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In Search of Biblical Manuscripts: The City Library in Kozani

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Editor’s note: Dan Wallace is the executive director of the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts (www.csntm.org). Last year, CSNTM discovered a large cache of New Testament manuscripts in Tirana, Albania, as reported in Christianity Today. Since this is Dan’s sabbatical year, relieving him of teaching duties at Dallas Seminary until the fall of 2009, he is using his time to discover, examine, and photograph Greek New Testament manuscripts. Below he describes one day during the final week of the first expedition for the year.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008. The day started at 11 am at the Greek Bible Institute in Pikermi, just outside of Athens. Late start because we thought driving to the famed monasteries of Meteora would take four hours. Four of us (Billy Todd, Tim Ricchuiti, Brian Wright, and Dan Wallace) shoehorned ourselves into a tiny car, and took off for the road north. But we were not prepared for what would await us today.

We took the E75 up the east coast of Greece’s mainland. For the most part, a very fine, modern highway. After we had traveled for about 2 & ½ hours, we got an email on Tim Ricchuiti’s cell phone from Jeff Baldwin, the director of the Greek Bible Institute and a former student of mine. Jeff grew up in Greece (his dad, Bill Baldwin, another Dallas Seminary grad, was the founder of the school decades ago) and is completely bilingual. He has many friends in low places (since he’s not Orthodox), but even low places here are sometimes high enough. As I said, we were headed for the monasteries built high up on top of rocks that ascend straight up into the heavens hundred of meters above the town below. We thought we would visit them today, and tomorrow see if we could examine some manuscripts there. The monasteries here have nearly 60 Greek New Testament manuscripts. In centuries past, the only way that people could get to the top of these rocks was to get pulled up on a rope. But once, when a rope broke, the rules changed. Now, there are steps to the heights. A veritable stairway to heaven. Led Zeppelin would be envious. We were eager with anticipation (as much as four Testoterone-laden eggheads can be). But the email from Jeff changed our plans instantly.

It seems that Jeff knew someone in the city hall of Kozani. Kozani is a town about 2 & ½ hours away from Meteora. But if we took a different route, we could cut out quite a bit of time. But why go to Kozani? Because the City Library has Greek NT MSS—three, to be exact. All lectionaries, but GNT MSS nonetheless. I was skeptical: Why go a different route only to miss Meteora today, and have to compress our day tomorrow? But when Tim read the rest of the email, I changed my mind. It seems that the mayor of Kozani was excited that we were coming to his town to examine manuscripts. We would have a welcome reception there; the proverbial red carpet was being rolled out to the American scholars in search of manuscripts. We changed course and made a bee-line to Kozani.

It was already 1.30; we thought we could get there by 6 pm. The roads were good, but sometimes included twisty mountainous paths no bigger than Texas alleys. Our little Hyundai four-seater could maneuver only so well on those mountain roads. The ‘highway’ was punctuated with crosses, reminding us that death was no stranger to these paths. And Greece is only recently discovering guard rails.

We were able to arrive about 30 minutes early, but it took us another 15 to find the mayor’s office. One of the guys was driving and even though we were in a sardine can of a car, when he tried to parallel park, he scraped the side of our brand new rental car against the front bumper of a parked car. Hopefully, not an omen of things to come!

We went to the office and waited for our new friend, Lefteris. He’s a Greek Pentecostal—very rare in this country. But he worked in the mayor’s office and had some pull with the city library. A few minutes later he showed up and led us a few meters down the road to the library. As we walked inside, we saw to our left an ancient linotype machine. Now a relic of past technology, it was a mute reminder that even in this last bastion of yesterday, time marches on. Up the stairs we went to a modern bibliothek. Could ancient manuscripts actually exist here? It seemed like any public library in any US suburb.

A friendly woman named Kiki came out to greet us. She was the assistant manuscript librarian. We told her what we had come to see: MSS 1, 2, 3. Simple enough. She said that the old manuscripts of the library were being scanned by a professional scanning machine, and that the shelf numbers may have changed since the catalogue of 1932 had been produced. We had seen this sort of thing in Constantinople and Lesbos: when a manuscript goes missing, the one next in line takes its number for itself. The collection thus never has any gaps, nor any stable order either. As soon as a manuscript goes missing, everything after that number is thrown off. When a researcher comes to ask for a particular manuscript, it may take several tries to bring out the right one. Fortunately, the manuscripts we wanted to see were MSS 1, 2, 3. They were all still there, and in the proper sequence. They had already been scanned and we would be allowed to purchase a copy in the spring when the DVDs were available.

This was good news, of course, because these manuscripts were being preserved. But how good was the image quality? And did they use UV light for any of the faint, smudged, or damaged pages? The answers were “probably pretty decent,” and “no.” We were given an opportunity to possibly return on a later expedition and take UV photographs of the pages in need of help. We’re making plans on that now, for early spring.

The Institut für neutestamentliche Textforschung in Münster knew of the three lectionaries. That’s how we found them: they had done the spadework of discovering them in the first place. The large handwritten manuscripts, with leather stretched over wood for covers, were unceremoniously brought to the table. And then water, soft drinks, and frappes were also brought to us! Kiki and her crew of two women were marvelous hosts, treating us like kings.

After we started prepping the manuscripts (i.e., examining them for dimensions, leaves, content, date, columns, lines per column, etc.), Kiki mentioned casually to Brian Wright that they had other handwritten manuscripts in another part of the library. Would we like to take a look? Would we like to take a look? Is a frog’s derriere watertight? Of course we would like to take a look!

Kiki later told us that the library boasted 300 handwritten manuscripts. Quite a large collection.

Kiki and her crew commenced bringing out a bibliophile’s feast: old books stacked on old books stacked on more old books. All in Greek; almost all handwritten. We worked through them in the limited time we had: the library would close at 9 pm, and we had only two hours left. Armed with sophisticated software, we were able to examine the texts of many and determine if these were biblical manuscripts. Anticipation ran high.

Billy Todd first looked at a large book that had quotations from Matthew, John, and Romans in it, followed by other text. Was this a homily? A patristic commentary? A minuscule with commentary? The more he looked, the more puzzled he became. But he was able to rule out a minuscule text with commentary since the biblical text was not strictly continuous. Perhaps it was an anthology of sorts. Eusebius’ name popped up at one point, but the trail led nowhere. We still don’t know exactly what it was, but a homily or anthology seems to be the most likely. Since we were allowed to take only a few pictures, and since we did not bring our professional cameras or tripods, we had to jury-rig some modern books for a stand and shoot as best we could with ‘tourist’ cameras. It would have to do for now.

Then Tim Ricchuiti found a filler leaf glued to the cover of one of the known lectionaries. The filler leaf was a handwritten text of a late date. But it proved to be a lectionary as well. We had discovered a biblical manuscript! Nothing to brag about, really, since it was late and a single leaf. In fact, just one side of a single leaf since the backside was glued to the cover.

Then Brian found a book with 17th-century handwritten text inside. But the cover was wrapped in a leaf from another, earlier manuscript. Here was an ancient leaf used as a dust jacket! I was able to identify it as a 10th-12th century leaf from John 8.28ff. Two columns on each page, and the whole leaf was largely intact, revealing two pages on the outside. On the backside of each leaf was the verso, still with text. I was able to determine that it was also from John 8, this time from vv. 52ff.

Another fragmentary manuscript had no shelf number. It was inside a large white paper sleeve. Three leaves total. The first leaf was not biblical, but it was fairly old. As old as 9th or 10th century, I reckoned. But the next two leaves were indeed biblical. Another lectionary! And this one was the oldest one of the batch: 9th to 11th century (in a different hand than the first leaf). Leaf 2 had a lection from Matt 25 on it; leaf 3, a reading from Mark 3. The second leaf read differently than Matt 25.14 in any tradition. I suspected that it was a lectionary accommodation. I simply did not have the time to look at it in any more detail.

Three new discoveries in one day! Again, even though these were fragments, two of them were relatively early (since the vast majority of our NT MSS come from the 12th to the 16th centuries). And one was a strict minuscule text, not a lectionary.

Finally, with just a few minutes before closing time, Tim came across a book of 522 leaves (1044 pages!). And he noticed “at that time,” a standard introduction to a lectionary reading (and wording which does not occur in Greek in exactly that way in the NT except once). As he delicately leafed through it, he noticed leaves 321 verso and 322 recto. The passage was well known: John 1.29-34. Another biblical text! Now, this particular manuscript was quite late, and on paper. But it could be the largest manuscript yet discovered by the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts. More work will have to be done to determine its exact contents. And that will have to wait till next year.

It was 9 o’clock. The library was closing, and we packed up quickly. In the space of three hours we had prepped three NT manuscripts and discovered three or four more NT MSS. There were several other manuscripts that we simply did not have the time to see. And tomorrow, we will be at Meteora. It looks like I’m coming back this way again. I have high hopes of discovering other biblical manuscripts here, since we only scratched the surface in our examination of their old codices.

Kiki and her friends brought us to a nice restaurant, then went their separate ways. They must have paid the waiter because we got some free drinks with our meal. What generosity we have experienced here today! We ate far more than we should have, and left at 10.30 pm. Now, how to get to Meteora?

After getting a bit lost and driving in circles for 30 minutes, we finally made our way to the proper highway. At first, it was a superb road, encouraging us to think that we would make it to Meteora in no time. But winding mountain roads soon met us, dashing all hopes of an easy trek to tonight’s rest. We rolled into Meteora about 1 am. We rang the desk chime. No answer. Again, we tapped it, enough to wake up the dog. Soon, we heard rumbling coming from up the stairs. Then, we heard modern Greek being muttered as the hotel clerk emerged out of the darkness, grumbling all the way down to the zero floor. She had waited up for us till midnight, then assumed that we would not show.

We got our room keys, and headed for bed, wondering what treasures we would see tomorrow. But this little detour already proved to be one of the highlights of our first expedition for the year.

Related Topics: Bibliology (The Written Word), Textual Criticism