Saturday, January 22, 2011

Scanning Biblical Manuscripts

An Extraordinary Mission

The Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts ( founded in 2002 by Dr. Dan Wallace, and presently headed by him as Executive Director, is a fascinating and remarkable organization. In the Spring of 2010, a group of researcher scholars, interns, and professionals from the CSNTM visited the JKM Library and the Gruber Collection, to produce digital images of a large number of the New Testament manuscripts in the collection.

The Gruber Rare Books Collections (aka "The Gruber Room") of the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago (LSTC), where I was formerly employed as a librarian, has a remarkable selection of items--from New Testament manuscripts and incunabula to Reformation era pamphlets and 1st editions. The following link will connect you to a site developed and maintained by Prof. Emeritus Ralph Klein: ( --scans of some of the documents in this collection are included.

One of the most interesting objects in the collection was a complete New Testament minuscule manuscript from (if I recall correctly) around the 9th-10th century. Its order is not what is often today considered canonical, but has the Pauline texts in a variant sequencing. This text is one of, if not the oldest complete Greek minuscule New Testament in the world.

Most of the field operations have been conducted by Dr. Jeff Hargis, the Field Director, and his team, which on this site visit included the talents of Garrett Mathis, J.D. Lemming, and Seth Stevens; many of those who worked on the project were students at Dallas Theological Seminary. The team was delightful to work with, and a pleasure to have around in our library. They worked assiduously through the days and week(s), when they were on campus, often leaving in the evening greatly tired. But their labors are a most extraordinary devotion and mission, for which the scholarly, liturgical, and theological world should be thankful.

In these photos (above and below), you will see one of the different modes of scanning and imaging. This was the UV imaging--i.e. it was done effectively in the dark, with indirect blue lighting, and prolonged shutter exposure. In these instances, this type of imaging can help illuminate or uncover text, which may have been bleached out, deleted, or simply erased on the palimpsest. In some cases, we were able to see writing that had been erased--either simply taken out and left blank, or written over with other text. The guys had been working on a number of manuscripts using this technique, which required a steadied patience and a strong arm, because the hand-held blue lights had to be passed slowly over the manuscripts in complete darkness, while the camera's shutter held exposures of between 15 to 30 seconds. I helped hold and wave the blue-lights a number of times, and must admit it was rather tiring! The UV shots were set up by the computer, after first being primed with what's called a "white balance," to orient the specific colors of the documents, before the shot.

Toward the end of the lengthy process, I sat down with Jeff and Garrett to get some of the details of this remarkable operation. As mentioned above, Dr. Dan Wallace founded the organization in 2002. It was a one man operation until 2008. Before Jeff and Garrett came on board, Jeff led Bible tours in Greece, which is where he met Garrett. Garrett has traveled quite a bit (and to some extent with this job), and had been in Albania back in June-July of 2007.
Much of their present work centers around material found on the so-called "K-liste," a full Greek manuscript New Testament Catalog, which Dr. Hargis has written a magnificent account of and can be seen on the website (see link below):

Much of the regular scanning (i.e. that which was done under normal light) was done in the Gruber Room itself. The cameras and equipment stands, which help support the manuscripts, were Canon IDS Mark III (2 set up) cameras and the Graz Traveler's Companion Copy Stand.

Many, if not all of the manuscripts in this collection come from what is called the 1424 Family of New Testament manuscripts--a designation which the members of the CSNTM are fully qualified and willing to speak about. Admittedly, this was one of the most exciting biblio-related events I've participated in. It was fun to watch previously unstudied manuscripts. Perhaps the most dazzling material was the commentary (in marginalia) found in the 1000+ year-old New Testament Greek minuscule, which has never been read or translated! Who knows what may be found there. Who knows what theological mind-bending might be yielded for us to consider and ponder! For those interested, you can now go to this remarkable site, and see what great work they've accomplished. And for those who may be interested in this organization, and have a few shekels to spare, think about some way to support their efforts. They surely have a lot to offer, and will continue to afford access to these immeasurable treasures that have been hidden from our world for so long.

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