There Were Giants in Those Days: Codex Robertsonianus (Gregory-Aland 2358), Part 1

In 1927, Adolf Deissmann began a correspondence with A. T. Robertson that led to the purchase of a Greek Gospels manuscript by Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Some of the story of this manuscript’s travels and text is told by John W. Bowman in his 23-page booklet (with four plates), The Robertson Codex (Allahabad, India: Mission Press, 1928). The booklet was a reprinting of articles in The Indian Standard 139, nos. 8 and 9 (August and September, 1928). Bowman had been a student of Robertson’s at Southern and later became professor of New Testament and Church History at North India United Theological College in Saharanpur, India.

In Bowman’s booklet are two chapters, which correspond to the two articles in The Indian Standard. The first chapter addresses the process of photographing the manuscript, and is a window on the difficulties that attended such labors in the 1920s. It took the author nearly three months to photograph it! Today, with digital photography, the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts normally photographs a 350-page manuscript (the size of Codex Robertsonianus) in less than a day. In this chapter he mentions the rarity of photographs of New Testament manuscripts: “Very few complete MSS of the N.T. or portions thereof have hitherto been photographed: I am personally aware of only five such” (5). Bowman’s second chapter discusses many fascinating details of the manuscript.

One thing is largely missing, however, from the book: except for small snippets here and there, the correspondence between Deissmann and Robertson is not mentioned. This blog thus supplements Bowman’s pamphlet with Deissmann’s letters to Robertson concerning the codex (I do not have access to Robertson’s responses to Deissmann).

Below are photographs of the first letter (along with the text printed beneath each one), which was obtained from Southern Baptist Seminary. In later blogs, I will post the rest of the letters and text. These letters constitute the A. T. Robertson Papers, Box 7, Folder 3, Archives and Special Collections, James P. Boyce Centennial Library, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky. I am grateful to Adam Winters, archivist at SBTS, who provided the photographs. They are used with permission of the SBTS Archives & Special Collections.

Deissmann to Robertson_2 Mar 1927_page 1 of 2

Professor Dr. Adolf Deissmann
Berlin-Wilmersdorf, Prinzregentenstrasse 6., March 2nd, 1927.

My dear Dr. Robertson:

Accept please my thanks for your kind letter of Jan. 13, 1927. It is not possible for me now to say an other time for an American tour of mine; but I hope it may be possible at a later date. To-day I should like to tell you some words about a Greek Tetra-Euangelion which I had the opportunity to find in the hands of a Turkish dealer and which I saved immediately. It is a parchment codex, dated by our excellent Berlin expert Dr. Schubart (the papyrologist) in the 11. century A.D. It contains 175 leaves (15 x 11 centimeters), the leaves containing the four Gospels and the following passages being lost: Mt 11–932; 1114–157; 2671–2731; Mr 11–31; 42–36; 616–30; Luk 38–25; Joh 723–41; 1231–2125. The hand-writing is very nice and easily decipherable; the κεφάλαια etc. are added. The codex came from the area of Trapezunt (Asia Minor). It is not known to v. Soden, Gregory etc. and I think it turned up during or after that horrible expulsio[n] of the Greeks in 1922. and adds an unknown new number to the series of extant N.T. manuscripts. The form of the text is not yet explored, I could make only some specimen investigation, e.g. the μοιχαλίς-Pericope is peculiar in some readings and seems to have a type not noted by von Soden.

Concerning the fact that the number of N.T. codic[es] is very small in American libraries (Gregory only mentions 13 codices or small fragments of the Greek Gospels existing in the States) I suppose you may perhaps be interested to acquire the newly discovered codex for the library of your Seminary[.]

Deissmann to Robertson_2 Mar 1927_page 2

I should like of course to acquire it for my N.T. Seminar, but I have had the chance in 1910 by a generous patron to buy a Greek Gospel codex (Gregory’s Nr. 2308), and now I must take care to save money for my Ephesus work. Therefore I cannot buy it for my Seminar. The price is $700.—a modern binding included (it was necessary to bind the venerable leaves). It is of course very helpful for the students to see and to study original manuscripts of the N.T., and I think the opportunities to acquire something like that Trapezunt-Codex are very rare. Next fall I shall try to find other new N.T. fragments in Asia Minor, but I am not very full of hope for a success.

I did not offer the Codex to anybody else; you are the first whom I informed about this chance. If you are interested I suppose you may find some patronage as I found in 1910.

If you should like to see the codex before I could send it to you, but of course this way is rather prolix.

Believe me, dear colleague,

Yours very sincerely

Adolf Deissmann.

Press Release from CSNTM

Press Release (8 Nov 2013):

Debut of Chester Beatty Papyri and New User Tools at CSNTM


The Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts ( is well known for digitizing ancient biblical manuscripts. But the Center is not well known for having a user-friendly website. Because of a generous donation, the Center is giving a much-needed face-lift to its site. Phase I includes the following new features:

  • A basic search function now allows users to look at manuscripts by date, material, content, etc. You will notice a new search bar at the top of the manuscripts page. Simply enter in the data you’re looking for, and only those manuscripts that meet the criteria will be displayed.
  • Viewing technology has been added, allowing users to see thumbnail images instead of just a link. Simply click on the thumbnail and the high-resolution image is displayed in the viewer below. Users can now zoom in and examine manuscripts without having to open individual pages. This feature is currently available only for manuscripts digitized on the last five expeditions (Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana in Florence; Gennadius Library in Athens; University of Athens Historical Museum; City Historical Library of Zagora, Greece; and the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin). More to come!
  • The website also provides links to the images of 29 (and growing!) significant manuscripts in various libraries throughout the world.
  • CSNTM currently has over 450 manuscripts listed in its manuscript page, with more than 1100 manuscripts in our archives. We are working on getting all 1100+ manuscripts listed on the site. As always, when the Center gets permission, the images of manuscripts become accessible to all.

The most exciting new additions to the CSNTM website are the Chester Beatty biblical manuscripts (which we digitized in the summer of 2013). These include all Old and New Testament Greek papyri, apocryphal texts, and all Greek New Testament manuscripts housed at the CBL in Dublin. Best of all, these can now be viewed on the manuscripts page. Using state-of-the-art digital equipment, the Center photographed each manuscript against white and black backgrounds. The result was stunning. The photographs reveal some text that has not been seen before.

CSNTM is grateful to the CBL for the privilege of digitizing these priceless treasures. The staff were extremely competent and a joy to work with. We are grateful to Dr. Fionnuala Croke, Director of CBL, for the opportunity to digitize their biblical texts. And we wish to thank Dr. Larry Hurtado, Edinburgh University, and the late Dr. Sean Freyne, Trinity College, Dublin, for recommending CSNTM for this important undertaking.

Daniel B. Wallace, Executive Director of CSNTM

Robert D. Marcello, Research Manager of CSNTM


Chester Beatty Library

Below you can find the press release from CSNTM regarding our most recent expedition.

17 September 2013

The Chester Beatty papyri, published in the 1930s and 1950s, are some of the oldest and most important biblical manuscripts known to exist. Housed at the Chester Beatty Library (CBL) in Dublin, they have attracted countless visitors every year. It is safe to say that the only Greek biblical manuscripts that might receive more visitors are Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Alexandrinus, both on display at the British Library.

The Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts (CSNTM) is pleased to announce that a six-person team, in a four-week expedition during July–August 2013, digitized all the Greek biblical papyri at the Chester Beatty Library. The CBL has granted permission to CSNTM to post the images on their website, which will happen before the end of the year.

The New Testament papyri at the CBL include the oldest manuscript of Paul’s letters (dated c. AD 200), the oldest manuscript of Mark’s Gospel and portions of the other Gospels and Acts (third century), and the oldest manuscript of Revelation (third century). One or two of the Old Testament papyri are as old as the second century AD.

Using state-of-the-art digital equipment, CSNTM photographed each manuscript against white and black backgrounds. The result was stunning. Each image is over 120 megabytes. The photographs reveal some text that has not been seen before.

Besides the papyri, CSNTM also digitized all of the Greek New Testament manuscripts at the CBL as well as several others, including some early apocryphal texts. The total number of images came to more than 5100.

CSNTM is grateful to the CBL for the privilege of digitizing these priceless treasures. Their staff were extremely competent and a joy to work with. Kudos to Dr. Fionnuala Croke, Director of CBL, for such a superb staff! This kind of collaboration is needed both for the preservation of biblical manuscripts and their accessibility by scholars.

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Five More Myths about Bible Translations and the Transmission of the Text

There’s an old Italian proverb that warns translators about jumping in to the task: “Traduttori? Traditori!” Translation: “Translators? Traitors!” The English proverb, “Something’s always lost in the translation,” is clearly illustrated in this instance. In Italian the two words are virtually identical, both in spelling and pronunciation. They thus involve a play on words. But when translated into other languages, the word-play vanishes. The meaning, on one level, is the same, but on another level it is quite different. Precisely because it is no longer a word-play, the translation doesn’t linger in the mind as much as it does in Italian. There’s always something lost in translation. It’s like saying in French, “don’t eat the fish; it’s poison.” The word ‘fish’ in French is poisson, while the word ‘poison’ is, well, poison. There’s always something lost in translation.

But how much is lost? Here I want to explore five more myths about Bible translation.

Myth 1: The Bible has been translated so many times we can’t possibly get back to the original.

This myth involves a naïve understanding of what Bible translators actually did. It’s as if once they translated the text, they destroyed their exemplar! Sometimes folks think that translators who were following a tradition (such as the KJV and its descendants, the RV, ASV, RSV, NASB, NKJB, NRSV, and ESV) really did not translate at all but just tweaked the English. Or that somehow the manuscripts that the translators used are now lost entirely.

The reality is that we have almost no record of Christians destroying biblical manuscripts throughout the entire history of the Church. And those who translated in a tradition both examined the English and the original tongues. Decent scholars improved on the text as they compared notes and manuscripts. Finally, we still have almost all of the manuscripts that earlier English translators used. And we have many, many more as well. The KJV New Testament, for example, was essentially based on seven Greek manuscripts, dating no earlier than the eleventh century. Today we have about 5800 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, including those that the KJV translators used. And they date as early as the second century. So, as time goes on, we are actually getting closer to the originals, not farther away.

Myth 2: Words in red indicate the exact words spoken by Jesus of Nazareth.

Scholars have for a long time recognized that the Gospel writers shape their narratives, including the sayings of Jesus. A comparison of the Synoptics reveals this on almost every page. Matthew quotes Jesus differently than Mark does who quotes Jesus differently than Luke does. And John’s Jesus speaks significantly differentyly than the Synoptic Jesus does. Just consider the key theme of Jesus’ ministry in the Synoptics: ‘the kingdom of God’ (or, in Matthew’s rendering, often ‘the kingdom of heaven’). Yet this phrase occurs only twice in John, being replaced usually by ‘eternal life.’ (“Kingdom of Continue reading “Five More Myths about Bible Translations and the Transmission of the Text”


Nestle-Aland 28: The New Standard in Critical Texts of the Greek New Testament


At the annual Society of Biblical Literature conference held in Chicago last month, the latest edition of the Novum Testamentum Graece, or the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament, was unveiled. This has been a long time coming—nineteen years to be exact. The Institut für neutestamentliche Textforschung (INTF) in Münster is behind this production, and deserves accolades for its fine accomplishment. This is the first new edition of the Nestle-Aland text since the death of Kurt Aland, the founder of the INTF.


Inexplicably, even though the new text was available at SBL—both as just the Greek text and in diglot with English translations—it could not be acquired through Amazon until later. I pre-ordered a couple copies last April; the diglot arrived in November but the Greek-only text will not be released until January!

Several gave presentations on the new Nestle-Aland text at SBL. Klaus Wachtel of INTF gave an overview of NA28. In his lecture, he noted, inter alia, the following:

  • The textual differences from the previous edition only occur in the Catholic Epistles. This is due to the fact that behind the scenes INTF has been doing exhaustive research on many variants in these letters and has produced the impressive Editio Critica Maior (ECM) series. These are the only books that have been thoroughly examined; hence, the changes to the text are only in these books. A total of 34 textual changes have been made.
  • In these letters, the siglum Byz is used instead of the gothic M (M).
  • As INTF worked through the Catholic letters, they came to see much greater value of the Byzantine manuscripts than they had previously. In Wachtel’s presentation, he noted that the NA27 displayed “prejudice against the Byzantine tradition” while the NA28 recognized the “reliability of the mainstream tradition.” This is a welcome change in perspective, made possible because of exhaustive collations.
  • For the entire New Testament, the apparatus functions now as “a gateway to the sources” instead of the more restricted purpose of the previous edition “as a repository of variants.”

The Introduction to the new work adds much more information. Among these consider the following:

  • “from now on, the Nestle-Aland will not appear only as a printed book, but also in digital form” (48*). This is more than what is already available in the digital copies of the NA27 that are part of the Accordance and Logos Bible software packages. For example, “Abbreviations, sigla and short Latin phrases in the apparatus are explained in pop-up windows. Above all, the digital apparatus becomes a portal opening up the sources of the tradition, as it provides links to full transcriptions and, as far as possible, to images of the manuscripts included” (48*).
  • Gone are the “consistently cited witnesses of the second order”—that is, those witnesses that comprised the gothic M (M) in NA27. Although this siglum is still used, its meaning has changed. Individual non-Byzantine witnesses that are part of the ‘majority text’ (a term that means more than just the Byzantine witnesses in NA27; it is unclear exactly what this siglum means in NA28) are now apparently cited explicitly, even if they agree with the Byzantine minuscules.
  • Conjectures are no longer to be found in the Nestle-Aland apparatus. There were nearly 120 conjectures listed in the previous edition. Nevertheless, at Acts 16.12 the editors still print as the text a reading that is not found in any Greek manuscripts (Φιλίππους, ἥτις ἐστὶν πρώτης μερίδος τῆς Μακεδονίας πόλις). Continue reading “Nestle-Aland 28: The New Standard in Critical Texts of the Greek New Testament”