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.

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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.

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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.

 

CSNTM’s Mission: Urgent and Significant

The Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts has recently hired a professional videographer to produce a four-minute video of our mission. Although I am the talking head, the whole staff of CSNTM worked very hard to make this film a reality. It’s short and communicates well what CSNTM is all about. Please take a look!

As we point out in the video, our work is urgent and significant. Manuscripts are deteriorating, some at an alarming rate. What is not mentioned is that CSNTM is funded solely by donations. Although hundreds of thousands of manuscript images can be viewed for free, they are costly to produce and archive. To digitize a single manuscript costs the Center $7500. Our job is a long way from being completed. And all these projects require funding. I’m asking you to consider making a donation to the Center.

We need more people to become part of the “Circle of Friends”—those who partner with us by donating monthly to our mission. Even more pressing is the need to fund projects that are waiting in the wings. Would you consider helping the Center in its mission to preserve unique, handwritten copies of the Christian Scriptures?

As I mention in the video, a thousand years ago a monk named Andrew wrote a personal note at the end of the manuscript he was copying: “The hand that wrote this is rotting in the grave, but the words that are written will last until the fullness of times.” His words have become our mission statement. Won’t you join us?

One-of-a-kind trip to Greece

The Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts is offering a one-of-a-kind trip to Greece next spring. We’re calling it the “Insider’s Expedition.” The trip will take place on March 7–16, 2020. It will feature sites in Athens—including an insider’s look at the National Library of Greece, the other-worldly monasteries of Meteora, select islands, and ancient Corinth.

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We can only take twenty couples for this unique adventure. Thanks to Rob Marcello for working hard the last several months to make this expedition come to fruition! Details are on CSNTM’s website. Tickets are going fast!

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I feel like a student in the class of a proverbially unreasonable professor. The prof gave a final exam, with one question: “Define the universe. Use three examples.” So much has happened in the last year at the Center! Where to begin? I think I’ll just give three examples.

First, CSNTM is growing! Three new staff members have joined our team. Kelsey Hart is now our office manager. Stephen Clardy is our Development Coordinator, working closely with Andy Patton, our Development Manager. And Jacob Peterson is CSNTM’s Research Fellow. (You might recognize Jacob’s name; he worked for the Center before heading off to the University of Edinburgh for his PhD in New Testament textual criticism.) We are excited to see how Kelsey, Stephen, and Jacob will complement the team, enabling us to continue our mission of preserving ancient Scripture for a modern world.

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OLD AND NEW
IMAGES OF P40

Second, through a generous grant and magnificent gifts from you, our partners in preservation, we were able to purchase a multispectral imaging (MSI) camera. This camera, which came with a $100,000 price-tag, uses 15 points on the light spectra, including invisible bands on both ends. With it we can now see texts that disappeared over the centuries, were washed out in floods, became burnt in fires, or were scraped off by scribes who then penned something different over the erased text. And these ancient texts have been lost to the ages—until now. What natural disasters and man-made destruction did, with this equipment we can undo. With MSI, the age of rediscovery is born.

In May, four members of the CSNTM staff took an intensive course on using this new camera. We are now one of a handful of organizations in the world using a portable MSI camera. And this means that more doors are opening for us across the globe.

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PREPARING MANUSCRIPTS
IN TBILISI

And third, while the staff was learning the ropes with this game-changing camera, I was in Tbilisi (Republic of Georgia) with two former interns, Brit Burnette and Laura Peisker. We were on a ‘front trip’ to make contact with two libraries in Tbilisi and one in Mestia. A native of Georgia, Nino Fincher, translated for us as we built relationships, examined manuscripts, and wrote up our findings for the digitizing team that would follow. Then, as we were flying back home, Rob Marcello, CSNTM’s Assistant Executive Director, and Jacob Peterson flew to Tbilisi with the new camera.

I met up with Rob and Jacob in Greece where we did more photography. Finally, we traversed northern Europe, landing in Heidelberg. In these locales, words on ancient papyrus and parchment—words that time forgot—have come to life again!

So, where do we go from here? We are working out contracts for next year’s expeditions with institutes in Greece, Germany, and the U.S. Libraries, museums, and monasteries are seeking CSNTM’s help to digitally preserve these ancient artifacts, these irreplaceable treasures of the Church.

We have the opportunities. We have the staff. We have the equipment. But we don’t have all the funds needed to do this work. We are making aggressive plans for upcoming expeditions. This Christmas season, we hope to raise the first $150,000 needed to begin our work on these critical expeditions.

It is CSNTM’s mission both to protect the past and to ensure the future of these sacred Scriptures. As you ponder your end-of-the-year giving, please consider making a generous investment in this work. Our equipment and staff are opening doors across the globe, but it takes a team to make these expeditions possible.

Will you make an investment that ensures the handwritten text of the New Testament is preserved for the next generation? Together, we can accomplish our mission by having:

  • 2 people who give $25,000
  • 2 people who give $15,000
  • 2 people who give $10,000
  • 4 people who give $5,000
  • 15 people who give $1,000
  • 15 people who give $500
  • 15 people who give $250
  • 25 people who give $100
  • 10 people who give $50
  • 30 people who give $25

 

In His Grip,

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Daniel B. Wallace
Executive Director
Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts
www.csntm.org