MANUSCRIPTS, MANUSCRIPTS, MANUSCRIPTS! Yesterday evening, Dirk Jongkind, a Cambridge doctoral student (who, bless his heart, gave me coffee in the Divinity Faculty building this morning) gave a paper on his research on the physical features of the Codex Sinaiticus (see online abstracts). Fun fact I learned: 1-4 Maccabees were already labeled numerically as such in this period (4th century-ish) and 1 and 4 Maccabees appear in Sinaiticus labeled as such. His project is good news, because this sort of thing desperately needs to be done.
This morning John W. Welch gave a paper on "The Use of Multispectral Imaging in Working with New Testament Manuscripts." He started out with a Qumran Scroll (4QGenb) which is so blackened that it is almost totally illegible to the naked eye and on a normal photograph, but which can be read easily from an infra-red photo. As it happens, I published that manuscript and worked closely with the original in the Rockefeller Museum. For some of the other Genesis/Exodus scrolls I published, it was helpful to see the original in person and I was even able to establish one or two important readings from a naked-eye examination. But not for 4QGenb: most of it is unreadable and the infra-red photograph is effectively the primary evidence for its text. In my popular lectures on the Scrolls I use slides of it to illustrate the same point made in Professor Welch's lecture.
Professor Welch's project also is working with the carbonized manuscripts of the Petra Papyri and the Herculaneum library, and other texts as well. They are able to make the invisible text on many of these blackened manuscripts stand out so that it is easily readable on their photographs.
In the discussion someone asked if we even need the manuscripts any more after this sort of imaging has been done to them. Everyone agreed that we do, if only for their sentimental value! I think a more important reason, which didn't come up in the discussion, is that we need the manuscripts because new technologies (e.g., the burgeoning field of molecular technology) will allow us to extract new information from them which we can't even imagine now.
Professor Welch also commented to me afterwards that DNA analysis has established that the parchment of the Dead Sea Scrolls were mostly made from the hide of ibexes, which I hadn't know before.