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Seminary’s New Testament center receives 273 Greek manuscripts

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–In the beginning was the Word, then the word was written in Greek on papyrus manuscripts, then on parchments called uncial manuscripts, and then on manuscripts called minuscules (small cursive script used in medieval Greek manuscripts).

These manuscripts are housed all over the world, including places such as the Vatican, the Paris National Library, various monasteries and the British Library, joining other works such as the Magna Carta, Gutenberg’s 42-line Bible (Europe’s first printed book, c.1455) and the Codex Arundel, a notebook of Leonardo da Vinci.

Many of these manuscripts of the written Word have been printed as facsimiles and also placed on microfilm, thus making them available for purchase by other institutions. New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary’s Center for New Testament Textual Studies is one of those purchasing the microfilms. There, they are being collated (carefully examined and compared with other documents to note points of disagreement) so that the information from the manuscripts can be made available for scholars for intensive Greek studies.

NOBTS’s recent acquisition of 273 manuscripts on microfilm from the Library of Congress now brings the center’s total to around 500 manuscripts, said William Warren, center director and Landrum P. Leavell II, professor of New Testament Studies. Some of these distinguished manuscripts originated from the Greek Orthodox monastery of St. Catherine at the foot of Mount Sinai and various monasteries on Mount Athos.

In addition to these manuscripts, which help mark significant milestones in the history of the biblical text, the center provides access to another 600 manuscripts through the International Greek New Testament Project (IGNTP). The IGNTP is an organization dedicated to producing a comprehensive compilation of the textual evidence from the manuscripts for use by New Testament scholars and Bible societies in deciding the original text.

Tracing the development of the Bible from ancient Egyptian manuscripts to its modern printed forms and translations, the center is helping “to contribute to a sure foundation for the Greek New Testament, which forms the basis for modern translations of God’s Word,” Warren said.

“In other words, the center helps ensure that we have a totally reliable text of God’s Word, for which we can give an unquestionable defense to any who might ask,” he said.

Since 1992, Warren and other NOBTS New Testament professors, as well as doctoral and master’s-level students, have been collating minuscule manuscripts of the Gospel of John, which date from 800-1500. The collations are to be included in forthcoming volumes of the International Greek New Testament Project’s work. The organization has already produced its two volumes on the Gospel of Luke, published in 1984 and 1987, as well as an initial volume on the Gospel of John, published in 1995. The next volume on John is due out in about two years.

In about seven years, significant contributions from the center’s study of the Gospel of John will be published in another four-volume work.

A leader in this field of study, the NOBTS center produced over 60 collations in 1999, “which is heads and shoulders above any other North American institution in this field of study,” Warren said.

Located on the campus of New Orleans Baptist Seminary, the center includes four dedicated collation stations with collation software and a learning lab with 10 additional computers for collations. The center is also in the process of evaluating the accuracy of using computer technology in the collation of the centuries-old manuscripts.

Through the center, NOBTS students can engage in advanced supervised study in the field of New Testament textual criticisms on the master’s and Ph.D. levels. Opportunities for the study of the New Testament texts also exist for visiting scholars.

While NOBTS has copies of New Testament manuscripts dating back to the 2nd century, the school also possesses part of an actual 9th-century Hebrew scroll from the Old Testament. Additionally, NOBTS has some pieces of pottery, inscribed with non-biblical writings, dated as early as 2000 B.C., kept in its John T. Christian Library.

In spite of these holdings, microfilm is used due to the high cost and lack of availability of printed facsimiles. For example, a facsimile is being released this year for Codex Vaticanus, an early 4th-century manuscript, at a cost of over $5,000.

NOBTS provides the basic funding for the center, Warren said, but most of the funding for the procurement of the manuscripts, which costs $40-$150 per microfilm, comes from gifts and grants from individuals and foundations. Persons interested in contributing to the project’s work toward ensuring the defensible reliability and availability of God’s Word can contact the NOBTS Office of Development at 1-800-662-8701, ext. 3252.

    About the Author

  • Shannon Baker

    Shannon Baker is director of communications for the Baptist Resource Network of Pennsylvania/South Jersey and editor of the Network’s weekly newsletter, BRN United.

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