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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

Biblical text centered and in larger script with wrap-around commentary

Gold letters for scripture, red letters for commentary

Gold letters for scripture, red letters for commentary

Capital letters for scripture, cursive 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.

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CSNTM to Digitize Manuscripts at the National Library of Greece

Press Release

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

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.

CSNTM at the National Library of Greece

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.

P46 Is Now Complete

Robert D. Marcello

6 January 2015

In July of 2014 the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts (CSNTM) traveled to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor to digitize their New Testament Papyrus of Paul’s letters (P46). The CSNTM team consisted of Daniel B. Wallace, Robert D. Marcello, and Jacob W. Peterson. This was part of a combined project which will virtually reunite P46 since it is housed in two separate locations. The University was gracious to allow CSNTM to digitize their portion of the manuscript, and our staff was able to work with the University’s preservation department, which is known around the world for their work in papyrological preservation. A special thanks goes to Dr. Brendan Haug, the archivist of the Papyrology Collection and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Classical Studies, for his willingness to participate in this project and for his hospitality.

Dr. Daniel B. Wallace at the Chester Beatty Library

P46 or Papyrus 46 in the Gregory-Aland system is the earliest Papyrus (c. AD 200) of the letters of Paul and Hebrews. It is housed at the Chester Beatty Library (CBL) in Dublin, Ireland and at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. CSNTM digitized the CBL portion in the summer of 2013 producing stunning high-resolution digital images that are already being used in theses and research around the globe. This manuscript is vitally important for understanding the transmission and earliest stages of the text of Paul’s writings, and we are excited to add the University of Michigan’s images to our Library.

P46—both the CBL and Michigan images—may now be found in the CSNTM library.

More Papyrus Images Online!

Robert D. Marcello

12 December 2013

The Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts (CSNTM) is continuing to grow its online resources. Today we are proud to announce that we now have images of 128 papyri manuscripts in our archives, 111 digital papyri manuscripts online, and 80 of these available publicly (the remaining are available for private viewing only due to contractual arrangements). This includes the new high resolution images of the Chester Beatty Papryi!

Dr. Daniel B. Wallace at the Chester Beatty Library

As always, we strive to continually make as many images available publically as possible. We will continue to grow our collections in the months to come; please be on the lookout for more exciting additions to the CSNTM site.

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Your Amazon purchases can help CSNTM

Robert Marcello

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Please click above to be taken to Amazon's website. A portion of every purchase you make will automatically be given to CSNTM. There are no higher fees, used and third party items count, and you may still utilize your prime account! This is an effortless way to support CSNTM's mission. Just remember to click on the above picture every time you make a purchase.

Also, remember anything and everything that can be purchased on Amazon will still qualify for this promotion including groceries, automobile products, DVDs, clothing and books!

Since the start of partnering with Amazon, CSNTM has received over $745.00! At $4 to digitize 1 page of a manuscript, your support has digitized over 185 pages to date!

CSNTM thanks you for your support.