Manuscripts . . . and a Guinness
Yesterday my colleague, Prof. Paul Foster, and I went with eight of our current PhD students for another of our periodic visits to the Chester Beatty Library (Dublin) to examine their fabulous collection of early biblical papyri. We try to make this visit about every 2-3 years, making it a regular feature of what we offer to PhD students in NT/Christian Origins here in New College (Edinburgh). We can fly over early in the morning and return that same evening.
The Director and Curator very kindly agreed to arrange for us to have direct (“autopsy”) access to a number of folios of various of their biblical papyri, and a private space in which we could examine them carefully and discuss details. I had chosen particular folios of key papyri: the Gospels codex (P45), the Pauline codex (P46), the Revelation codex (P47), the Numbers-Deuteronomy codex (Rahlfs 963), and each of the two Genesis codices (Rahlfs 961 and 962). These are all Greek, and all copied by/for early Christian usage, so the selection allowed students to see and compare how these various texts were copied.
These papyri also reflect varying approaches to constructing codices large enough to accommodate large bodies of text. So, e.g., P45 was constructed of individual papyrus sheets folded and then stitched together, whereas P46 was a “single gathering” codex of some 52 papyrus sheets (as probably the case also with P47). On the other hand, Chester Beatty V (Rahlfs 962), one of the copies of Genesis, originally 84 leaves (42 sheets), was composed of 10-leaf/5-sheet gatherings (or, as the modern book trade calls them, “quires”). These are all 3rd century manuscripts, and so, to my mind, show that Christians in this period were experimenting with different ways to construct large codices. And that, I contend, suggests that they were at the “leading edge” of codex technology, developing the codex for more serious literary purposes than had been the case. Otherwise, if they were simply adopting a previous literary use of the codex, why were they experimenting still with these different kinds of codex-construction?
The PhD students had been invited to indicate particular folios that they’d like to see, in some cases to check for themselves readings or other features, and it was interesting to see them have the opportunity to do this. In one or two cases, I think we were able to query a prior reading of texts at particular points (with the aid of hand-held microscopes). And in another case, I was able to satisfy myself that what looked like a “line filler” in the photographs was actually a shadow caused by a break in the horizontal fibres of the papyrus. As well, there were folios on which there were errors in copying and corrections, entered in different ways. It’s clear that a copying capable of a high-quality “calligraphic” hand wasn’t necessarily free from making errors (such as omitting a whole line of text!). It was also interesting to see how ancient copyists handled (or, amusingly in some cases, mishandled) the “nomina sacra” practice that distinguishes early Christian copies of texts.
Earlier in the day we also visited the Book of Kells exhibit in Trinity College, and were invited to view the recently set-up Freyne Library (from the personal library of the late Prof. Sean Freyne), and have coffee with a few colleagues in the department there.
And, of course, at an early lunch in “The Duke” (local pub/restaurant), those of us so inclined were able to test for ourselves how Guinness tastes in its hometown. Answer: Very nice!