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.
The broken back cover of GA Lect 2468
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.
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.
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.