Sunday, December 07, 2008

Manuscripts in Cyberspace - the Virtual Manuscript Room

Suppose you can study the textual complexities of a New Testament verse in an attractive and easy-to-use web-interface, with access to an exhaustive critical edition, which for a start lists all manuscripts together with all readings in this verse (and, as far as I am concerned, even the scholarly conjectures in a different layer, editorial choices and whatever). And what is more, for any manuscript listed you have access to a digital image of the page with the verse you are studying, just one mouse click away. Wouldn’t this be heaven on earth for the textual scholar? Tommy Wasserman could have done his dissertation in one year or less ...

This heaven may well be realised, at least for the New Testament, in the not-too-distant future. Eschatology in the process of realisation. I cannot demonstrate how it will be (it is the future, remember), but I can tell something about a small, essential step being taken right now. It is time then to already learn a new acronym: VMR, the Virtual Manuscript Room, for that is where the manuscripts will be - for as we all know, virtual is just as real as real itself, only different.

As far as every virtual reality has a foothold in our everyday space-time continuum, this one is located in a country known as Germany, more precisely in Münster, at the INTF. The project is managed by Ulrich Schmid and Martin Faßnacht, two persons I know to exist - Ulrich even speaks Dutch.

To begin with, the VMR addresses a very important problem that hampers efficient interaction with the wealth of digital images coming available on the internet: lack of indexes. Normally one does not only want the images, but also to easily find a given passage. It is of course much more, but in its most simple form, the VMR index contains a list of pages with their internet address and contents. Thanks to that index, the VMR promises to be the ideal intermediary between any form of information that uses verse references and the web-based images themselves.

The index can (and will) contain more than just the textual contents; it also records illuminations, decorations, canon tables, kephalaia lists, etc. Some images may not show the manuscript itself, but its binding, or a scale (or the gloved fingers of a Google collaborator). This can be indicated as well. The screenshot here shows the interface I am using right now, as a beta tester, to provide the index information for the Codex Boreelianus (F 09) of the Gospels.

Not much eye candy here, except for the fancy colours, but the interface is effective enough.

A popup-window can be opened with the web-image of the page you are indexing. In this case I am at the beginning of Mark. As said, the indexing allows (demands) me to draw attention to the decoration (the head piece) here.

More important than the interface, of course, is the underlying database technology (MySQL), and the model adopted to describe and index the manuscripts in a unique and complete way. All this guarantees the (re)useability of the data.

Wouldn’t this indexing job be a nice pass-time for a talented undergraduate, as it is just looking up some verse references and filling in some numbers, after all? Partly yes, but mostly no. In the first place, one always underestimates how much background knowledge is taken for granted. How do you know that something is special when you hardly know what is normal? More in particular, part of the beta testing process is to find out how to handle the unexpected. One example is the indexing of pages which are incomplete. And the Boreelianus, a two-column manuscript, definitively has its share of torn and cut pages, in many different ways. The few days of working with the project allowed me once again to realise how useful beta testing can be. It is all a matter of finetuning and making explicit aims, limitations and working procedures.

Once the VMR is up and running, with the data entered by collaborators all over the world, it should become really easy to answer questions such as "how many complete manuscripts of Mark’s gospel are there?" or "which manuscripts contain Rom 1:1-7?". I am convinced that the data, all together, will give textual scholars research possibilities not thought of previously.

The VMR, in my view, would not have to be limited to manuscripts (what’s in a name?). Alongside manuscript study, the history of the printed text and of textual criticism as a scholarly discipline deserves some attention as well. So why not include important editions such as Tischendorf’s Editio Octava? By the way, the TC Ebind site, which contains images of the entire scanned edition, is down at the moment, but I hope it will be back online before long.

Are there possible problems? Of course, and certainly more than I can think of. A first difficulty has to do with the lack of stability of the internet. As the VMR database contains references to images anywhere, it will certainly require frequent maintenance. Another problem may be lack of direct access to images on the web. In many cases, for instance, images are hidden behind (inside, that is) intricate web interfaces which do not allow so-called "deep linking".

Another important issue, from a scholarly point of view, may be data suffocation. Of course we need the data, with speedy access to all we want, but we should keep in mind that wealth of information does not necessarily make us better textual critics. With everything visible at arm’s length, we are almost bound not to have a "grand view". Nothing will replace the hard and intense labour of actually working with the data, but the VMR promises to make our time even more well-spent.

Thanks to Ulrich Schmid and Martin Faßnacht for permitting me to blog on the VMR project while it is still in beta.

Some information on the VMR can be found on the projects page of the INTF website. Stay tuned there for developments. A call for collaboration was issued in December 2007 on the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog.


Tommy Wasserman said...

JK: "Tommy Wasserman could have done his dissertation in one year or less."

That is a bit too optimistic. Of course it would have saved me four trips to Münster, where I accessed most of the manuscript data on microfilms (and various costs during these visits). On the other hand, those visits were valuable in many ways, not least the contacts with the staff, discoveries of new MSS, etc. which I think would not have happened without physical visits.

When it comes to my dissertation work, I had to do mandatory courses ca. 1,5 years, so I devoted ca. 2,5 years for research and writing. I estimate the time it took to do transcriptions, computer collations, apparatus and appendices to ca. 1,5 years. The remaining year was for the other parts of the book (prolegomena and textual commentary) and some other papers and publications.

Jan Krans-Plaisier said...

My remark was made somewhat tongue-in-cheek, as you undoubtedly noticed.
Nice point you make actually: the finished VMR may have the important drawback of preventing us from travelling and making new acquaintances and new discoveries.

Wieland Willker said...

A first difficulty has to do with the lack of stability of the internet.

Well, this is a serious problem. I know what I am speaking of, since I have a list of the papyri on my web site.
E.g the image URLs of the POxy papyri change roughly once a year or so. It takes a lot of commitment to keep these up-to-date.
I don't want to spoil the idea, it is a very good one, but it would be much better to have all images in one place, with a stable URL.
I know ... utopic.

Jan Krans-Plaisier said...

wieland: thanks for the comment. If I remember well, the project managers will take the sensible middle road of going along premarily with properly established institutions (such as INTF itself, or Universities as the Utrecht University), which may permit a stability of at least a few years instead of just one. But I agree: the problem is serious. Having copies at a central location may indeed be a few steps too utopic for our world.

Anonymous said...


This summer I went through and indexed the first verse of every page of toe Boreelianus. If that index would help, I'd be happy to send it to you.


Jan Krans-Plaisier said...

I finished the job a few days ago, but maybe your file could be useful for checking purposes.

Anonymous said...

Sorry a took so long. I originally has the list embedded in .pdfs suitable for printing out the boreelianus (I used it in an intro to manuscripts class in our Junior High/High school class).

Here they are in a digestible form. If the .pdfs (or original open doc .odt files) would be useful, I'd be happy to make those available as well.

Here's Matthew:
001r Matt 9:1-6
001v Matt 9:6-11
002r Matt 9:12-13,14-15
002v Matt 9:16-17,18
003r Matt 9:18-25
003v Matt 9:25-31
004r Matt 9:32-37
004v Matt 9:37-10:4
005r Matt 10:4-11
005v Matt 10:11-16
006r Matt 10:16-22
006v Matt 10:22-26
007r Matt 10:27-28,29-30
007v Matt 10:32-33,34-37
008r Matt 10:39-11:2
008v Matt 11:2-8
009r Matt 11:8-13
009v Matt 11:13-20
010r Matt 11:20-25
010v Matt 11:25-12:1
011r Matt 12:44-48
011v Matt 12:49-13:5
012r Matt 13:5-11
012v Matt 13:12-15
013r Matt 13:16-21
013v Matt 13:21-26
014r Matt 13:26-30
014v Matt 13:30-35
015r Matt 13:35-40
015v Matt 13:40-44
016r Matt 13:44-50
016v Matt 13:50-55
017r Matt 14:9-15
017v Matt 14:15-20
018r Matt 14:20-25
018v Matt 14:26-31
019r Matt 14:31-15:2
019v Matt 15:2-7
020r Matt 15:8-14
020v Matt 15:14-20
021r Matt 15:31-35
021v Matt 15:36-16:2
022r Matt 16:3-9
022v Matt 16:9-14
023r Matt 16:15-20
023v Matt 16:20-24
024r Matt 16:24-28
024v Matt 17:1-5
025r Matt 17:5-11
025v Matt 17:11-17
026r Matt 17:17-21
026v Matt 17:22-26
027r Matt 17:26-18:5
027v Matt 18:5-9
028r Matt 18:9-13
028v Matt 18:13-18
029r Matt 18:18-21
029v Matt 18:24-29
030r Matt 18:29-34
030v Matt 18:35-19:4
031r Matt 19:5-10
031v Matt 19:10-14
032r Matt 19:14-20
032v Matt 19:21-26
033r Matt 19:26-29
033v Matt 19:30-20:3
034r Matt 20:3-12
034v Matt 20:12-18
035r Matt 21:5-10
035v Matt 21:10-15
036r Matt 21:15-20
036v Matt 21:20-24
037r Matt 21:24-29
037v Matt 21:29-33
038r Matt 21:33-38
038v Matt 21:38-42
039r Matt 21:42-22:3
039v Matt 22:3-8
040r Matt 22:8-13
040v Matt 22:13-18
041r Matt 22:18-24
041v Matt 22:24-31
042r Matt 22:31-38
042v Matt 22:38-46
043r Matt 22:46-23:5
043v Matt 23:6-12
044r Matt 23:13-16
044v Matt 23:16-23
045r Matt 23:23-26
045v Matt 23:27-30
046r Matt 23:31-35
046v Matt 23:35-24:1
047r Matt 24:1-6
047v Matt 24:6-12
048r Matt 24:13-20
048v Matt 24:20-27
049r Matt 24:27-31
049v Matt 24:31-36
050r Matt 24:36-42
050v Matt 24:42-48
051r Matt 24:48-25:4
051v Matt 25:5-10
052r Matt 25:10-16
052v Matt 25:16-22
053r Matt 25:22-24
053v Matt 25:24-31
054r Matt 25:31-36
054v Matt 25:37-42
055r Matt 25:42-26:1
055v Matt 26:2-8
056r Matt 26:8-14
056v Matt 26:14-20
057r Matt 26:20-26
057v Matt 26:26-31
058r Matt 26:31-36
058v Matt 26:36-40
059r Matt 26:40-45
059v Matt 26:45-50
060r Matt 26:50-55
060v Matt 26:55-59
061r Matt 26:59-64
061v Matt 26:64-70
062r Matt 26:70-27:1
062v Matt 27:1-6
063r Matt 27:6-12
063v Matt 27:12-19
064r Matt 27:19-24
064v Matt 27:24-29
065r Matt 27:29-34
065v Matt 27:34-41
066r Matt 27:41-46
066v Matt 27:47-53
067r Matt 27:53-58
067v Matt 27:58-63
068r Matt 27:64-28:2
068v Matt 28:2-7
069r Matt 28:7-12
069v Matt 28:12-18
070r Matt 28:18-20, Kephalia (Mark)
070v Kephalia (Mark)

Anonymous said...

Here's Mark:

071r Mark 1:1-5
071v Mark 1:5-9
072r Mark 1:9-14
072v Mark 1:14-20
073r Mark 1:20-26
073v Mark 1:26-30
074r Mark 1:30-37
074v Mark 1:37-42
075r Mark 2:8-12
075v Mark 2:12-16
076r Mark 2:16-19
076v Mark 2:19-23
077r Mark 3:5-9
077v Mark 3:10-17
078r Mark 3:17-22
078v Mark 3:22-28
079r Mark 3:28-35
079v Mark 3:35-4:5
080r Mark 4:5-11
080v Mark 4:11-16
081r Mark 4:16-21
081v Mark 4:21-27
082r Mark 4:27-32
082v Mark 4:32-38
083r Mark 4:38-5:2
083v Mark 5:2-7
084r Mark 5:7-13
084v Mark 5:13-18
085r Mark 5:18-23
085v Mark 5:23-30
086r Mark 5:30-35
086v Mark 5:35-40
087r Mark 5:40-6:2
087v Mark 6:2-5
088r Mark 6:5-11
088v Mark 6:11-15
089r Mark 6:15-19
089v Mark 6:19-24
090r Mark 6:24-29
090v Mark 6:29-34
091r Mark 6:34-38
091v Mark 6:38-44
092r Mark 6:44-49
092v Mark 6:49-55
093r Mark 6:55-7:3
093v Mark 7:3-7
094r Mark 7:7-12
094v Mark 7:13-18
095r Mark 7:18-24
095v Mark 7:24-28
096r Mark 7:28-33
096v Mark 7:33-8:1
097r Mark 8:2-6
097v Mark 8:7-13
098r Mark 8:13-19
098v Mark 8:19-24
099r Mark 8:25-29
099v Mark 8:29-33
100r Mark 8:33-38
100v Mark 8:38-9:3
101r Mark 9:3-9
101v Mark 9:9-14
102r Mark 9:14-19
102v Mark 9:19-24
103r Mark 9:25-29
103v Mark 9:29-35
104r Mark 9:35-39
104v Mark 9:39-43
105r Mark 9:43-49
105v Mark 9:49-10:5
106r Mark 10:5-12
106v Mark 10:13-18
107r Mark 10:18-23
107v Mark 10:23-28
108r Mark 10:28-32
108v Mark 10:32-36
109r Mark 10:36-42
109v Mark 10:42-47
110r Mark 10:47-11:1
110v Mark 11:1-6
111r Mark 11:26-31
111v Mark 11:31-12:3
112r Mark 12:3-8
112v Mark 12:8-13
113r Mark 12:13-17
113v Mark 12:18-22
114r Mark 12:22-27
114v Mark 12:28-32
115r Mark 12:32-33,34-36
115v Mark 12:36-38,38-41
116r Mark 12:41-13:1
116v Mark 13:1-7
117r Mark 13:7-11
117v Mark 13:11-15
118r Mark 13:15-22
118v Mark 13:22-27
119r Mark 13:27-33
119v Mark 13:34-14:2
120r Mark 14:3-7
120v Mark 14:7-12
121r Mark 14:12-16
121v Mark 14:16-21
122r Mark 14:22-27
122v Mark 14:27-32
123r Mark 14:32-37
123v Mark 14:37-43
124r Mark 14:43-48
124v Mark 14:48-54
125r Mark 15:15-20
125v Mark 15:20-27
126r Mark 15:27-33
126v Mark 15:33-39

Anonymous said...

Here's Luke:

127r Kephalaia (Luke)
127v Kephalaia (Luke)
128r Luke 1:1-5
128v Luke 1:5-9
129r Luke 1:41-48
129v Luke 1:48-55
130r Luke 1:55-61
130v Luke 1:61-66
131r Luke 1:66-73
131v Luke 1:73-2:1
132r Luke 2:1-7
132v Luke 2:7-13
133r Luke 3:2-7
133v Luke 3:7-12
134r Luke 3:12-16
134v Luke 3:16-21
135r Luke 4:8-14
135v Luke 4:14-18
136r Luke 4:18-23
136v Luke 4:23-27
137r Luke 4:27-33
137v Luke 4:33-38
138r Luke 4:38-42
138v Luke 4:42-5:3
139r Luke 5:3-7
139v Luke 5:7-12
140r,141r,142r Luke 5:30-35
140v,141v,142v Luke 5:35-59
143r Luke 7:8-12
143v Luke 7:12-17
144r Luke 7:17-22
144v Luke 7:22-26
145r Luke 7:37-41
145v Luke 7:41-45
146r Luke 7:45-58
146v Luke 8:1-6
147r Luke 8:15-19
147v Luke 8:19-24
148r Luke 8:24-28
148v Luke 8:28-32
149r Luke 8:51-9:1
149v Luke 9:1-6
150r Luke 9:26-27,28-29
150v Luke 9:32-33,34
151r Luke 9:44-48
151v Luke 9:49-54
152r Luke 10:13-14,17
152v Luke 10:19-20,21
153r Luke 10:34-38
153v Luke 10:38-11:1
154r Luke 11:1-5
154v Luke 11:5-11
155r Luke 11:11-17
155v Luke 11:17-22
156r Luke 12:6-11
156v Luke 12:11-18
157r Luke 12:18-19,20-22
157v Luke 12:24,26-27
158r Luke 13:14-17
158v Luke 13:18-24
159r Luke 14:18-23
159v Luke 14:23-38
160r Luke 15:4-6,7-8
160v Luke 15:9-11,13-14
161r Luke 16:3-8
161v Luke 16:8-13
162r Luke 16:13-18
162v Luke 16:18-23
163r Luke 16:23-27
163v Luke 16:27-7:2
164r Luke 17:2-8
164v Luke 17:8-14
165r Luke 18:14-20
165v Luke 18:20-28
166r Luke 18:41-19:5
166v Luke 19:5-11
167r Luke 19:11-16
167v Luke 19:16-23
168r Luke 19:23-29
168v Luke 19:29-36
169r Luke 20:12-17
169v Luke 20:17-21
170r Luke 21:28-34 (un-noted variant with NA26)
170v Luke 21:35-22:3
171r Luke 22:6-8,10-11
171v Luke 22:13-15,17-18
172r Luke 22:18-23
172v Luke 22:24-30
173r Luke 22:30-36
173v Luke 22:37-43
174r Luke 23:11-16
174v Luke 23:17-24
175r Luke 23:24-30
175v Luke 23:30-36
176r Luke 23:52-53,54-56
176v Luke 24:1-3,5-6
177r Luke 24:7-13
177v Luke 24:13-19
178r Luke 24:44-50
178v Luke 24:50-53 Kephalaia (John)

Anonymous said...

And John.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke were assembled using the UBS GNT as a guide by myself (hunting for endings, mostly by letter rather than words). John may not have any independent value as a check. I assembled it using the INTF site, not by looking directly at the manuscript myself.


Boreelianus - john, offset 179 == 1
179r 01a John 1:1-4
179v 01b John 1:7-12
180r 02a John 1:13-19
180v 02b John 1:19-25
181r 03a John 1:25-30
181v 03b John 1:30-35
182r 04a John 1:35-40
182v 04b John 1:41-45
183r 05a John 1:46-51
183v 05b John 1:51-2:7
184r 06a John 2:7-11
184v 06b John 2:11-16
185r 07a John 2:16-22
185v 07b John 2:23-3:3
186r 08a John 3:14-19
186v 08b John 3:19-25
187r 09a John 3:25-29
187v 09b John 3:29-36
188r 10a John 3:36-4:8
188v 10b John 4:8-12
189r 11a John 4:12-18
189v 11b John 4:19-24
190r 12a John 4:38-43
190v 12b John 4:43-49
191r 13a John 4:49-5:1
191v 13b John 5:1-6
192r 14a John 5:6-11
192v 14b John 5:12-18
193r 15a John 5:38-45
193v 15b John 5:45-6:5
194r 16a John 6:5-11
194v 16b John 6:11-16
195r 17a John 6:16-22
195v 17b John 6:22-26
196r 18a John 6:26-32
196v 18b John 6:32-39
197r 19a John 6:63-69
197v 19b John 6:69-7:3
198r 20a John 7:4-10
198v 20b John 7:10-17
199r 21a John 7:17-21
199v 21b John 7:22-28
200r 22a John 8:10-14
200v 22b John 8:15-21
201r 23a John 8:21-26
201v 23b John 8:26-33
202r 24a John 8:33-39
202v 24b John 8:39-44
203r 25a John 8:44-49
203v 25b John 8:49-54
204r 26a John 8:54-9:1
204v 26b John 9:1-9:7
205r 27a John 9:7-11
205v 27b John 9:11-17
206r 28a John 9:17-21
206v 28b John 9:21-26
207r 29a John 9:26-32
207v 29b John 9:32-39
208r 30a John 9:39-10:3
208v 30b John 10:3-9
209r 31a John 10:9-13
209v 31b John 10:13-18
210r 32a John 10:18-25
210v 32b John 10:25-32
211r 33a John 11:3-9
211v 33b John 11:9-16
212r 34a John 11:16-22
212v 34b John 11:22-29
213r 35a John 11:29-33
213v 35b John 11:33-40
214r 36a John 12:3-9
214v 36b John 12:9-14
215r 37a John 12:25-31
215v 37b John 12:31-36
216r 38a John 12:36-42
216v 38b John 12:42-48
217r 39a John 12:48-13:2
217v 39b John 13:3-8
218r 40a John 13:8-14
218v 40b John 13:14-20
219r 41a John 13:21-28
219v 41b John 13:28-34

Lacunae: John 3:5-14, 4:23-38, 5:18-38, 6:39-63, 7:28-8:10, 10:32-11:3, 12:14-25, 13:34-end.