages of manuscripts were digitized (more than 300 manuscripts), and about 200,000 pages were examined. The difference is due to the fact that several of these were deemed not to be New Testament manuscripts or were too fragile to digitize. Some were not owned by the NLG but have been housed there for decades. The NLG is still seeking permission for CSNTM to digitize these remaining manuscripts.
At the same time, 21 manuscripts unknown to the Institute for New Testament Textual Research (INTF) in Muenster, Germany were digitized. Though only a small number, some of them are quite substantial. This will increase our fund of knowledge about the transmission of the NT text and add some important ‘discoveries’ especially of manuscripts with patristic commentary. Remarkably, even with 21 more manuscripts the proportion of new ‘discoveries’ to known manuscripts was significantly lower at the NLG than we are accustomed to. This is no doubt due to the diligence and careful sifting of the data for the past 125 years by various librarians and curators at the NLG. These new ‘discoveries’ will all be compiled and submitted for publication in the coming months. Many of them are also already available in our online library.
Now the final stage in our work is currently under way: postproduction. This includes converting all images, uploading the images onto our website, tagging them for basic search functions, backing up the images for long-term storage, and countless other tasks. We want to thank the National Library’s director, Dr. Tsimboglou, and staff for their tireless dedication to this project and for partnering with the Center in future endeavors. Also, we thank all of you who invested in this monumental project. Without you, this could have never been accomplished, and because of you, hundreds of manuscripts have been digitally preserved. Over the next few months, we will be announcing when these new images become available, and we are thrilled we can continue our mission of making these manuscripts free for all and free for all time!
In the last two years I have made more trips to Athens than I can count. (Well, I could count them if I took off my shoes!) It has been a joy working at the National Library of Greece since January 2015. The staff have been extremely helpful, even eager to provide assistance. And the director of the NLG, Philippos Tsimboglou is remarkable. I only wish that every expedition would involve folks like the ones we worked with here.
My task was a bit different from the shooting teams. I had the duty of preparing each manuscript for digitization. The teams did not photograph any manuscript until it was prepared and they received my notes. My job included looking at the in-house catalog and the Kurzgefasste Liste description provided by the Institut für neutestamentliche Textforschung (Institute for New Testament Textual Research) in Muenster, Germany. Then, I would spend an average of one to two hours on each manuscript. Counting the leaves is the most important aspect of this. The shooters rely on this information when they digitize the MSS. It is imperative to get it right: if they have 251 images from the right side (recto) of the MS, they had better have 251 on the left side (verso). We digitally archive everything—including blank pages, all six external sides, even fragmentary leaves if there is at least half a letter showing.
Besides the leaf count, I measure the dimensions in centimeters—height, width, and depth. The last is not typically done. MSS are almost always a bit smaller on the bottom depth than the top, but a few MSS at the NLG were the reverse. If the difference is at great as half a centimeter it usually means that the MS was shelved upside down for most of its life! Since these MSS had covers without labels for most of their existence, this was easy to do, but it required long dormant periods in which the MS was not at all consulted.
Some of the other aspects of the examination include counting the lines per page, identifying the material (papyrus, parchment, or paper), determining the date, providing a table of contents for each continuous-text MS, and counting the quires or folds. Ancient and medieval MSS were typically created with eight leaves per quire (see diagram below).
Counting the quires is the easiest way to determine if some leaves are missing in the MS. Here is a discussion of one such MS (which originally had the Gospels but no longer does.
In addition to the above, I also look for palimpsested leaves (those that have been erased then written over by a later hand) and leaves of other MSS, typically glued to the front or back inside covers. This kind of examination has resulted in a discovery of several MSS at the NLG. Combined with what the librarians were able to locate, CSNTM has discovered twenty-one New Testament MSS at the National Library of Greece that are not yet known to Muenster (the official catalogers of NT MSS). Stay tuned for more!
All in all, over 180,000 pages of MSS were handled and documented for the shooting teams. The work has been both exciting and tedious. Approximately 300 MSS are being digitized; all are being uploaded to CSNTM’s website. Our work will be done by the end of the summer; all MSS will be posted on our site within a few months. We are grateful to the National Library and Director Philippos for this tremendous opportunity to make available their invaluable collection.
- Daniel B. Wallace, Executive Director
The Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts (CSNTM), along with its Board of Directors, is pleased to announce that it has received a fabulous facsimile of the fourth century majuscule, Vaticanus: Bibliorum Sacrorum Graecorum: Codex Vaticanus B. This facsimile, which was published by the Vatican in 1999, is a remarkably faithful reproduction of the actual manuscript. It is in fact one of the finest facsimiles of any document ever produced. The publisher ensured that the colors were accurately captured. And if there are holes in the original manuscript, these have been precisely replicated in the facsimile!
Vaticanus is esteemed by many textual critics, including CSNTM’s Dr. Daniel B. Wallace, as one of the most valuable witness to the text of the New Testament extant today. Its faithful testimony to the Gospels along with its alignment with P75 make it extremely important. Codex Vaticanus contains the Septuagint and the New Testament, although it is missing parts of the Old Testament and Hebrews 9.14–13.25, 1 Timothy to Philemon, and Revelation. It is housed at the Vatican.
The Vatican only authorized 450 copies to be published—each numbered and each signed by Pope John Paul II on Christmas Day, 1999. CSNTM is grateful to the anonymous donor who gave such a remarkable gift to the Center!
New manuscripts have been added to our growing searchable library, as we continue working to make the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts's (CSNTM) website more comprehensive and user-friendly.
Included in this week’s release is a recently digitized manuscript from the National Library of Greece (NLG), the site of our ongoing digitization project for 2015–2016. GA 758 is a medieval minuscule of the Gospels on parchment, dating from the fourteenth century.
As many New Testament students know, one of the two longest textual problems in NT textual criticism is the pericope adulterae (John 7.53–8.11). Throughout his first-hand investigations of the NLG manuscripts, Dr. Daniel B. Wallace has often noted how each manuscript has dealt with this passage. Sometimes, the original scribe has omitted it, whereas a later scribe has added it. Other times, the text was originally included and then noted as doubtful by a later hand. In some manuscripts, the text stands alone with no notations at all.
Notice the horizontal dashes in the margin on these two pages.
Some scribe (either the original one or a later scribe), upon seeing that this passage was included in John’s Gospel, put markings in the margins to denote its disputed status. However, the markings only cover John 8.3–11, leaving 7.53–8.2 unmarked.
As you scroll through the images of GA 758, you may notice some extensive text out in the margins on a few leaves. Below you will see two instances of this from the Gospel of Matthew.
These marginal writings are instances where the scribe accidentally omitted text, and it was later added in the margins. As careful as medieval scribes were, they were still human and made mistakes! This is why it was a vital part of the process to check each scribe’s work for accuracy.
Gospel Authors & Co.
Another interesting feature of GA 758 is its icons. It was common in the medieval tradition to include icons of the Gospel authors at the beginning of their respective Gospel account. However, in this manuscript, each Gospel author has some company!
Mark (top right) is with Peter, and Luke (bottom left) is sitting in front of Paul. These pairings date back to ancient Christian tradition, which identifies Peter as the primary source for Mark and Paul as the apostle most associated with Luke. It’s almost as if the apostles are whispering in their ears. Matthew (top left) is depicted, not with a human companion, but with the Angel of the Lord behind him as he writes. Finally, John’s icon (bottom right) shows him dictating his text to an amanuensis (a professional scribe) named Prochoros. This last icon with these two people in view is the only one that was common in the manuscripts.
In addition to this manuscript from the NLG, we have also uploaded and tagged additional manuscripts from our archives.
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.