Over the last several months, CSNTM has discussed the importance of multi-spectral imaging (MSI) for the future of its mission to digitally preserve Greek New Testament manuscripts. While MSI can be used to reveal text that has been unreadable for centuries because of natural deterioration, water, and fire, one of its most exciting applications is to reveal illegible text on palimpsests. A palimpsest is a manuscript in which the original text (the under-text) was erased by scraping the ink away, and then a later text (the over-text) was written in its place. Among copies of the Greek New Testament, there are many manuscripts in which the original scriptures were erased, and the pages repurposed for newer documents. The most famous of these palimpsests is an ancient manuscript called Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus (GA 04).
Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus is a 5th century majuscule, which means it was written in Greek capital letters typical of the earliest New Testament manuscripts. It was a large and expensive codex that probably contained the entire Old Testament and New Testament. In the 12th century, when it was nearly 700 years old, the biblical text was scraped over and washed away so that copies of works by St. Ephraem, a 4th century church father, could be preserved. This ancient copy of the Bible was apparently lost forever.
Later in the 1700s, after the manuscript was moved to France, scholars realized that there had been an older biblical text written underneath St. Ephraem’s writings. Multiple men tried to read the under-text, but it was very faint. It seemed impossible to read the complete original writing. In the 1830s, potassium ferricyanide was applied to the manuscript pages to aid their efforts and make the biblical text more visible. Finally, one of the greatest text critics in history, Constantin von Tischendorf, carefully examined the manuscript and published the first complete transcription of its text in 1843 (New Testament) and 1845 (Old Testament).The damage to Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus is irreversible, and one day it will be completely illegible.”
Tragically, the chemical agents applied to the ancient manuscript have proven to be extremely corrosive and will destroy both the ancient biblical text and the later text from St. Ephraem. The damage to Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus is irreversible, and one day it will be completely illegible.
Engineers have already developed game changing technology that will reveal the original text on palimpsests like Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus without damaging the document. That technology is multi-spectral imaging. CSNTM is working to purchase this revolutionary equipment in a unique, portable system so that it can be taken to collections of Greek New Testament manuscripts across the globe. They will couple their expertise in manuscript digitization with MSI technology in order to make the best images of these manuscripts freely available so that the text of the New Testament can be studied—whether it was lost for centuries or is still visible today. Scholars, translators, and students will be able to transcribe and translate the complete Greek New Testament text in palimpsests on their computer no matter where they are located.
The Center needs to raise $125,000 to purchase portable MSI equipment and train its staff on its application. Thanks to dozens of partners, more than half of the funds have already been raised. Will you partner with CSNTM to ensure that all the text of the Greek New Testament can be read and studied without destroying the ancient manuscripts they were written in? You can participate in this critical mission today!