Greek Fragments in European Libraries and Museums: A Whirlwind Tour

By Drew Longacre 

This winter I was able to travel extensively throughout Europe to examine in person many of the Greek Exodus fragments that I am working on for my CSTT project. I had the opportunity to visit four different libraries and museums and see fragments of six Exodus manuscripts and a large number of additional ancient and medieval manuscripts. The untapped wealth of ancient materials that are stored in European institutions never ceases to amaze me! 

Marius Gerhardt welcomed me to the Ägyptisches Museum und Papyrussammlung of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin on 23 December to see the manuscripts numbered 835, 960, and 978 (all numbers given according to the “Rahlfs” sigla as determined by the Septuaginta-Unternehmen in Göttingen). 960 in particular was textually interesting, because it jumps from 23:13 directly to 31:12 with only a short paragraph break between them. Marius also showed me the Berliner Papyrusdatenbank, where I was able to find high-resolution digital images of 835, 836, and 978 (960 has not yet been digitized). I have previously blogged about this visit on my personal blog.

On 2 January, Claudia Jakauby showed me the Papyrussammlung und Papyrusmuseum at the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek in Vienna. While there, I was able to examine manuscript 808 and a number of other early fragments of the Greek scriptures, as well as visit the Augustiner-Lesesaal to examine a few significant minuscule manuscripts containing Exodus. I also learned about the Katalog der Papyrussammlung, where I was able to locate high-resolution digital images of 808.

On 12 January, Jacques Florent introduced me to the Institut de Papyrologie de la Sorbonne in Paris, where I had the opportunity to examine manuscript 1000. Jacques showed me where to access the online images of this manuscript, and I was able to find images at the mediocre resolution of 300 dpi. Thankfully, the institute also keeps on file high-resolution images (600 dpi) that Jacques shared with me, which have been very helpful in my study of the manuscript. The material and text of 1000 are in poor condition and very difficult to read at points. Perhaps the most significant result from my visit is that — with the help of the high-resolution images and a large magnifying glass — I was able to conclude based on both preserved ink and spacing concerns that the copyist consistently wrote the divine name “Lord” with the typical two-letter abbreviation known from many other manuscripts, rather than the anomalous three-letter abbreviation, which the original editor of the fragment erroneously transcribed.

And finally, on 24 and 25 February, I was able to visit the Cadbury Research Library at the University of Birmingham in England to examine manuscript 896. Unfortunately, the fragment has not yet been digitized, so thorough examination was particularly important. 896 is especially interesting for my research, because it is relatively early (3rd century CE), has a (sc)roll format (most of the preserved fragments are from codices, or books with pages), lacks substantial amounts of text known from other witnesses, and was not used by Wevers for his critical edition of the Greek Exodus. The most important outcome of my examination of 896 was the observation of text from a second column not transcribed in the editio princeps, which was helpful for the reconstruction of the scroll.

A couple of summarizing conclusions might be helpful for tying these visits together and prove beneficial for readers. First, many of the fragments I was examining have already been digitized at a resolution that is sufficient for most purposes (600 dpi). It is worth looking online or contacting the owning institution for access to these images. It is also often possible to request new images of fragments that have not yet been digitized, though sometimes the institutions will charge a fee for this service. Second, reliance on printed editions is a poor substitute for detailed personal examination of manuscripts. Editors frequently fail to note ink traces preserved on the material, and sometimes there is even incorrect information in the editions. Scholars researching changes in sacred texts and traditions do well to try to gain experience working with manuscripts as material textual artifacts to make the most of the important evidence they preserve for us today.