Background on the National Library of Greece
16 March 2015
The National Library of Greece (NLG) holds one of the five largest repositories of Greek New Testament manuscripts in the world. Ancient Greece dates back thousands of years, and most consider it the birthplace of Western culture. In fact, the rise of Greek culture resulted in its language becoming the lingua franca of the first century, and it was this language in which the books of the New Testament were originally written. As a result, the most important witnesses to the text of the New Testament are ancient Greek manuscripts and it is the mission of CSNTM to digitize them.
Though Greek culture is very ancient, modern Greece is a relatively young nation. In fact, it wasn’t until the early nineteenth century that Greece gained its independence from the Ottoman Empire. In 1829 the first governor of the independent Greek State, Ioannis Kapodistrias, established a library, museum, and orphanage in the first capital of Greece, Aegina. The library was established as an independent institution in 1832. That same year it was moved to the new capital Nafplio and moved again in 1834 to Athens, which became the new (and current) capital. In Athens, the library was first housed at the Roman Forum. Later it was moved to the church of St. Eleftherios. In 1842, the then Public Library was joined with the University Library, and the two were fully merged into the NLG in 1866. Both were housed at Othonos University.
On March 16, 1888, the cornerstone for a new marble neoclassical building was laid. In 1903, Greece relocated the NLG into the new location. The new structure was a part of three neoclassical buildings. The other two were the National University of Athens and the Academy of Athens. The three were named the “Athenian Trilogy.” Today, a new building is currently under construction as part of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center, which will house the National Library and the National Opera. The NLG considers itself the guardian of the written intellectual legacy of the Greeks. It seeks to preserve this legacy and to make it available to the public.
When the NLG was first made an independent institution in 1832 it had 1,018 volumes. In 1842 with the merger of the University Library, the collection increased to 50,000 volumes. Today the National Library holds one of the largest collections of Greek manuscripts—4,500 total. Of those, approximately 300 manuscripts are of the Greek New Testament, one of the largest collections of Greek New Testament manuscripts in the world.
On January 12, 2015, the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts (CSNTM) announced that it has entered into an agreement with the NLG to digitize all of these 300+ manuscripts of the Greek New Testament and make them freely available on CSNTM’s website. This is an amazing opportunity and a huge undertaking. There are approximately 5,800 Greek New Testament manuscripts that are currently known, and the NLG has 300 of them!
This collection represents a significant witness to the text of the New Testament, and its digitization by CSNTM will not only ensure that these witnesses are available for generations to come but are freely available to anyone who would like to see them.
For more information about the NLG,
If you would like to support this expedition, please click here.
Additional Extra-Biblical Chester Beatty Papyrus Images Now Available
2 March 2015
In the summer of 2013, the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts (CSNTM) digitized the Greek biblical papyri housed at the Chester Beatty Library (CBL) in Dublin, Ireland. The Chester Beatty collection includes some of the earliest and most important Greek biblical manuscripts in the world. In addition to these biblical manuscripts, CSNTM also digitized several extra-biblical Greek papyri that are part of the CBL collection.
For the first time, images of two of these extra-biblical Chester Beatty manuscripts have now been made available:
1) The Apocryphon of Jannes and Jambres the Magicians
Jannes and Jambres is an apocryphal work. Its text is fragmentary and dated from the 3rd-4th century.
2) Enoch and Melito
Enoch is an extra-biblical work. Melito is an early Christian homily. The text is from the 4th century.
These texts are uniquely significant, as they contain an early witness to rare works for which only a handful of copies have survived, and in the case of Jannes and Jambres, this is the only Greek manuscript known to exist.
Visit the manuscript page to view these new images from Dublin.
Also, if you would like to make more resources like this available, please consider donating to CSNTM!
Biblical Manuscripts and their Commentaries
Daniel B. Wallace
26 February 2015
I don’t know how many handwritten Greek New Testament manuscripts (MSS) I’ve had the privilege of looking at in the last two or three decades. It’s at least in the hundreds and probably more than a thousand by now. And presently, I am looking at quite a few more at the National Library of Greece in Athens. CSNTM will be shooting all the NT manuscripts here in 2015 and 2016. That’s about 300 manuscripts with almost 150,000 pages of text. It’s a daunting task! And all of these images will be available at CSNTM. They will be free for all, and free for all time.
I’ve been pondering an aspect about NT manuscripts that I thought would be good to share with others. It has to do with commentaries. You see, many of our biblical manuscripts have commentaries written by church fathers included within the codex. Scholars are aware of about one dozen such manuscripts in which the NT text is written in majuscules or capital letters. Majuscules are what all of our oldest NT manuscripts are written in. Beginning in the ninth century, scribes began to write in minuscule, or cursive, letters. Minuscule manuscripts could be written much more rapidly and in a more compact space than their capital letter counterparts. By the twelfth century, virtually all the Greek NT manuscripts were minuscules. Quite a few of these later MSS included commentaries.
Over the years, I’ve examined such commentary MSS to prepare them for digitization. And here’s what I have discovered.
These MSS come in a variety of formats. Probably the most common one is for the text to be in larger script and centered on the page, with commentary wrapping around it on three sides (top, bottom, and outside of the leaf). Another format is to have the biblical text in one color of ink with the commentary in a different color. The color of ink for the biblical text is almost always a more expensive ink; one or two MSS even use gold ink for the scriptures. A third format is to have the NT written in capital letters and the commentary in minuscule. And finally, some MSS have an introductory symbol to the biblical text such as an asterisk or simple cross to set it off from the commentary.
Below are images of some examples of these varieties:
Biblical text centered and in larger script
with wrap-around commentary
Gold letters for scripture, red letters for commentary
Capital letters for scripture, cursive for commentary
There is a common theme through all of these varieties: the biblical text is prominent, considered of greater importance than the commentary. These ancient and medieval scribes understood the significance of scripture and made sure to highlight it over comments about it. I am reminded of a quip one of my professors used to make: “It’s amazing how much light the text sheds on the commentaries!” Indeed, the refrain of focusing on the text, of constantly putting before the reader what is of the greatest importance, is a hallmark of these manuscripts!
This is not to say that these commentaries were unimportant. No, they were vital for the communities of faith. Christians then, as now, wanted to know how to understand the Bible, and the scribes did well to reproduce the reflections on scripture of the great thinkers in the history of the Church. But on balance, we would do well to remember that the scriptures were front and center and the scriptures were the main focus of these scribes. To these anonymous workers, who labored in adverse conditions, we owe a large debt of gratitude.
If you want to help preserve manuscripts please make a donation.
CSNTM to Digitize Manuscripts at the National Library of Greece
12 January 2015
On January 7, the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts’ Executive Director, Dr. Daniel B. Wallace, and Research Manager, Robert D. Marcello, traveled to Athens to meet with the Director of the National Library, Filippos Tsimboglou. After meeting with the Director last September to begin discussions of a collaboration, they worked out final negotiations and signed a contract for CSNTM to digitize all the New Testament manuscripts of the National Library. This is a historic collaboration between one of the five largest repositories of Greek New Testament manuscripts and the world’s leading institute in digitizing Greek New Testament manuscripts. Approximately 300 manuscripts with 150,000+ pages of text will be digitized over the next two years. CSNTM is excited to be working with Dr. Tsimboglou and his staff on this strategic undertaking.
The National Library of Greece in Athens
The project will begin in January 2015 with Dr. Wallace spending a significant amount of time in Athens, preparing the manuscripts for digitization. Then a team of 7–8 people from CSNTM will arrive in Athens to digitize the manuscripts. After the digitization work, the project will conclude with several months of post-production image processing. CSNTM, a Plano, Texas non-profit institute, has been digitizing manuscripts throughout the world since 2002.
Rob Marcello, Filippos Tsimboglou, and Dan Wallace at the NL Athens
This is the first expedition for CSNTM in which they are announcing ahead of time where and when they are going. The cost for the expedition, including equipment and follow-through, will be approximately $835,000. When the project is completed, all the images will be posted at www.csntm.org and will be accessible to everyone free of charge. If you would like to donate, please click here.