With the gracious approval of His All Holiness, Patriarch Bartholomew of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts (CSNTM) sent a team of experienced manuscript photographers and researchers to Constantinople (Istanbul) in May 2004, in order to photograph ancient Greek New Testament manuscripts safeguarded in the Patriarchate’s library archives.
These ancient manuscripts have been carefully protected by the Ecumenical Patriarchate for many centuries, and it is the Patriarchate’s intent to take further steps to preserve them digitally and enhance scholarly access to these library treasures. With the collaboration of CSNTM, the Patriarchate is able to achieve these goals with CSNTM’s comprehensive assistance in this endeavor—including professional-level digital photography, scholarly assessment, and the creation of internet access to quality manuscript images.
The team photographed 30 ancient Greek New Testament manuscripts, each of which were carefully positioned on custom-designed manuscript cradles created to protect the manuscript from damage. The manuscripts were photographed using high-resolution, 11.1 mega-pixel Canon EOS-1Ds digital cameras, under sometimes-difficult lighting conditions. Because these images had to be shot and then converted from their original 8 Mb RAW format files into 32 Mb TIFF files, and then compressed into 1 Mb JPEG files, the team required the use of three highend laptop computers and three Firewire hard drives for up to 20 hours per day. For safekeeping, the images were burned onto high-quality DVDs by the fastest external DVD burners available on the market.
Two members of the CSNTM team at work.
To photograph these 30 manuscripts, over 14,000 single-leaf images were taken. Among the manuscripts photographed, the team encountered four manuscripts that were previously unknown to Western scholarship. First, portions of two previously unknown majuscule manuscripts were photographed (the first majuscule manuscripts known to exist in Istanbul), one of which is an early text from the Gospel of St. Mark and the other is an early leaf from Saint Basil. Second, the team photographed two other previously unknown, complete NT manuscripts written in Greek minuscule hand.
The Gospel of St. Mark majuscule manuscript deserves special attention. It is a palimpsest (a manuscript containing an older text that was scraped away) consisting of two leaves from Mark, chapters three and six. Since these leaves are the last two leaves of a 12th century non-biblical text, it would seem that the two scraped leaves were appropriated by the scribe of this 12th century manuscript in the final moments of his manuscript composition. The underlying majuscule letters, though barely visible, are written in a large and stately hand. The date of the palimpsest is tentatively estimated to be 3rd to 4th century. However, the dating of this early majuscule manuscript should not be too confidently asserted until CSNTM returns to Constantinople to photograph it again, using multi-spectral imaging (MSI) equipment. Once CSNTM has taken MSI photographs, the date and exact content of these two leaves from Mark can be determined. After this next trip, CSNTM plans to announce its findings regarding this manuscript at a Society of Biblical Literature meeting, followed by publication of the findings in an academic journal. Representative samples of manuscript images are posted below. Pending approval from the Patriarchate, complete sets of manuscript images should be posted as well. The images are in JPEG format because TIFF are too large for easy access on the Internet. Special thanks are due to Dr. Noel Enete, chief architect of AOL, for designing a program—specifically for CSNTM’s use—which converts TIFF images to JPEG quickly, efficiently, and without significant loss of resolution.
The Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts would like to recognize the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople for its collaboration on this project. Without approval from His All Holiness, Patriarch Bartholomew, and assistance from the Very Reverend Father, Archimandrite Athenagoras, his staff, and Patriarchate liaison Paul Gikas, this project would not have been possible. The warm reception and assistance we enjoyed was the epitome of Christian grace.
Last, but not least, CSNTM would like to thank the foundations that have contributed to our work, including the Philanthropic Foundation, the Dallas Foundation, and Philologus, as well as the many individual donors who were generous in their support.
Based in Frisco, Texas, USA, the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts (CSNTM) is a non-profit organization dedicated to the digital preservation of ancient New Testament manuscripts. CSNTM works in collaboration with various religious and scholarly institutions worldwide, under the umbrella of the Center for the Research of Early Christian Documents, which strives to promote research in and access to early Christian documents. Key CSNTM team members for this trip included Dr. Daniel B. Wallace, R. Gregory Jenks, and Ivan Y. Yong.