Trip to Athens, 2015

For a long time now I’ve been meaning to post a few reports about my trip to Athens this last summer, and I figure late is marginally better than never. 🙂

In June of 2015 I had the opportunity to be part of a CSNTM expedition to help digitize the ancient Greek New Testament manuscripts in the National Library of Athens. CSNTM, the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts, is an organization run by one of my professors, Daniel B. Wallace, which focuses on preserving ancient Greek New Testament manuscripts against the perils of time and chance. This project in Athens is huge–with over three hundred Greek New Testament manuscripts at the library, it will take the teams two whole summers to digitize them all.

My partner and I practicing in Dallas

This was an amazing trip. By day we got to work with precious manuscripts–some almost a thousand years old–and by night we got to enjoy the city of Athens. In this post I’ll talk about working with the manuscripts. In future posts I’ll include some of the archaeological sites we visited.

To take pictures of the manuscripts we had three custom-made copy stands, each manned by a team of two. One person would run the computer that displayed the preview image and took the pictures, while the other person held the manuscript and turned the pages. I was on book duty.

A typical dinner

A typical dinner

There was a steep learning curve to this process. CSNTM has exacting standards to make sure the end result is both practical (accurately representing the text so scholars can zoom in and see every letter) as well as visually appealing (with nicely balanced margins and straight pages). I would turn the page and hold it in place. My partner on the computer would look at the image. Adjustments would include rotating the manuscript counterclockwise and clockwise; sliding it up, down, left or right; putting pieces of paper behind the page to show holes; raise or lower any given corner to make the page look more square; build up the spine with wedges or wood to help get a square image; and a variety of other adjustments. Every day our trip supervisor would inspect our images, and we would reshoot any that were not up to standards.

Here, for example, are the images from a twelfth century manuscript that my partner and I shot: GA1418

It was tremendously exciting to inspect such ancient manuscripts up close and help preserve them. If circumstances allow, I will return in the summer of 2016 to continue working on this project. It truly is a once (twice?) in a lifetime opportunity.