Athens 2011: Four New Manuscript Discoveries on My First Trip Abroad

For the last two weeks of May, CSNTM’s Executive Director Dr. Daniel B. Wallace led a four-man team to Greece to photograph eight New Testament manuscripts at the Byzantine and Christian Museum (BXM) in Athens.

We had a stellar team. J. D. Lemming, a former CSNTM intern and seasoned expedition-vet, added some timely experience to the shoot. Paul Wheatley, another former intern of Dr. Wallace, also came with us. Because he and his wife lived in Athens from 2007 to 2009, he is fluent in modern Greek, is well versed when it comes to Athenian culture, got the four-man team cheap lodging, and knows all the great spots to get gyros. Having Paul with us was insightful and very important in terms of solidifying vital contacts for future expeditions, not just in Athens, but all across Greece. The expedition was undoubtedly significant for CSNTM in many respects, but for me it was the experience of a lifetime. This was my first time abroad and the first time to see the mission of CSNTM in action.

For the last year or so, I worked for the Center as a volunteer intern and have been recently hired as the new Intern Coordinator. I have been exposed to virtually all aspects of the organization, except for actually going on an expedition. With this incredible opportunity in Athens, I experienced the mission of CSNTM personally! Participating in the tedious, technical, and yet exciting digital preservation process, evaluating individual scribal habits, searching for significant textual variants, utilizing the very best in photographic and computer technology, developing new relationships with institutions for future expeditions, I was actually experiencing what CSNTM was all about!

From the moment we arrived in Athens, it was straight to work. We first went to the Greek Parliament, the Gennadios Library at the American School of Classical Studies, and then off to Athens University. At each one of these locations, we tried to do some front-end work for future expeditions. We evaluated and prepped some manuscripts, while gaining important contacts. Tuesday, it was off to the races with shooting. We arrived at the BXM bright and early to begin the shoot. All in all, we shot eight manuscripts consisting of just over 2,000 images in seven very full days of work. The last day of the shoot, J.D. and Paul stayed at the Byzantine to shoot the last manuscript while Dr. Wallace and I went back to some of the other locations to look at a few more manuscripts. During this time, we discovered a twelfth-century Gospels minuscule! After that, Wheatley and Wallace discovered another two Gospels manuscripts. Later, J.D. and Paul found fragments of a manuscript of Acts in the back of a Gospels manuscript. Altogether, this expedition yielded four New Testament manuscript discoveries!

Once we finished in Athens, we headed north to do some more front-end work. We first stopped off at Tirnavos, a little town off the beaten path. In the city library are hundreds of handwritten manuscripts, some New Testament manuscripts among them. (There aren’t too many city libraries in the States that have New Testament manuscripts, I imagine.) Then we headed to a place called Meteora. It was other-worldly, unlike anything I have ever seen before. Meteora, literally meaning, “suspended in air,” is one of the most beautiful landscapes in all of Greece. It is home to huge sandstone pillars that shoot straight up from the forest landscape below. Some of these pillars are home to centuries-old Greek Orthodox monasteries. At times, I felt like I was on a Hawaiian island; at other times, like I was back home in the Rocky Mountains of Utah.

The greatest part about it though was the hospitality of the nuns at one of the monasteries we visited. One of our contacts at the Byzantine was able to call the Monastery of Agiou Stephanou (St. Stephen) and set up a time to look at their manuscript holdings. I have never experienced anything like this before. The monastery was impressive all around and from the very moment we arrived, the hospitality from the nuns was warm and unceasing. They offered us Greek coffee (which has the grounds in bottom of it!) and the best homemade baklava I have ever had. Additionally, they provided lunch for us. Their manuscripts were impressive too.

In addition to a very productive trip for CSNTM and discovering four manuscripts for the world of New Testament studies, our down time on the weekends included sight-seeing at the Acropolis and Aeropagos in Athens, a trip to the ancient city of Corinth, and on our way back from Meteora a brief stop at Thermopylae where the 300 Spartans fought off the million-man Persian army. Not bad for a kid who had never been outside the U.S., I think. All in all, the expedition was a huge success for CSNTM and an experience that I shall not soon forget.

Rory P. Crowley is the Intern Coordinator for the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts (CSNTM) and a masters student at Dallas Theological Seminary.

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