Digitally Preserving Ancient Christian Scriptures
By Daniel B. Wallace
Almost as soon as the spring semester concluded, I’ve been on the go. On May 23, I went to Albania for a week, then to Greece for three weeks. Back home in Texas for three days, then off to Ann Arbor, MI (road trip) and Orlando, FL, for nearly a month. After a few days rest, and a spot on one of the most watched Christian TV shows in the world, I flew to Germany for a week, have come home for almost a week, and will be flying to the UK today. I’ll be gone 6-10 weeks this time.
You might wonder why anyone would have such a bizarre vacation agenda: Albania or Ann Arbor for R&R?! No, not vacation. These trips were taken with three other individuals, armed with hi-res digital cameras, tripods, reflectors, DVD burners, hard drives, laptops, and all sorts of cables and adaptors. In all, 17 pieces of luggage for four people. We worked 16 hours a day, photographing ancient, unique, handwritten copies of the New Testament, converting the data from RAW to TIFF to JPEG, proofreading it, and burning DVDs. Although sometimes the sites we were in were vacation spots, we rarely had time to relax and enjoy them.
The Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts (or CSNTM) is the institute responsible for photographing these manuscripts. This summer alone we have taken more than 30,000 pictures of manuscripts. We discovered over a dozen manuscripts, too. CSNTM was founded six years ago. Since its inception the Center’s staff have discovered more NT manuscripts than the rest of the world combined has—by a factor of four or five! I am convinced that the Lord is far more interested in scripture than we are and he has been opening doors for us to image these ancient, precious texts, and thus preserve them digitally for generations to come. With wars, fire, theft, water and rodent damage, these ancient copies of the NT are not as stable as we would like. There are a dozen such manuscripts in Georgia which we hope to photograph after the war is actually over.
And yet, our task is not only to preserve scripture but also to research these manuscripts so that, ultimately, we can determine more precisely what the original text actually said. That, of course, translates into modern versions of the Bible having greater confidence that what is translated is what Paul or Peter or John actually wrote.
If you’d like to see some of the images we’ve shot, just visit www.csntm.org. Tens of thousands of pictures are posted there. Among them are pictures of the world’s smallest complete Greek Gospels manuscript (nicknamed the ‘wee beastie’), as well as images of some of the manuscripts we discovered last year in Albania.
We have a long way to go to get the job done. Please pray for more open doors and continued funding so that we can accomplish this vital mission of digitally preserving ancient Christian documents and recovering the wording of the original text.
Daniel B. Wallace is executive director of the Center for Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts (www.csntm.org). When not traveling the world, he teaches at Dallas Theological Seminary, where he is a professor of New Testament studies. His Greek resources, published by Zondervan, include Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, The Basics of New Testament Syntax, and the recent A Workbook for New Testament Syntax.
Photographs appear courtesy of The Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts and the National Archive in Tirana, Albania. Photo 1 shows the Eusebian Canons at the front of ANA 4 (these canons or lists were an ingenious way for readers to find their place in the Gospels long before verse numbers and chapter divisions were invented). Photo 2 is ANA 92, initial leaf of the Gospel of Matthew.
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