Thursday, February 19, 2015

Passages: Coming to California in April 2015

Coming soon to the Los Angeles area.
Passages, a mobile exhibit of items in the Green Collection of Biblical artifacts, is scheduled to open this coming April in Santa Clarita, California.  This exhibit will feature some of the most significant objects in the Green Collection.  If previous displays may be considered indications of what can be expected, then visitors are in for a real treat.

            The exhibit will have four areas, each dedicated to a specific aspect of the history and impact of the Bible:  (1) the transmission of the text of the Bible, (2) the translation of the Bible, (3) the cultural impact of the Bible, and (4) controversies involving the Bible.  Aspects of all four areas can be seen in The Living Word, a beautiful video about the Bible's history and its enduring influence.  Exhibit-pieces range from cuneiform tablets to New Testament papyrus fragments, to medieval Bibles, to a letter by Martin Luther.  A working replica of Gutenberg's printing-press and the small Lunar Bible that was taken to the moon on Apollo XIV are also expected to be part of the exhibit.
            For the New Testament textual critic, the first area is bound to be the most interesting.  Visitors should be on the lookout for Papyrus 39, a fragment of text from John 8:14-22.  This fragment's text agrees with the text of Codex Vaticanus (images of which were recently placed online by the Vatican Library).  Papyrus 39 was found at Oxyrhynchus, about 120 miles south of Cairo, Egypt.
Early fragment of Greek text from the opening verses of First Samuel.
(Aggregate image from video from Museum of the Bible.)
            Old Testament manuscripts are in the Green Collection, too, including fragments from the Dead Sea Scrolls, one of which contains text from Genesis 32:3-7.  The exhibit may also include a small fragment of First Samuel from the Septuagint version. (I don't know what production-date has been assigned to this fragment, but it looks very early.)  
            Pages from the Codex Climaci Rescriptus will be on display too.  Considering the age and extent of this manuscript, it is probably the most important item in the collection.  Agnes Smith Lewis encountered individual pages of the manuscript in 1895, and eventually she was able to collect the rest, which she published in 1909.
            Codex Climaci Rescriptus is, in a way, several manuscripts all rolled into one.  It contains (1) fragments of a Greek Gospels-Harmony, consisting primarily of extracts from Matthew and John, (2) the Greek text of Psalm 150, (3) part of a sermon in Palestinian Aramaic, in which the author utilized several passages from the Gospels and from the Pauline Epistles, (4) part of a legend about Peter and Paul, in Palestinian Aramaic, (5) text from Second Peter 3:16-18 in Palestinian Aramaic, (6) text from First John 1:1-9 in Palestinian Aramaic, (7) text from Second Peter 1:1-12 in Palestinian Aramaic, (8) text from Isaiah 63:9-11 in Palestinian Aramaic, and (9) Palestinian Aramaic text, arranged for liturgical reading in church-services, from the books of Hebrews, Philemon, Titus, Second Timothy, Second Thessalonians, First Thessalonians, Colossians, Philippians, Ephesians, Galatians, Second Corinthians, First Corinthians, Romans, Acts, John, Luke, Mark, and Matthew (with sporadic introductions consisting of phrases from Psalms) and excerpts from Jeremiah 11-12, Isaiah 40:1-8, First Samuel 1-4, and 6, Job 6-7, Proverbs 1, Micah 4, Deuteronomy 6-7, Leviticus 11-12, Exodus 4, and Joel 2.           
            Any one of these texts could easily be the centerpiece of a respectable private collection of artifacts.  When Codex Climaci Rescriptus was purchased in 2010 from Westminster College (where it had resided ever since being entrusted to that institution by Agnes Smith Lewis herself), the Green Collection thus acquired the second-most important New Testament manuscript in North America, second only to Codex W.
Pages from Codex Climaci Rescriptus
Photo credit:  Museum of the Bible

            The portion of Codex Climaci Rescriptus with substantial excerpts of New Testament books is generally thought to have been produced in the 500s.  Dr. Scott Carroll assigns an earlier date to this Aramaic material.  In the 2011 Passages Exhibition Catalog on page 17, he writes:  "While the Aramaic script was written in the late 4c [fourth century, that is, the 300s], the uncharacteristic script replicates a Greek biblical bookhand of the 2c [second century, that is, the 100s], suggesting that it may have been translated from a 2c Greek exemplar."  I am skeptical about such a claim, despite not knowing Palestinian Aramaic, simply because its basis seems precarious and because I have not heard a chorus of Aramaic-specialists rise in unified agreement; Lewis' initial assessment seems to have satisfied the experts in the early 1900s and today.  But even though Codex Climaci Rescriptus is not "a direct witness to a lost 2c Greek text of the Bible" (as Dr. Carroll wrote on page 16 of the 2011 Passages Exhibition Catalog), it is nevertheless a very important manuscript - and the scholars in the Green Scholars Initiative seem willing to assign part of the manuscript to the 400s.

            Codex Climaci Rescriptus has not (yet) received the level of fame given to some other early Biblical manuscripts such as Codices Vaticanus (B), Sinaiticus (À), Alexandrinus (A), Ephraimi Rescriptus (C), and Bezae (D).  There are several reasons for this -- some of which are fair, and some of which are not:
            (1)  The major uncials are older.
            (2)  The major uncials are written in Greek instead of in Palestinian Aramaic.
            (3)  The major uncials, except for C, have the Biblical text in a neat, continuous format, whereas the pages in Codex Climaci Rescriptus are not in order.
Another page from Codex Climaci Rescriptus
Photo credit:  Museum of the Bible
(Slightly altered from the original image)
            (4)  The major uncials, except for C, are not palimpsests; they remained intact as Biblical manuscripts and were not recycled.  The pages of Codex Climaci Rescriptus, however, were recycled in the early Middle Ages (probably in the 800s) when someone washed the parchment (not very thoroughly, fortunately) and re-used the parchment by writing upon it the text of translations of two compositions by John Climacus, a monk who lived in the 600s.  Gordon Campbell explains this in the second half of an online video about highlights of the 2014 Passages exhibit that was at Springfield, Missouri.
            It thus takes extra effort to read the older text in the manuscript:  not only does one need to know Palestinian Aramaic, but one needs to develop the skill to accurately read the older writing that is hidden below the younger writing.  (Fortunately Agnes Smith Lewis did all the hard work already; her 1909 transcription of the older writing -- accompanied by a retro-translation into Greek, with an apparatus indicating textual variants in the base-text! -- is a masterpiece.  It is still distributed by Cambridge University Press.)
            (5)  Technically, the New Testament text in Codex Climaci Rescriptus is formatted as a lectionary, so in the early 1900s, instead of getting a prominent letter or number to represent it in the textual apparatus, it was initially designated Lectionary 1561, which does not sound very important.  (Lectionaries are listed last in apparatus-entries, after patristic references.)  Currently it is categorized as an uncial, 0250.

            All things considered, Codex Climaci Rescriptus deserves far more attention than it has received from New Testament textual critics.  Agnes Smith Lewis' impressive work on the manuscript did not settle every question about its contents.  She noted that in some parts of the manuscript, the text was very faint and difficult to read, and advised future researchers to use care if they used a reagent (a chemical that makes the older writing more visible) on the parchment.  Last year, Jamie Klair, a student researcher at Tyndale House at the University of Cambridge found additional writing on pages of Codex Climaci Rescriptus -- texts by the Greek poet Aratus.  This led to additional research, and additional discoveries.  Avoiding chemical reagents (which risk harming the parchment), the researchers of the Green Scholars Initiative resort instead to multi-spectral imaging, which, as the name implies, uses different bandwidths of light to reveal the otherwise nigh-imperceptible writing.

            The Passages exhibit at Santa Clarita, California will be well worth visiting in 2015 -- but it is just a sample of the treasury of Bibles and Bible-related artifacts that will be housed at the Museum of the Bible, which is scheduled to open in 2017 in Washington, D.C.

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