Why You Need to Read Original Manuscripts
You have a printed or electronic Greek New Testament. That gives you access to a fine critical text based on innumerable hours of careful scholarship. But even with a text like that in hand, you still might want to read a portion of an individual Greek manuscript.
Digitized Greek New Testament Manuscripts
Reading directly from manuscripts will definitely present an additional challenge beyond reading a printed Greek text. Depending on a particular copyist’s handwriting, the manuscript itself may be more or less legible. And in some cases, the best online access to a manuscript is a scan of comparatively low-quality microfilm. On the other hand, there are any number of other manuscripts that do have stunningly high-quality digital images available online. And these digital images have two key upsides by comparison with printed critical editions.
First, for all the challenges of handwritten texts and their digitization, these images can sometimes be clearer than your critical apparatus. The manuscript image gives you just what’s in that manuscript. It doesn’t try to compress it along with other witnesses like your apparatus does. So, if you find your apparatus confusing, you might be able to clarify it by consulting a scan of one of the witnesses it cites.
Second, a critical text is a selection by editors of what features are relevant to represent from which witnesses. That selection is learned and careful, but it’s still a selection. Going directly to an image of a manuscript may turn up some features that weren’t relevant for your critical edition but are still interesting. And at the very least, having a look at a copy of a manuscript on which your critical text is based will give you a better appreciation for the kind of things such manuscripts are, not to mention the kind of craft that goes into constructing a critical text from them.
How You Can Read Original Manuscripts
If all that sounds good, you still might be thinking, “Yes, but how do I access these manuscript images?” They’re not exactly the kind of thing you can find at your local library. And Google isn’t liable to be very helpful.
That’s why I’ve prepared a free guide about how to read Greek New Testament manuscript images online! This guide will walk you step-by-step through finding troves of images of Greek New Testament manuscripts online. That way, you can avoid the time and hassle of casting about Google searching for these manuscripts. Instead, you can use the technology at your fingertips to let you focus on these fascinating Greek manuscripts themselves.
J. David Stark
Winnie and Cecil May Jr. Biblical Research Fellow, Faulkner University Kearley Graduate School of Theology
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