Well, we turned right around for another huge east coast expedition only 17 days later. We had four sites on our radar with contracts in hand: The New York Public Library and the Museum of Biblical Art (also known as “MoBiA”) in New York City, Drew University in Madison, New Jersey, and Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut.
The expedition was a great success. We shot every manuscript on the docket and did so with time to spare. With the few days remaining, Dr. Wallace and I visited the world-renowned Princeton University and Seminary. Here I was able to hold and evaluate an early 10th century Gospels majuscule written completely in the form of a cross and a 4th century majuscule of Revelation.
Up until this point, I have only been able to handle late minuscule manuscripts—that is, while on expedition I have digitally preserved later Byzantine-era manuscripts written in a sort of cursive Greek handwriting. The dates of these particular manuscripts have varied, but in general they range from the 9th century to the 16th. Of course, all of our manuscripts for the New Testament are important, and actually holding these documents is something that few in the world get to do (even if you are a New Testament scholar!). For a student like myself, every manuscript is a brilliant tale of composition and preservation and an opportunity to put text-critical theory to practice.
Two manuscripts in particular I will never forget. First, GA 047, also known as “Garrett MS. 1,” is housed in the Princeton University Rare Books and Special Collections Department. The manuscript contains all four Gospels and is written entirely in the form of a cross. A catalogue of the manuscripts published by Princeton University Press notes, “though written texts arranged into decorative shapes is common enough in the early manuscripts, Garrett MS. 1 is the oldest Byzantine manuscript written entirely in cruciform.” Specifically, on each page the first 12 lines of text form the top column of the cross, followed by 10 lines of text that form the cross-bar, concluding with 13–14 lines of text that constitute the bottom column. While the exact history of the manuscript’s early years is a mystery, we do know on the basis of the handwriting that it was produced no later than 10th century. Further, the location of its production is said to be “the easternmost lands of the Byzantine Empire… to a region subject to the influence of Cappadocia,” says the Princeton catalogue. Apart from this fascinating history, and the fact that this was my first majuscule (and the first ever cruciform majuscule we know of!), I was also holding a manuscript that was studied by two of the most influential text-critics of the 19th century. Caspar René Gregory—whom the GA, “Gregory-Aland,” numbers are in part named after— examined this particular manuscript on Mt. Athos in August 1886! Later in 1899 Kirsopp Lake studied it as well at the same location. Quite extraordinary.
For most of us, many of these facts are hard to identify with, especially if you have never heard of the textual critics named above. But what we can all identify with is the devotion these scribes took to produce such a beautiful work of God’s written word. We can further, at least in part, identify with what it must have taken to preserve such a work for ten whole centuries—truly, a work that CSNTM is now a part of. But let me take it a step further—a 4th century majuscule of Revelation—something I believe we can all identify with.
But a mere fragment, GA 0169 (also known as Pap. 5 or P. Oxy. 1080) is only 9 centimeters tall by 7 centimeters long. Bruce Metzger, arguably the best textual critic of the 20th century said, “the complete text of Revelation would have made a pudgy, pocket-sized volume.” To think, someone could have been using this as his or her own personal copy of Revelation! And of course, there are many more reasons why this fragment is so significant. Majuscules are very important for New Testament textual criticism simply because almost all of them are from the first millennium AD. Another important fact is that we have a limited number of majuscules for Revelation (about a dozen) and this is one of them. In fact, the text of this manuscript agrees to a very large degree with one of our most important majuscules for the New Testament—that of great Sinaiticus. But let me take it a step further. With all these facts, I started to get lost in the textual history. In other words, I was forgetting to translate the text! Amidst all the history, all the theory, all excitement of a fourth century majuscule, I had to go back to the basics: “…Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me…”
This was the text of Revelation 3.
Now that is something we can all identify with.