Strangely enough, even though biblical studies as a discipline revolves around primary sources, not a lot of those involved in research actually have a reason to view a physical ancient manuscript. It’s a digital age. Even in my own work with Hellenistic papyri and inscriptions almost everything I need to look at is digitized. Occasionally I will view a published edition, but even a lot of that is online as well (e.g., SEG).
That is why I always relish the opportunity to actually see some physical stuff in a library somewhere. I have posted a few times in the recent past about a few visits I’ve made to the University of Cambridge library, where I took some time to view some of the correspondence of revered Septuagint scholar H. B. Swete (e.g. here and here. NB I hope to post more from the troves of what I found there in due course).
But recently I had the chance to make two archival visits to view some items that were actually old. One pretty old and another really old. It was great fun so I thought I’d explain these visits.
1. Codex Bezae (University of Cambridge)
Anyone seriously involved in New Testament research is likely familiar with Codex Bezae Cantabrigiensis. This 5th century uncial – containing the Gospels, Acts, and some of 3 John – is important for numerous reasons, not least of which being the fact that it is a diglot, with Greek and Latin on facing pages. Also fascinating is that the text type it preserves differs notably from almost every other we know about. It is also the earliest witness to the so-called Pericope Adulterae, the originality of which is somewhat dubious. I won’t get into that here.
Now, on the one hand anyone can view Codex Bezae. Thanks to the wonders of technology, just click this link and you can take all the time in the world.
But I had a reason to actually view the codex in person. I did this on behalf of Dr. Tommy Wasserman of Örebro School of Theology, who along with Dr. Jennifer W. Knust is publishing a book on the topic of the Pericope (forthcoming with Princeton University Press).
One thing that surprised me was how small it was. I have no clue why, but for some reason I was expecting some gigantic tome. Instead, Codex Bezae is a fairly average size, although the 1600-year-old vellum pages are indeed quite fragile! It was a major privilege to see in person and a remarkable experience I won’t soon forget.
2. Aungier Septuagint Concordance (Trinity College, Dublin)
The second trip was more directly relevant to my work in Septuagint. I mentioned recently that I’ll be traveling in July to the LXX.D conference in Wuppertal. My paper, entitled “Legacies and Flops among Early Modern Septuagint Concordances,” will review the first several installations in what is the murky and somewhat underwhelming history of Septuagint lexicography.
Part of that is the concordance that was compiled in the mid-17th century in Dublin by one Ambrose Aungier. Up until I spoke with the supremely competent archivists at Trinity College, I had been pronouncing this name “ahn-JEER.” Turns out that is all wrong, and in fact it is “AYN-jer” (like “danger”). So I learned that.
You can get to Dublin and back to Cambridge very easily and fairly cheap. So I hopped on a plane (with my lovely wife who was kind enough to keep me company), went to Trinity College Library, and marched straight to the archives. It is a lovely place. Having made an appointment in advance, I got to see the manuscript right away. There were actually two volumes, and so I set out for the next five hours straight taking photos with my iPhone. Yes, I took right around 1900 pictures, and barely looked at the manuscript in much detail. The important thing was to capture it all (very carefully) for later analysis. (See right)
As you might have guessed, the Aungier concordance is one item that has not been digitized. And the cost for having the archivists photograph the whole thing was well above the cost to fly myself and Kelli there and make a day of it! So that was an easy decision.
Time will tell what exactly I can make out from this concordance, but as far as I can tell at this point there is an interesting story behind it that links up with another (failed) attempt at a Septuagint concordance undertaken in Paris by a certain individual who went by the delightful moniker of “Bootius.” More to come.