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3 January 2012
With a lengthy beard and ponytail to match, Father Justin easily stands out in a crowd. After hearing about his journey that led him into becoming a Greek Orthodox priest and eventually to St. Catherine’s Monastery on Mt. Sinai, Egypt, one becomes convinced of the uniqueness of this priest.
Born in El Paso, TX into a Baptist home, Father Justin later discovered the world of Greek Orthodoxy in college at the University of Texas. After serving twenty years at a monastery in Brookline, MA, he became the first non-Greek to live in St. Catherine’s Monastery. As he put it, he “just showed up hoping they would allow me to stay”! After serving faithfully at Mt. Sinai for many years, Father Justin was recently appointed the position of librarian at the monastery.
It is due to this recent appointment as the librarian that the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts (CSNTM) gained the privilege of hosting Father Justin for two days in November. Father Justin’s duties at the library include photographing the 1,200 manuscripts that were discovered in 1975 in a hidden compartment at the monastery. This number increased St. Catherine’s holdings to 3,300, making its collection of ancient manuscripts the second largest in the world, behind only the Vatican.
Due to the large costs that inevitably arise when setting out to digitally preserve manuscripts, Father Justin has been touring the country aiming to raise funds for this great endeavor. Consequently, CSNTM jumped at the opportunity to partner with Father Justin and St. Catherine’s, and on November 8–9 Father Justin shared about the past, present, and future work concerning the texts housed at St. Catherine’s at the Center’s headquarters in Plano, TX. Attendees were both entertained and encouraged by the work already taking place at Mt. Sinai.
Among the 3,300 manuscripts housed at St. Catherine’s Monastery, the most important and well known is Codex Sinaiticus—the oldest complete New Testament in existence. The history of this manuscript is wrought with mystery, politics, and perhaps even some deception as the bulk of it was taken from the monastery in the mid-1800s. With this codex, along with the thousands of others, it becomes difficult to overestimate the value of St. Catherine’s Monastery to textual research.
The humility and reverence Father Justin practices in his efforts to preserve the ancient texts are admirable to say the least. Therefore, it is with great enthusiasm and honor that CSNTM hopes to continue to partner with Father Justin and St. Catherine’s Monastery in the work of digitally preserving the text of the New Testament.
For the last two weeks of May, CSNTM’s Executive Director Dr. Daniel B. Wallace led a four-man team to Greece to photograph eight New Testament manuscripts at the Byzantine and Christian Museum (BXM) in Athens.
We had a stellar team. J. D. Lemming, a former CSNTM intern and seasoned expedition-vet, added some timely experience to the shoot. Paul Wheatley, another former intern of Dr. Wallace, also came with us. Because he and his wife lived in Athens from 2007 to 2009, he is fluent in modern Greek, is well versed when it comes to Athenian culture, got the four-man team cheap lodging, and knows all the great spots to get gyros. Having Paul with us was insightful and very important in terms of solidifying vital contacts for future expeditions, not just in Athens, but all across Greece. The expedition was undoubtedly significant for CSNTM in many respects, but for me it was the experience of a lifetime. This was my first time abroad and the first time to see the mission of CSNTM in action.
The Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts sent a team in June 2009 to a private residence in England to photograph a previously uncatalogued Greek Gospels manuscript. The manuscript turned out to be from the 10th century, containing all four Gospels (except for nine missing leaves). Some of the quires were out of order, but after making a Scripture index of each page the dislocated passages were found.
In 2007, the Center photographed the collection of New Testament manuscripts at the Albanian National Archives in Tirana, Albania. Some of these were already cataloged in the Kurzgefasste Liste der griechishen Handschriften des Neuen Testaments (the “K-Liste”), while many others were previously unknown to scholars. In addition, the identities of several of the manuscripts remain uncertain as they have not been examined thoroughly for many decades, if at all.
In the last few years, the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts has discovered more manuscripts of the New Testament than the rest of the world combined. In the past nine months alone, CSNTM has discovered about twenty, and we are in the process of presenting our finds to the academic community.
The earliest papyrus manuscript containing most of the epistles of Paul, less the pastoral epistles, along with the book of Hebrews is from the Chester Beatty Papyri Collection known as P46. This papyrus was discovered along with P45 and P47 in the Fayum of Egypt in the ruins of an early Church. The manuscript traveled 130km north to Cairo and was broken up in two portions by a dealer. Presently, part of the papyrus is in the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin, Ireland. The other portion of the papyrus was acquired by the University of Michigan, where it is presently housed. As stated previously, this is the earliest Pauline manuscript and along with the prestige has come much scholarly debate concerning the date of the papyrus. F. G. Kenyon first suggested a third century CE date. Subsequently, Ulrich Wilcken dated the document to ca. 200 CE. More recently, Young Kyu Kim suggested a provocatively early date to the reign of Domitian in 81–96 CE. His argument was predicated upon six premises: (1) comparative literary papyri of such an early date, (2) comparative documentary papyri of an early date, (3) several unique features of the handwriting, (4) and (5) other morphologically early components, and (6) a corrector’s hand which was thought to be in several documents of the early period cumulatively convinced Kim.
Codex Vaticanus (otherwise known as B or 03), is one of the more appropriately named manuscripts because its residence is currently at the Vatican in Rome. It was produced in the fourth century and is a very close relation to an even earlier manuscript, P75, which is of utmost significance in determining the original wording of the New Testament. Thus, this manuscript is regarded by many as one of the most important existing New Testament Greek manuscripts, if not the most important.
With all the recent news coverage around Washington, it seems only fitting to look at one of America’s own New Testament treasures. Few are aware that the Freer Gallery of Art, a division of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, contains a late fourth or early fifth century manuscript of the four Gospels. Though there are numerous manuscripts in the United States, few compare to the quality and date of this manuscript in Washington.
The famous codex from St. Catherine’s Monastery, Mt. Sinai, Egypt has begun to show up on the Internet. A joint project between the British Library, the University of Leipzig, the National Library in St. Petersburg, and St. Catherine’s Monastery at the base of Mt. Sinai, Egypt, has been underway for some time now. All four institutes own portions of this manuscript (with the BL owning the largest section, the complete New Testament—which, incidentally, is the oldest complete New Testament by half a millennium). The project to post these images on-line has involved new digital photography and some slick search-capable tools.
From August 3 through August 6, 2008, most of the world’s leading New Testament textual critics have gathered in Münster, Germany, for an important conference.