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Thursday, December 14, 2017

From the Library: Preserving the Christmas Story in Matthew

A Bifolio of the Beginning of Matthew in GA 776

As Christmas approaches each year, Christians around the world turn once again to the account of Jesus’ birth in Matthew 1–2. This beloved passage occupies a privileged position at the beginning of the NT. However, because of its prominent place at the front of each Gospels codex, it was also the portion of the Scriptures most likely to be damaged or destroyed. Nearly every codex has at least some deterioration on the first few and last few leaves, since these are the most exposed to the elements. 

In our own collection of medieval minuscules, a quick review shows that the Christmas story in Matthew has often experienced significant fading, water or other damage, and sometimes it was even completely destroyed and lost. For instance, GA 790, GA 764, and GA 898 are missing the first leaf of Matthew. GA 798 is missing the first two leaves. GA 768, GA 771, GA 784, GA 897, GA 1417, and GA 2526—though they once contained the entire Gospel of Matthew—are now missing the Christmas story entirely!

 GA 898 begins at Matthew 1:17.

GA 768 begins at Matthew 3:6.

GA 784 begins at Matthew 5:3.


Damage to the Christmas story in Matthew occurred in a variety of ways. Sometimes it was from water (GA 758, GA 782), dirt (GA 785, GA 791, GA 792, GA 793, GA 796, GA 799, GA 2524), wax drippings when readers read by candlelight (GA 763, GA 781, GA 783), fire (GA 786, GA 800, GA 1416), or some other kind of trauma (GA 798).

Water Damage

Water damage to the first leaf of Matthew in GA 782.

Dirt Damage 

Dirt damage to the beginning of GA 2524.

Wax Damage

Damage from wax drippings on the third leaf of Matthew in GA 781.

Fire Damage

Significant fire damage to the edges of the first leaf of Matthew in GA 1416.

Other Damage

An unknown event caused the first few leaves to be torn away completely from GA 798.


With the variety of ways that the Christmas story could be lost or damaged, it was essential that scribes who cared for these damaged manuscripts devise a number of ways to save the Christmas story from disappearing altogether from the codex. Sometimes scribes would trace back over faded or damaged ink, such as in GA 758 and GA 787. In GA 757, GA 772, GA 789, GA 1686, and GA 2528, a later scribe has remade lost leaves and placed them back where they go.

Retracing 1

A scribe retraced over a water-damaged leaf near the beginning of GA 758.

Retracing 2

A scribe retraced over the faded first verse of Matthew in GA 787.

Replacement 1

The beginning of Matthew was recreated and placed back into GA 789 (left) to replace a damaged or unreadable page. An original leaf from later in the Gospel is shown on the right.

Replacement 2

The first leaf of GA 1686 was remade and replaced (left). The next leaf, continuing the Christmas story, is on the right.

The Christmas story in Matthew 1–2 is an ancient narrative that has been handed down for generations in New Testament manuscripts. We are thankful for the work that nameless scribes throughout history did to ensure that this portion of the Christian Scriptures survived intact. This Christmas season, as you turn to read about Jesus’ birth in Matthew, remember the care and creativity required to preserve this story so that we could read it today.



Monday, December 11, 2017

11x12 Campaign

11x12 Feature Image

We are launching a brand new campaign called 11x12 for the two weeks leading up to Christmas. 11x12 is an invitation for you to give $11 a month for the next year in honor of someone. Why $11? We chose $11 because that is what it costs CSNTM to preserve one unique, handwritten page of a New Testament manuscript on our upcoming expeditions. Your monthly donation to CSNTM will see 12 pages preserved!

The exciting aspect of this campaign is the opportunity to honor someone else. This time of year is perfect for recognizing and remembering the important people in your life. They could be one of your family members, they could be someone who inspired your interest in the New Testament, or they could even be someone for whom it’s difficult to buy a present.

On Christmas Eve we will post a list of the honorees on our website so that you can share with them the commitment you made on their behalf. The New Testament Scriptures would not be available to us today apart from the work of numerous scribes whose legacy we carry on by preserving ancient New Testament manuscripts for the modern world. Now it’s your turn to become part of a mission that has been going on for almost two thousand years.

Let’s preserve New Testament manuscripts together, one page at a time. 

Donate Now

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

A New Edition of the Greek New Testament

Today, the Tyndale House Greek New Testament (THGNT) was released by Crossway. Dr. Dirk Jongkind and Dr. Peter Williams, along with a team of New Testament scholars, spent ten years producing this new edition of the Greek New Testament. The THGNT is unique among modern critical editions of the Greek New Testament in that their text-critical method especially prioritized the earliest manuscripts. (This was first done in 1831 when Lachmann used only majuscules for his Greek New Testament.) The editors also sought to retain unique characteristics from these early manuscripts, including spelling differences, paragraph divisions, and the order of the books in the New Testament. 

Tyndale House Greek New Testament Cover

Already, text-critical scholars have published initial reviews including:

  • Peter Gurry, PhD | Assistant Professor of New Testament, Phoenix Seminary
  • Larry Hurtado, PhD | Emeritus Professor of New Testament Language, Literature, and Theology, University of Edinburgh
  • Daniel B. Wallace, PhD | Executive Director, CSNTM, and Senior Research Professor of New Testament Studies, Dallas Theological Seminary

We are glad that CSNTM’s digital library was useful for the committee as they examined the manuscript evidence. We commend this volume as a unique contribution to be used alongside the other major critical editions. We also believe it would make an excellent gift for the New Testament scholar, pastor, or seminarian in your life.

You can order it on Amazon.


Friday, October 27, 2017

New Manuscripts from the National Library of Greece

Additional manuscripts digitized by the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts (CSNTM) have just been added to our collection. These include 28 manuscripts from the National Library of Greece in Athens, the site of our 2015-16 digitization project

0161 Last Leaf

UV image from GA 0161, an eighth century manuscript leaf containing verses from Matthew 22. GA 0161 is a palimpsest, meaning that the under-text was written in the eighth century but this bi-folio leaf was reused in the process of binding a later manuscript (GA 1419, a 15th century Gospels MS). As you can see, this leaf was reused twice before it came to be bound this way! There is faint writing vertically (GA 0161), as well as upside-down horizontal writing (bottom 3/4 of the page) and right-side-up writing (top 2 lines). This single piece of parchment was repurposed in multiple ways over the course of more than 7 centuries.

  • GA 050: Ninth century majuscule of the Gospels with commentary. 2 leaves.
  • GA 094: Sixth century palimpsest majuscule of the Gospels. 1 leaf.
  • GA 0161: Eighth century palimpsest majuscule of the Gospels. 1 leaf.
  • GA 766: Thirteenth century minuscule of the Gospels.
  • GA 768: Twelfth century minuscule of the Gospels.
  • GA 2652: Fifteenth century minuscule of the Apostolos and Paul.
  • GA 2653: Fifteenth century minuscule of the Gospels, Apostolos, and Paul.
  • GA 2654: Eleventh century minuscule of the Gospels.
  • GA 2655: Eleventh century minuscule of the Gospels.
  • GA 2656: Seventeenth century minuscule of the Gospels and Revelation.
  • GA Lect 397: Tenth century palimpsest lectionary.
  • GA Lect 398: Fourteenth century lectionary.
  • GA Lect 399: Thirteenth century lectionary of the Gospels.
  • GA Lect 400: Fourteenth century lectionary of the Gospels.
  • GA Lect 1529: Thirteenth century lectionary of the Gospels. Dated to 1288.
  • GA Lect 1649: Thirteenth century lectionary of the Gospels.
  • GA Lect 1807: Fifteenth century lectionary of the Gospels. Dated to 1454.
  • GA Lect 1809: Twelfth century lectionary of the Gospels.
  • GA Lect 1812: Fifteenth century lectionary of the Gospels. Dated 1452–53.
  • GA Lect 1817: Fifteenth century lectionary of the Gospels.
  • GA Lect 1819: Seventeenth century lectionary of the Gospels and Apostolos.
  • GA Lect 1820: Fourteenth century lectionary of the Apostolos.
  • GA Lect 1821: Fourteenth century lectionary of the Gospels.
  • GA Lect 1824: Twelfth century lectionary of the Gospels.
  • GA Lect 1885: Ninth century lectionary palimpsest.
  • GA Lect 2009: Twelfth century lectionary of Paul.
  • GA Lect 2011: Thirteenth century lectionary of the Gospels.
  • GA Lect 2013: Thirteenth century lectionary of the Apostolos.

These images have now become part of our growing searchable library, which gives everyone free access to the best available digital images of New Testament manuscripts.

Friday, October 20, 2017

15th Anniversary of CSNTM

The concept for the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts began long before it became an official non-profit organization. In my sabbatical at Cambridge University in 1995 I logged many happy weeks at the University Library examining New Testament manuscripts. Peter Head of Tyndale House, Cambridge, and I even spent a day poring over Codex Cantabrigiensis, a fifth-century codex that had been donated to the University in 1581 by Theodore Beza. Digital photography was starting to have an impact in the late 90s. Dr. Hall Harris (CSNTM board member) urged me to start my own institute for examining and photographing NT manuscripts. The need was great: only microfilms were available for most NT manuscripts, and the quality was abysmal. Frequently, the text was illegible on these microfilms, and virtually all marginal notes by the scribes were way too blurry to read. Our knowledge, therefore, of the NT manuscripts was, in each instance, almost always incomplete. Once 4 megapixel digital cameras were produced, the time was right to found a new institute. Digital photography ushered in a new era of textual study: for the first time, these manuscripts would be easily accessible and read with great clarity. 

Microfilm Image of NT Manuscript

CSNTM was granted 501(c)3 status on September 13, 2002 by the IRS.

Our inaugural expedition was to St. Catherine’s Monastery, Mt. Sinai, Egypt in September 2002. In our week there, we examined some of the ‘New Finds’ manuscripts that had been discovered in 1975. In the process of examination, we discovered two more previously unknown manuscripts: an ancient Greek Old Testament palimpsest (a manuscript that had been scraped over and reused) of the major prophets, in majuscule script; and the Protevangelium of James, an apocryphal book of which very few copies still exist (this was one of the earliest ones).

Later in the same month, my wife and I moved to Münster, Germany where we spent a sabbatical year. Because CSNTM was a brand new institute with virtually no funding, we needed a major gift for the sabbatical year to be as effective as possible. Our prayers were answered: Just such a gift from a small church in Minnesota arrived that summer, allowing me to travel throughout Europe in search of manuscripts. Several more discoveries were made in 2002–03. And our first digitizing project was at the Institute for New Testament Research (INTF) in Münster. With one 4 MP and one 5 MP camera (the cost for each of these state-of-the-art cameras was in the four digits!), an assistant and I spent several weeks digitizing the 22 manuscripts in Münster’s collection. It took 90 seconds to process a single picture! The quality was not very good compared to today’s standards, but it was far better than microfilm. 

In the early years, CSNTM was essentially a summer project. We usually raised enough funds for a two- or three-week expedition each summer. The physical location of the Center was my study, closet, garage—and sometimes living room! As word of our mission spread, the funds began to pour in. In 2004 we digitized 30 manuscripts at the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, including an early majuscule palimpsest of Mark’s Gospel that we discovered.

The Center grew, our expedition season expanded, and the quality of the cameras improved. We procured subleased office space in 2008, and the staff increased to two full-timers and one part-time employee.

Codex 800 (National Library of Greece) 

During these years, we continued to discover more manuscripts and improve our photographic protocols. In 2007 our visit to the National Archive in Tirana, Albania revealed dozens of NT manuscripts that the scholarly world was unaware of. The news of these discoveries was reported in over 100 international newspapers.

2008–09 was another sabbatical year for me. I spent it digitizing manuscripts on three continents. The CSNTM team photographed manuscripts in Albania, Romania, Cambridge University, Arundel Castle, Glasgow University, St. Andrews University, University of Michigan, Australia (Sydney and Melbourne), New Zealand (Auckland), the Bavarian State Library in Munich, several sites in Greece, and many other locations.

Monastery of St. John the Theologian, Patmos

By this time, CSNTM had earned an international reputation. The quality of our images, the free access to these images, and the many discoveries were helping biblical scholars all over the globe in the task of reconstructing the exact wording of the original text—all at the click of a mouse.

In 2013, through the advocacy of Dr. Larry Hurtado of Edinburgh University, CSNTM was granted permission to photograph some of the oldest and most important papyri of the NT, housed at the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin. Portions of one of these manuscripts, which we digitized the following year, were at the University of Michigan. Eighty years ago, photographs of these unspeakably significant papyri were published. Technology has improved a bit since then; the crisp clarity of CSNTM’s images has revealed many more details. Two PhD dissertations on these papyri have been done/are being done based on our images. All this will help scholars discern the early transmission of the NT text and assist them in recovering the wording of the originals. 

A Page from P46 (University of Michigan)

Speaking of doctoral students, every year CSNTM staff train interns for scholarly work in the New Testament. Many of our interns have gone on to prestigious universities to earn advanced degrees—Cambridge, Oxford, Edinburgh, Yale, Brown, Princeton Seminary, St. Andrews, Wheaton College, Dallas Seminary, University of Dallas, Baylor University, and many other schools. And several of them are now teaching, bringing solid, biblical scholarship to the classroom. Like CSNTM’s digital images, these scholars will have an impact for generations to come. 

The next year was no less momentous. CSNTM received a contract to digitize the entire collection of Greek NT manuscripts at the National Library of Greece in Athens. We labored for the next two years on the project. Forty-four people were rigorously trained for precision digitizing. During this time we purchased the long-anticipated Canon 50 MP cameras—ten times better than our original cameras. Over 300 manuscripts were photographed producing 45 terabytes of images (150,000 images). Thanks especially must go to Rob Marcello, who is in charge of our expeditions and who planned this two-year enterprise down to the smallest details. The post-production work is still ongoing.

Our tiny institute—with only seven employees—has a reputation that belies its size. The staff includes:

Rob Marcello, Director of Operations and Research

Christina Nations, Development Manager

Stratton Ladewig, Project Manager

Andrew Bobo, Research Coordinator

Mark Arvé, Finance Coordinator

Andy Patton, Development Coordinator

Dan Wallace, Executive Director.

Rob Marcello in Dublin

As of last month, CSNTM now has its own leased office—more than 2000 square feet including offices, a dedicated digitizing room, equipment room, library, and conference room.

In CSNTM’s first 15 years, we have worked at more than forty locations throughout the world, digitizing more than half a million pages of the Greek NT and discovering upwards of 90 manuscripts. As we look to the future, our sights are set on libraries in Greece, Italy, Eastern Europe, former Soviet bloc countries, and the Middle East. We will soon add Multi-Spectral Imaging to our digitizing equipment, enabling us to read erased manuscripts—manuscripts whose text has not been seen for centuries. Donations are both welcome and necessary for this work. Not only are CSNTM’s images helping biblical researchers, art historians, and Greek scholars, but they are also digitally preserving these amazing artifacts, freezing them in time before the decay of the ages has its full sway. And, as always, our commitment is to make our images free for all, free for all time.


Daniel B. Wallace

Executive Director



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