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Friday, July 28, 2017

Manuscripts Digitized at Greek Monasteries

By: Jacob Peterson

At the end of May, Robert Marcello and I returned to Greece for what may just be the most remote expedition I’ve been on to date in order to digitize manuscripts at two monasteries in central Greece. From our centrally-located hotel, we travelled up to an hour and a half one-way every day to the monasteries. On the open road in Texas with that much time you can travel well over 100 miles depending on just how heavy your foot is. As an indicator of both just how remote we were operating and how mountainous the terrain was, our longest drive was 36 miles. Thankfully, in Greece, the more remote a location is the more beautiful it’s probably going to be. That proved to be true yet again.

A view of Panagias Monastery (the building with a red roof), one location where CSNTM digitized in 2017

The first monastery we worked at was Panagias in Proussos. They had one manuscript, a Gospels lectionary from the 16th century (GA Lect 2083). Judging by the amount of candle wax drippings on its pages, it was a well-read and cherished treasure of the monks. While the manuscript has already survived roughly 500 years of use, it’s always great to ensure that both the monastery and researchers will have access to the manuscript through our images for many more years.

The second place we traveled to was the Tatarnis Monastery. They have two New Testament manuscripts that we were able to digitize (GA 2810 and GA Lect 2176). One of these, GA 2810, partially chronicled some of the hardships the monastery has experienced over the years. A note on one of the opening pages mentions several different episodes involving frozen rivers, lack of food, and no rain. Not surprisingly given these events, it also records that one of the monks left for Athens! In addition to these two New Testament manuscripts, we also digitized an early copy of a biblical commentary written by Gregory of Nazianzus that was gifted to the monastery from the patriarchate in Constantinople.

Despite great weather, ample food, and warm hospitality from the bishop and at both monasteries we, too, had to return to Athens at the end of the week. In addition to our gratefulness to these monasteries, we remain thankful for our partnership with the National Library of Greece, whose staff continues to make connections on our behalf to enable us to preserve and make available even more New Testament manuscripts.

Follow these links to examine these manuscripts in our library:

GA Lect 2083: 16th century Gospels lectionary

GA 2810: a Gospels minuscule copied in 1514

GA Lect 2176: 16th century Gospels lectionary

Friday, June 23, 2017

Manuscripts Digitized at the University of Edinburgh

By: Jacob Peterson

I left my role as Intern Coordinator at CSNTM in the fall of 2015 to begin my PhD in New Testament at the University of Edinburgh. Over the course of the next year, it became obvious that, if possible, I should try and digitize the New Testament manuscripts held in the university’s library. Thankfully, the university agreed to this, and so Jim Leavenworth, a former CSNTM intern and fellow Edinburgh postgrad, and I were able to complete this project in December of last year.

In total, the university owns five Greek New Testament manuscripts listed in the official catalog produced by the Institute for New Testament Textual Research in Germany. The manuscripts are:

GA 563 – 11th century manuscript of the Gospels

GA 897 – 13th century manuscript of the Gospels

GA 898 – 13th century manuscript of the Gospels

GA Lect 578 – 11th century manuscript with lectionary readings from the Gospels

GA Lect 1747 – 11th century manuscript with lectionary readings from John

While preparing the manuscripts for digitization, I discovered what seemed to be two new manuscripts in the form of replacement leaves. Sometimes individual leaves or whole quires would have to be replaced because the original had fallen out or was badly damaged. One of the new discoveries appears to be a simple case of an entire quire being replaced for possibly these reasons. However, the other new discovery is much more interesting. It is a single leaf that has been replaced in GA Lect 578.

The normal lectionary reading for Pentecost includes John 7:37–52 and then 8:12. This notably skips over the story of the woman caught in adultery, which was read separately on a feast day. Yet, in GA Lect 578 the evidence points to the lectionary originally containing the whole range of 7:37–8:12. The replacement leaf provided the first clue of this in that it only has writing on the front of the leaf that contained John 7:45–52 and 8:12. The natural question then is whether or not the original leaf would have held those verses plus the 7:53–8:11. The page prior to the replacement leaf ends at John 7:45, and the one after begins with the next day’s lection from Matthew 18:10. Each leaf in the manuscript contains about 1,400–1,800 letters, and John 7:45–8:12 has 1,389 letters according to the standard Greek text. This works out perfectly given that the scribe often left some blank space at the end of a column if it would mean that a new lection could start on a new leaf. It appears then that the original scribe incorrectly copied the story of the woman caught in adultery into the readings for Pentecost and then, at a later date, someone noticed this problem and took the effort to replace the entire leaf rather than just write in the manuscript that the section should be skipped.

What might seem like a rather mundane point about an otherwise obscure Byzantine lectionary raises a couple of interesting points. The first is that the Church is loyal to the proper lectionary cycle and was astutely aware of the proper readings for each day. Reading the story of the woman caught in adultery on Pentecost is certainly not harmful, but its rightful place in church liturgy is with the feasts. This was enough reason for someone to take considerable time and effort to fix the error. The second is that it presents difficult questions for the copying history of the manuscript. By analyzing other telltale places in the manuscript, it does not appear that it was copied from a continuous text manuscript where it would have been easy to include the story of the woman caught in adultery on accident. So when and how did this story get inserted? Perhaps we’ll never know. But we do know that some monk included it, whether accidentally or because of liking the story and knowing it belonged after John 7:52. We also know that a later monk knew it did not belong, so he fixed it to stay in line with the proper worship of the church.

This manuscript also shows that there are many, many more manuscripts to discover and countless more interesting things we have to learn from them. Something as ordinary as a replacement leaf invites us back into the history of the Church and into the real world and lives that surrounded the creation of these treasures.

A special thank you is extended to Dr. Joseph Marshall, Norman Rodger, and Susan Pettigrew, as well as the rest of the Centre for Research Collections staff, who made this project possible in the midst of the library’s incredibly busy schedule.

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.


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.

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