Digitally Reuniting Fragments of an Ancient Gospels Manuscript

Guest post by Stratton L. Ladewig

In November, New Testament Papyri 𝔓45, 𝔓46, 𝔓47: Facsimiles (NTP) will be released—a collaboration between Hendrickson and CSNTM. This publication is the culmination of a project started in 2013 when CSNTM digitized the collection at the Chester Beatty (formerly known as the Chester Beatty Library). The following year, the portion of P46 that is housed at the University of Michigan was digitized. There will be two facsimile volumes: one with papyrus images against a black background and the other with a white background. We are excited about the developments in these manuscripts’ presentation. Four advancements in P45’s textual history are presented in NTP and are highlighted here: (1) digital reunification of the multiple fragments with their larger papyrus leaves, (2) the in-print release of a new plate containing twelve fragments, (3) the identification of a previously unknown leaf, and (4) a fuller presentation of folio 8.

The development of technology facilitated the opportunity to reassemble the fragmentary pieces of P45’s papyrus. Almost every leaf of the manuscript could rightfully be considered a fragment. Of its 30 known leaves, most are “mutilated”—to quote Frederic G. Kenyon (General Introduction, p. 6). However, several smaller pieces have been discovered since the manuscript was initially placed in glass, and it is these fragments that are addressed here. These smaller fragments are found in separate plates of glass from the larger portions to which they belong. In NTP, these later discoveries are reunited digitally and presented as they once were. The result is that a fuller testimony is recorded. At times, letters were split in half, each being found on separate portions of the papyrus in multiple plates of glass. It is stunning to see these fragments united in a full color, high resolution reproduction.

(Image caption: Left: a portion of P45 folio 16, Middle:
a portion of fragment #4; Right: a portion of fragment #5)

The second advancement in the presentation of P45 is the release of twelve fragments that are in print for the first time. These fragments are located in a single plate at the Chester Beatty. This release supplements the knowledge base of this witness to the NT. The contents of six of the fragments have been identified. As such, in the facsimiles, these are placed with their respective leaves—as mentioned above—giving a more complete record of the manuscript’s contents. On occasion, two fragments were found to belong to the same leaf. It is thrilling to realize that research on P45, as vast as the literature has been in the past 86 years, still has room for discovery.

Third, two of the fragments, which were identified by T. C. Skeat and B. C. McGing in 1991, belong to the same P45 leaf. These two are currently found in the same plate, but they are mixed with other fragments from a manuscript of Numbers and Deuteronomy, not P45. Nevertheless, because they originally came from a single papyrus leaf, they were arranged as such in the facsimiles. Their alignment relative to one another is tentative, but the text contained on them makes it clear that they form a new leaf that comes between folio 15 and folio 16. Although this is not a new discovery, the placement of these fragments together gives the reader a glimpse of the text that has not been available for hundreds of years.

Finally, the fragments of folio 8 were assembled into a composite P45 leaf. This leaf is composed of five fragments with a complex history. The fragments were inconsistently presented in Kenyon’s initial publication of the manuscript. At first, none of the five fragments were known to belong to P45, leaving some additional fragments of this leaf to be discovered after his transcription volume was typeset. However, not all the fragments made it into his facsimile volume or his transcription volume. NTP unites the portions of folio 8 into a composite presentation.

NTP highlights the work of the Center in capturing images of P45, P46, and P47. Yet, the presentation in the facsimiles brings four advancements in P45’s textual history. Together, they bring together rich images and reunification of fragments to give the reader a greater understanding of this manuscript’s witness to the wording of the NT.

New Discoveries on Every Page: P45, P46, P47

Nearly nine decades ago, three of the earliest and most extensive New Testament papyri were made available to scholars through color photographs. These facsimiles, together with their authoritative transcriptions, have remained the primary access that biblical scholars and papyrologists have had to them. Until now. With the multi-volume publication of New Testament Papyri 𝔓45, 𝔓46, 𝔓47 coming out later this year, new, exquisite, exact-size images will become available in print. After digitizing these priceless manuscripts at the Chester Beatty in Dublin and the University of Michigan, CSNTM has collaborated with Hendrickson Academic in the endeavor to offer fresh, library-quality images of these third-century copies of large portions of the New Testament.

P45 cover

The facsimiles will be published both with a white background and a black background, each of which offers different views of the texts. Perhaps surprisingly to many, the black background images were found to be much more helpful for creating accurate transcriptions.

For this initial offering, the transcription of just 𝔓47 will be included with the images of all the manuscripts. 𝔓45 and 𝔓46 will follow in coming years, as the task of transcription still continues. The process of transcribing, however, which has been done in large part on the other two papyri, should yield far more precise results than Sir Frederic Kenyon’s editio princeps of the 1930s. It is no exaggeration to say that thousands of corrections to Kenyon’s transcriptions are in the offing. To be sure, most of these are quite minor, but some are fairly stunning. But every correction to Kenyon’s brilliant but somewhat rushed efforts bring us one step closer to understanding the text of the New Testament in third-century Egypt.

By the use of careful measurements, rigorous comparisons with multiple close-ups of individual letters and ligatures, and intense arguments (!), the editors (Stratton Ladewig, Robert Marcello, and Dan Wallace) are able to offer a new standard transcription of each papyrus. In this short blog, I offer but one animation that lays out our procedure. (Thanks go to my son, Andrew Jon Wallace, for producing this illustration.)

The 28th edition of the Nestle-Aland text in Mark 8:22 reads Καὶ ἔρχονται εἰς Βηθσαϊδάν. Καὶ φέρουσιν αὐτῷ τυφλὸν καὶ παρακαλοῦσιν αὐτὸν ἵνα αὐτοῦ ἅψηται. One variant is listed—Βηθανιαν for Βηθσαιδαν in D and a couple other witnesses. What is not mentioned is the variant for ερχονται. The majority of manuscripts here, along with the key majuscules א* and A, have the singular ερχεται. Kenyon reconstructed the wording of 𝔓45 as having the plural, though underdotting every letter as dubious. But this identification is almost surely incorrect. The space for the word and the shape of the letter fragments fits like a glove for ερχεται. Due to the difficulty of making out the letters in the old plates, one can understand the wrong guess. But with better photographs coupled with the comparisons that digital images readily afford, the CSNTM editors have concluded that 𝔓45 here has ερχεται.

Such may not seem terribly significant. Yet every small decision, every correction, every change to the identification of the text in question gives us a better sense of what these scribes wrote eighteen centuries ago. Further, the singular here does offer a slightly different interpretation on the passage. Although it is true that Jesus and his disciples came to Bethsaida, whether Mark wrote “they came” or “he came” has some significance. On occasion the evangelists use a singular verb with a compound subject. This throws the spotlight on the first-named subject. And frequently, that subject is Jesus (see John 2:2; 3:22; cf. also Matt 13:55; Acts 5.29; 16:31). Mark concludes his pericope on the healing of the blind man with this idiom (Mark 8:27: Καὶ ἐξῆλθεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς καὶ οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ). It is a distinct possibility that he would begin the pericope the same way. Such would be a subtle and fitting inclusio in one of Mark’s better-crafted stories. And 𝔓45 might just tip the scales for us to see it.

Virtual Memorial Service for Beecher Wallace

Mom and Dad pic copy

I wrote a blog, “Not a Statistic to Me,” a few weeks ago. It was about my father, Beecher Wallace. Since that time the family has had a virtual memorial service for him, with special music, memories, and the gospel message. During this pandemic, we all feel a little disconnected. Human beings crave community; we are not designed to live in isolation. And although we could not celebrate Beecher’s life together in one physical place, we could celebrate it meaningfully and, in an ironic twist that social distancing has brought about, more intimately in many ways than otherwise.

If you have a loved one who has died and you are thinking of giving up on even having any kind of memorial service, take a look at this. It may give you some comfort and hope.

Several artists gave us permission to use their music for this memorial service. I’m grateful to them, to my brother and sister, and to Andrew Jon Wallace, my son who edited the service. See the links below to the memorial service and to additional memories from family members.

Memorial Service

Additional Memories

Not a statistic to me: V. Beecher Wallace, Jr. in Memoriam (1928–2020)

A Statistic

The month of March 2020 has been etched in my frontal lobe forever. The following dates give the bare facts and little else. But I offer this narrative because it may be helpful to healthcare workers who are battling COVID–19 in a fight to the death. Literally.

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Beecher and Nayda Wallace on their anniversary, March 29 (year unknown)

On March 3, my 91-year-old father, Vard Beecher Wallace, Jr. (“Beecher”), was in good health with a strong heart. He was still driving and lived alone. He was frail, but his doctor had recently told him that he had nothing that was life-threatening. (He’s had frequent accidents in the last few years, always by falling. He even broke his neck three years ago and had to wear a neck-brace at my mother’s funeral in 2017.) The next day, Dad was taken to Evergreen Medical Center in Kirkland, WA, for severe back pain. On March 9, he was moved to a nursing home for rehabilitation, until he could care for himself. The coronavirus was spreading rather quickly in Washington; family members were not even allowed to see him at the nursing home. On March 14, the home determined that two of its patients had caught the virus. This alarmed his family; the next day my sister Keri took Dad to his house and quarantined herself with him. He had to be brought out to her since she was not allowed in the nursing home. Three days later he developed a low-grade fever, but over the next 48 hours it didn’t get over 100 degrees, and it often returned to a normal 98.6. On March 18, he fell, hit his head, and his crown was bleeding. Keri called a local clinic, but they refused to see him because he had a low-grade fever. So, back to Evergreen. They stitched up the wound. Then, they tested him for the coronavirus. All of his children waited by their phones to hear the news, the minutes crawling by at a gruelingly slow pace.

Then the news arrived: Dad tested positive for the coronavirus. His condition continued to deteriorate over several days. He was dying by inches. I had the opportunity to talk with him a few times, but I could not visit (both because I was quarantined due to a recent flight to Greece and because the hospital was pretty much in lock-down).

Beecher was miserable, constantly taking off the oxygen mask, not eating, and in pain. He said the food tasted terrible. Dad had lost his sense of smell years ago, so although that is sometimes a symptom of the virus it was a precondition for him. He also had diabetes and had self-injected insulin daily for the last few years.

His breathing was becoming increasingly labored. He could only utter one word at a time and was very hard to understand. At one point his temperature spiked to 103, but for the most part it was normal or close to it. He was getting very confused, too. Beecher had been moved to three different rooms in Evergreen, but he thought it was three different hospitals. Then he asked if he was in California. He still recognized his children’s voices though. On the evening of March 27, the decision was made to let him decide whether to wear the mask; an IV of morphine was hooked up. He died at 5 o’clock the next morning, March 28. Beecher Wallace became a statistic, number 174 or 189 or somewhere in between, in the state of Washington.

My Father

But he is not a statistic to me. He passed into the presence of the Lord at 5 AM Saturday morning. He could see the love of his life again—Nayda Baird Wallace, my mother. Sunday, March 29, would have been their 73rd wedding anniversary. So, he made it just in time to celebrate with Mom! And he saw his Savior, face to face, for the first time. What a thrill that will be for all of us!

I was able to have two heart-to-heart conversations with Dad in the last few days of his life. Here’s the gist:

I asked him how his faith was.

Beecher: “Oh, it’s strong! If it weren’t, I’d have nothing to live for. Don’t you worry about me.”

Dan: “I wanted to tell you that hundreds of people are praying for you.” I wanted him to know that he’s not facing this alone. He was very appreciative. “Dad, you’ve been a wonderful father. You have taught me more about integrity, responsibility, and humility—all in the Lord—than anyone else ever has.” He appreciated that very much and talked about how incredible his kids are. (I have an older brother, Wally, and a younger sister, Keri.)

Beecher: “I just hope that I’m not around to see the sun come up tomorrow.”

Dan: “I know. Dad, I suspect I’ll never see you again in this life.” Then I lost control and started to cry.

He was stronger than me; he ministered to me on what we thought might be his last day in this life. He asked, “How’s Pati doing?” Then he told me how much he loved me and my family. And he added, “I’ll see you again in heaven.”

I’m so grateful to be Beecher Wallace’s son. And I look forward to seeing my earthly father once again.

Beecher is survived by two sons and their spouses (Vard Beecher Wallace III or “Wally” Wallace and his wife Carol, and Dan Wallace and his wife Pati), one daughter (Keri Marquand) and her ex-husband (Michael), eight grandchildren: Noah (and his wife Jean), Dustin (and his wife Erin), Benjamin, Jamie (and her husband David Condon), Michael Marquand Jr., Julia Marquand (and her husband Rolando Avila), Andrew (and his wife Danielle), and Zachary (and his wife Samantha); and seven great-grandchildren (Clariana, MacKenzie, Mara Jade, Sadie, Livya, Adlai, and Diego).

A virtual memorial service will be held on May 9. The video will be posted shortly thereafter.

In the midst of a global pandemic, we still need to save Scripture

 

This coming Saturday, the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts (CSNTM.org) had scheduled to have its annual Dallas Fundraising Banquet. Some weeks ago we pulled the plug on that. The coronavirus has spread exponentially since then.

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The world is facing a pandemic right now, and we are all sheltering at home. People are losing jobs, facing personal isolation, depression, and genuine crises. Many are dying, communities are dissolving, and a new normal may be emerging. We are praying that this is not the new normal for very long though!

In the midst of this global scenario, there are some things I am sure of. The sun will come up tomorrow, people need to eat, and our time on this planet is limited. CSNTM was founded 18 years ago because of another thing I am sure of: ancient, handwritten copies of the Bible are deteriorating. They are all written on organic material (papyrus, parchment, or paper), and because of this they are not permanent. Our initial task is to save Scripture. Each manuscript is unique. Every one has a story to tell. These are not books rolling off a printing press; they are individual works of love, gifts to future generations of people, written by men and women whose only thanks is from their Lord. The task of saving Scripture remains, and its necessity is underscored in light of the fragility of life that the whole world is now coming face to face with. Life has always been fragile, but sometimes it takes a crisis to bring this out of the shadows and put it front and center.

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Our mission is still the same. And our need is still the same. When this pathogen runs its course, CSNTM will be back at our preservation work throughout the world. There are more than 250 locales where these manuscripts are housed; our mission is to make sure they are digitally preserved, cover to cover and everything in between, with state-of-the-art equipment, allowing us to post the images on line and make them accessible to all. These images have always been free for all, and free for all time. We are ready to traverse the globe to save these Scriptures; we will pack up our equipment and fly out as soon as we are allowed.

This week, instead of a physical banquet, CSNTM is having its first-ever (and hopefully, only) VIRTUAL banquet! Please follow along this week, enjoy the testimonies, and watch the short videos, on the significant and exciting work that CSNTM is doing. Every day you will see new videos. In the least, you can watch these shorts and learn something about the Bible, its heritage, and the faithful, mostly anonymous scribes who labored in abysmal conditions to bring the Scriptures to generations of people they would never know.

Sometimes scribes penned a personal note at the end of a manuscript they were copying. One of them, Andrew, wrote this note to conclude the copy of the New Testament he had worked on for many months: “The hand that wrote this is rotting in the grave, but what is written will last until the fulness of times.” Andrew penned this note in AD 1079. The manuscript is not in great shape, but CSNTM was able to photograph it and preserve it digitally. Like Andrew, some day all of us will be rotting in the grave. Wouldn’t it be an incredible gift to  our descendants a thousand years from now to be able to read these manuscripts with the same clarity we have today?

Please join us for this virtual banquet. And please partner with us in a mission that is bigger than any of us; it’s an investment that will pay dividends for generations to come.