Reflections on My Time in Athens

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

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