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NOBTS acquires copy of Purple Codex

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary has acquired a significant new tool for research — a facsimile of the Codex Petropolitanus Purpureus (Purple Codex).

A facsimile is a photographic reproduction of an ancient manuscript. This facsimile utilizes high-resolution color photographs of each page. From the wrinkles and holes in the pages, to the colors of the parchment and the ink, the photographs preserve all the details and characteristics of the original.

Bill Warren, director of the seminary’s H. Milton Haggard Center for New Testament Textual Studies (CNTTS), arranged for the purchase of the facsimile from the Monastery of Saint John the Theologian on the Island of Patmos in March. Patmos is the small Greek island where John penned Revelation, the last book of the New Testament. An important addition to the center’s holdings, the volume closes a gap in the seminary’s collection of ancient manuscript facsimiles and microfilms.

This original manuscript of the four Gospels, often referred to as Codex N by biblical scholars, dates to the late 5th or early 6th century. The manuscript was written in Greek and probably originated in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey).

No expense was spared when the original manuscript was created, Warren noted. The parchment, made from animal skins, was dyed purple — a color and dying process reserved for the wealthy. The text was written using silver-infused ink. The names for God (God, Jesus, Christ, Lord, etc.) were written with gold ink. Warren estimates that when the original was produced, it would have cost the equivalent of 8-10 years of wages for the average person.

“You had to be tremendously wealthy to pay for something like this,” Warren said. “To think that someone treasured the Bible so much, they spent a fortune on this just to have a copy of the Gospels.”

The pages are fairly large, measuring 11½ by 12½ inches with wide margins. Created using the uncial style — uppercase letters with little punctuation — the codex has unusually large print. In fact, Warren said the writing is among the largest found in any New Testament manuscript.

“It’s a reader’s Bible — it is made for public reading,” Warren said. “You can tell that by size of the print. I’ve never seen one with bigger print.”

The codex originally had 462 pages, but only 230 pages survive today, held by museums and libraries across the globe. The National Library of Russia in St. Petersburg owns 182 pages of the original codex, hence the name “Petropolitanus.” Thirty-three pages are held at the monastery on Patmos. The Vatican owns six pages. The remaining nine pages are held in libraries and private collections in London, Vienna, Athens, New York and the village of Lerma in Italy.
The far-flung locations of the original codex make the facsimile, which includes copies of all extant pages in one volume, even more unique.

Scholars do not know exactly when the codex was divided up or who did it. Some speculate that Crusaders ripped the pages from the manuscript in the 12th century. However, the motive is clear — money.

“They actually ripped single pages out and took them to different settings and sold them,” Warren said.

“This manuscript is an early copy of the Gospels, with only a handful of other manuscripts of Mark, for example, that are older than this one. It is a great representation of the early stages of what we call the Byzantine text form, yet with some readings from other textual traditions in a few places,” he said.

The center will include a new study of the readings of Codex N in its next release of the CNTTS Critical Apparatus, a unique searchable electronic textual database for the Greek New Testament encompassing nearly 17,000 pages.

The facsimile includes another important research tool for the center, an introductory companion volume written in Greek offering a detailed introduction to the original codex as well as the entire text of the surviving pages set with a modern Greek font.

“This was one of the major manuscripts we did not have at the CNTTS, even on microfilm,” Warren said. “It has not been an easy one to gain access to. This gives us another very early manuscript to help verify some of the Gospel readings.”

The center is one of the few settings in the United States to own a copy of this manuscript, Warren added. Only 2,000 copies of the facsimile were printed.

So how does all of this impact the average Christian?

“This new addition to the CNTTS will help to further undergird the work that provides us with a reliable copy of God’s Word, whether in Greek or in our English translations,” Warren said. “Our English translations of the New Testament are based on the Greek text, and that Greek text is based on the study of manuscripts such as this one.

“That scholarly work is being done at a handful of settings around the world,” including New Orleans Seminary, Warren said.

“Those studies provide the solid foundations that we enjoy for our Bible’s accuracy,” Warren said. “Any way you look at it, Codex Petropolitanus Purpureus with its beautiful and ancient text is a truly remarkable manuscript that benefits all of us.”
Gary D. Myers is director of public relations at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.