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Hands on History

With the pandemic in a more tolerable state, my textual criticism students and I are finally able to make class excursions again. Today I was pleased to lead a group of students to the Rubenstein Library at Duke to view several New Testament manuscripts and a few printed books as well. Our host, Kate Collins, did a great job selecting pieces for us to view.

Some of the earlier items we looked at included P. Duke Inv. 778 (a small amulet with the Greek of the Lord’s Prayer and Psalm 90), GA P136 (a papyrus fragment from a Greek rotulus of Acts, for which Valerie Smith and I produced the editio princeps), and a ninth-century Coptic papyrus from the Gospel of Mark (P. Duke 241). Students who had been transcribing similar manuscripts from images only were excited to be able to see manuscripts live, IN COLOR, and finally as real material objects. Greek MS 60, for example, was a large and beautiful New Testament lectionary with catenae (commentary texts) dated to c. 1050. It appeared as if the manuscript’s rubrication had been overlaid with gold ink (though perhaps the “outlining” was merely an effect of the gold ink itself), a visual feature that does not convey well to photographic images.


ThM student Hunter Hays discovered a wonderful error in one illuminated Byzantine Gospels manuscript while looking for the ending of Mark’s Gospel. He was surprised to encounter a title for the Gospel of Mark at two places, each accompanied by an illumination. The first illumination is clearly of Mark and the Gospel text is that very gospel. The second illustration is of Luke (see the λȣκας above the evangelist) and, despite the title announcing the book as the Gospel of Mark (ευαγγελιον κατά μαρκον), the text is Luke’s Gospel. A later hand has written a little note to the side that it is in fact Luke (λουκον). The illuminator may have had a late night and forgot the Gospel he or she was working on.


After viewing the manuscripts, we retired to a meeting room for our traditional papyrus-writing exercise. MABLL student Kim Lewis mixed the lampblack ink for us while the other students cut their pens from bamboo reeds. Everyone copied out the beginning of John’s Gospel on strips of papyrus; while some could have a future in scribal work, others had best stick to theology.


To round off the trip we trekked over to Guasaca for arepas, which were (as always) fantastic. It was a great trip and it was wonderful learning to just how far the nerdiness of this group extends. My thanks to Duke for hosting and my thanks to the students for their dedication and inquisitive minds. Soli Deo gloria.


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