The team consisted of team leader Rob Marcello, who is the Research Manager for CSNTM and a seasoned expedition veteran. Rory Crowley, the Intern Coordinator for CSNTM, was with the team for his fourth expedition experience. To give you a brief bio about myself, I am a third-year ThM student at DTS studying New Testament Textual Criticism. My work with CSNTM began as an intern during the 2011–12 academic year. That year culminated in being invited to join the team on my first expedition for five weeks last summer in Greece at several different locations. Since then I have continued working with the Center in multiple capacities. It has been a tremendous honor to be involved in the work the Center is doing.
The eager anticipation we were feeling when we arrived at the airport quickly turned into frustration for Rob, Rory, and myself. Our plane leaving DFW was delayed three times, which put us behind on every subsequent flight. I honestly can’t remember everything that happened and changed with our flight schedule, but by the time we landed in Athens I had nine different boarding passes… and we only had three flights. The problem then was that while we had safely arrived in Athens our luggage was in some unknown location between Dallas and Alpha Centauri. We got them all back with the final piece arriving Monday morning at 2:45 AM. At this point I’ll remind you that our adventure began Friday morning at 11:30.
Tired, but relieved, we set off for Zagora to begin photographing manuscripts at the Public Historical Library there. Zagora is quite the interesting town. It is a rather small community perched on the side of a mountain overlooking the Aegean and is accessed by roads that are more than capable of making even the best drivers nervous. A quick search of Wikipedia reveals that Zagora was at its height in the 8th–7th centuries BC; so to say the town has history is an understatement! We already knew our timeline had been compressed on account of losing Monday due to the travel delays, but once we arrived we also found out that we had lost the following Monday also due to it being a national holiday. Tuesday morning was our first day in the library, and we set about our work with this daunting deadline already hovering over us. By Thursday we had made good progress, but it was looking like we might just miss our deadline. Fortunately we found favor with the librarian Eirini, and on Friday morning she graciously offered to have someone open the library on Saturday for us so that we could complete our project. Saturday afternoon rolled around and sure enough we had finished the shoot and actually accomplished more than was originally scheduled. All said, we digitized five manuscripts, with numerous UV photographs of one with severe water damage, for a total of just under 3300 images. That means more manuscripts of the Gospels, and even a rare manuscript of Revelation, have been preserved for generations to come. Not only this, our team made a great ally in the librarian. She was more than positive about the work of CSNTM and offered to help us out with future expeditions. Friday at lunch, she even called the three of us “Greeks at heart.” That is a tremendous compliment from a Greek to an American!
From Zagora, we headed to the tiny village of Ampelakia for the weekend on the way to Thessaloniki. There we were able to meet with old friends and strengthen those connections in central Greece. It was a time of much needed relaxation after the hectic week. Monday morning came too soon and the team was back on the road to Thessaloniki. Unfortunately, it was the holiday so we were unable to do much on Monday in terms of making contacts, but we familiarized ourselves with the city and where we needed to be the next morning.
Now, what I am about to tell you may not sound all that exciting, but for three young guys who work for CSNTM and have a passion for New Testament manuscripts, it was that and more. On Tuesday morning we had a meeting with Professor Johannes Karavidopoulos and another lecturer, Ekaterini Tsalampouni, at Aristotle University’s School of Theology. It just so happens that Prof Karavidopoulos was one of the editors of the United Bible Society’s Greek New Testament and thus an icon in the field of New Testament textual criticism. Lecturer Tsalampouni is doing some exciting work as well, particularly with Byzantine lectionary manuscripts at some very important sites in Greece. She, like CSNTM, is involving student interns in her work in order to bring up a new generation of textual scholars. We met with both of them in order to discuss the work of CSNTM and to make contacts for future work in Thessaloniki and surrounding areas. Without going into detail, CSNTM is very pleased with the outcome of the meeting and looks forward to what may come of our friendship. From there they led us to the university library to look at four manuscripts held there. What an unbelievable honor it was, and one that won’t soon be forgotten, for all of us to page through New Testament manuscripts with two distinguished scholars.
The rest of the afternoon consisted of relishing the experiences of the week and doing some sightseeing. As another sign of our manuscript infatuation, the first place we headed was the Museum of Byzantine Culture where they house a single leaf of Codex N, a 6th century Gospel manuscript on parchment that had been dyed purple. The main text of the manuscript is written with silver ink, but the names God, Lord, Christ, and Jesus are written in gold ink as nomina sacra. It’s a beautiful manuscript and a must-see for everyone who has the opportunity. The day concluded with a walk over to the ancient Roman Forum and then down to the seaport. The next morning we loaded the car up and drove back to Athens from where we would leave to head back to Dallas the next day.
Again, to say I was anticipating going to Greece would be a lie. It was about halfway over the Atlantic that it finally sunk in that I was going, but even then I could not anticipate all that the two weeks would hold in store. The CSNTM team came home with digital copies of five New Testament manuscripts, new promising contacts in the country, and minds full of memories to last a lifetime. Oh, and maybe a few extra pounds from all the Greek food!