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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.

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

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 7 manuscripts from the National Library of Greece (NLG) in Athens, the site of our recently completed digitization project.

GA Lect 1805, John 1

Headpiece from the beginning of Johannine lections in GA Lect 1805

  • GA 1830: 15th century minuscule of the Apostolos and Paul.
  • GA 1831: 14th century minuscule of the Apostolos and Paul.
  • GA 2013: 12th century minuscule of Paul with commentary. This manuscript is a consistently cited witness in the NA27. The text is marked off from the commentary by carats. Somes leaves are missing, and the quires were accidentally reshuffled during the modern rebinding process.
  • GA Lect 1233: 13th century lectionary of the Gospels and Apostolos.
  • GA Lect 1651: 12th century lectionary of the Gospels.
  • GA Lect 1804: 14th century lectionary (dated to 1356) of the Gospels.
  • GA Lect 1805: 12th century lectionary of the Gospels. In the image above, you can see an example of the ornate headpieces found throughout the manuscript. There is also a rather creative ekthesis letter here. The middle of the epsilon is an arm offering an apple to a bird, which forms the top curve of the letter. 

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, February 21, 2017

From the Library: GA 2934

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.

 

An Unusual Discovery

Our next feature is an unusual manuscript that CSNTM discovered inside the binding of another manuscript at the National Library of Greece (NLG). One of the Greek New Testament manuscripts in the National Library’s collection is a 12th century lectionary, known to scholars as GA Lect 1813. When CSNTM’s Executive Director, Dr. Daniel B. Wallace, was examining it for digitization he discovered that leaves from a different manuscript had been glued to the inside cover of the manuscript. Once he took a closer look he discovered that they contained portions from 1 John and Acts.

GA 2934

Side-by-side images of the front and back covers of GA 2934

 

Although a finding like this is somewhat unusual, it is certainly not unprecedented. Those who rebound medieval manuscripts sometimes used other manuscripts, perhaps those that were damaged or for some reason no longer in use, to help preserve and fortify the manuscript at hand. Such a finding may not necessarily revolutionize our knowledge of the New Testament text, but it adds further hard evidence to the sheer number of manuscripts that have existed in history. Our embarrassment of riches just got a little bit richer.

After the manuscript was digitized, experts at the Institute for New Testament Textual Research (INTF) examined the images and determined that it was a bona fide New Testament manuscript, which was previously unknown. Now, these leaves have been officially catalogued and added to the list of Greek New Testament manuscripts as Gregory-Aland 2934. This is one of four manuscripts CSNTM digitized at the NLG that have been recently catalogued. To learn about all four, you can go here.

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