Monday, July 9, 2018

News: Ancient Byzantine Gospels at Mount Sinai!

Georgian NF 19, 57v -
reconstructed lower writing.
       Last month, I briefly described many of the manuscripts in a collection of palimpsests (recycled manuscripts) that are being studied by the Sinai Palimpsests Project – including 15 Greek manuscripts of New Testament books.  Today, let’s take a closer look at parts of two specific manuscripts in the collection:  Georgian NF 19 and Georgian 49.  (NF = New Finds.) 
            The upper (i.e., most recent) writing in Georgian NF 19 is a copy of a book of hymns, or chants, in the Georgian language – the Iadgari of Mikael Modrekili.  It was produced in 980.  The parchment on which this copy of the Iadgari was written previously held text from at least 13 other compositions.
            Eight of those compositions are in the Palestinian Aramaic language.  The remaining seven are in Greek – including (1) a leaf from the Gospel of Matthew (containing Matthew 21:32-41), (2) a leaf from the Gospel of John (containing John 9:17-26), and (3) a leaf from the Gospel of Luke (containing Luke 8:12-20).
           These pages are clustered together and probably came from the same manuscript of the four Gospels, which has been assigned to the 500s.  All three are written in uncial script, formatted in two narrow columns per page, with 22 lines per column.  At the Sinai Palimpsests Project website, in the lower writing of Georgian NF 19, the text from Matthew is on fol. 56, the text from Luke is on fol. 57, and the text from John is on fol. 54.
            The text of the Gospels-manuscript that was recycled to provide parchment for the Georgian chant-book was essentially Byzantine.  Taking a close look at the text from Luke, for example, the only deviations from the Robinson-Pierpont Byzantine Textform are minor variants such as ακουοντες instead of ακουσαντες and συνπνιγονται instead of συμπνιγονται in verse 14. 
            The same textual character is present in Matthew:  in Matthew 21:35-41, the text of this manuscript is practically identical to the Byzantine Text.  Its text of John 9:17-31 is also very strongly Byzantine.
            Initial letters are enlarged and reverse-indented at the beginnings of verses 15, 16, 17, 18, and 19.  The Eusebian section-number ΠΒ (82) stands in the margin near the beginning of Luke 8:19, showing that these pages were once part of a manuscript that contained all four Gospels.
            Another manuscript in the collection, Georgian 49, contains five leaves that were recycled from a Greek copy of the Gospel of Mark (fol. 25, 26, 28, 29, and 30), and a leaf that was recycled from a Greek copy of the Gospel of John – but not the same Gospels-codex that was recycled to provide writing-material for Georgian NF 19.
            The text of Mark that appears in the lower writing of Georgian 49 was also formatted in two columns per page, but in columns of 25 lines, rather than 22.  A comparison of its text of Mark 10:46-47 and 10:49-51 reveals the following readings:

The Gospels-text in the lower writing
of Georgian NF 19 is unmistakably
● v. 46:  the non-inclusion of ὁ after ἱκανοῦ.
● v. 46:  the Byzantine word-order and wording in the second half of the verse.
● v. 47:  the non-inclusion of ΙΥ (the customary contraction of Jesus’ name, Ἰησοῦ) after ΔΑΔ (the customary contraction of David’s name).  This might be the earliest Greek manuscript with this reading.  (Notice, however, the dots above ΔΑΔ which may represent a proof-reader’s expression of the detection of a scribal error; a correction may have been in the left margin.)
● v. 50:  αναστας (agreeing with Byz) instead of αναπηδήσας (the reading of B À L D).
● v. 51:  the Alexandrian non-inclusion of λέγει and inclusion of ειπεν.
● v. 51:  the Alexandrian word-order Τί σοι θέλεις ποιήσω.

            It would appear that the manuscript of Mark that was recycled to make Georgian 49 had a much higher amount of Alexandrian readings than the Gospels-manuscript that was used to make Georgian NF 19.  The text of John 11:29b-31a on fol. 54r in Georgian 49, however, contains only one significant variant-unit; it agrees with the Byzantine Text, and disagrees with the Alexandrian Text, via the non-inclusion of ετι in verse 30.

            This is just a sample of the harvest of textual data that is yet to come from the Sinai Palimpsests Project.  A guide to navigating the website is planned; in the meantime, allow me to walk you through it in the course of the next few paragraphs.
Byzantine readings continue
to dominate in the text of John
in Georgian NF 19.
            The manuscripts can be viewed, once one has been admitted entrance to the image-gallery by the stewards of the Sinai Palimpsests Project website.  Viewers should agree to the Terms of Use.  Once in the gallery, visitors will have the ability to browse through a list of the manuscripts, complete with descriptions of the texts in the lower writing and their locations.  You might want to have a pen and paper handy to jot down which compositions are in the lower writing of which pages of which manuscripts.
            When a specific page-view is accessed, some basic imaging-tools are available:  visitors have the ability to zoom in on details (in a no-nonsense, intuitive method), and to adjust the brightness, contrast, and color-saturation of the photograph; there are also options to rotate the page-view, to switch from full-color to grayscale, and to invert colors.  There is also a digital ruler; if you do not feel like measuring any of the letters in the manuscripts you can use the menu in the upper right corner to select “Hide ruler” and it will hide.
            In the same sub-menu in the upper right corner of each page-view, readers are given the option of switching from page view mode (which displays a single page in the main window but allows page-selection via a virtual rolodex below the main image) to gallery view mode (in which all of the manuscript’s pages are displayed in a grid of thumbnail-views).  (In page view mode, you might need to move the whole window north a bit to access the virtual rolodex’s controls.)
            More useful than all of these remarkable features, however, are the multi-spectral images of the pages, which can be accessed by selecting the three horizontal lines which appear in the menu in the upper left corner:  “Toggle the side panel,” a pop-up note will say when you do so.  (A special page is dedicated to explaining the use of different wavelengths and other technological aspects of multi-spectral imaging, including the special book cradle at Saint Catherine’s monastery.)

            After the side-menu appears and gobbles up the far-left fifth of your screen, another menu will appear which gives you the options of “Index” and “Layers.”  “Index” does nothing, as far as I can tell (no doubt something awesome is planned to go there eventually), so select “Layers.”  A series of images – all multi-spectral images of the same page, each one at a different wavelength – will appear.

            Viewers will need to check a little box to select specific wavelengths.  Some experimenting has shown that the most useful wavelengths for reading the lower writing in the palimpsests are toward the top (above the “raking light” setting); the ones toward the bottom are useful for getting an idea of what the page would look like without any writing on it.  Once a wavelength or multiple wavelengths are selected, the enhanced view can be digitally manipulated (by changing the contrast, brightness, etc.) so as to allow – though usually still requiring some effort – a much clearer look at the lower writing than would otherwise be possible.

            To the people of Arcadia, a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin, and to the Early Manuscripts Electronic Library, gratitude and congratulations are offered for making possible these exciting new discoveries about the text of the Bible, patristic compositions, the Byzantine liturgy, and other historically significant writings! is a publication of St. Catherine’s Monastery of the Sinai in collaboration with EMEL and UCLA.

All images courtesy St. Catherine's Monastery of the Sinai.  
Used with permission. 


Unknown said...

Note the images on the sinai palimpsests project research site are really the digitally processed images, not the captured images in individual wavelengths of light. These images offer a visual representation of the greatest differences in spectral responses of the scraped off undertext, the overtext and parchment produced through statistical processing.

More information on this should be included in the future User Guide In the meantime, more information is available in a Library of Congress presentation about the project at

J Weaver said...

How did you create you images of the undertext? I'm working with the site and would love to know how you did this?

James Snapp Jr said...

J Weaver,

Basically, I started by getting the best digital image of the lower text I could dial in, took a screen-shot, printed it out, and then manually traced the lower text (checking different dialed-in views); then I scanned the result, and digitally removed the upper writing.

Daniel Buck said...

The reconstructed reading of v. 47 is suspect; that looks like an epsilon before DAD rather than the expects sigma.