Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Chester Beatty Papyri Photographed by CSNTM


Press Release from the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts (CSNTM):

17 September 2013

The Chester Beatty papyri, published in the 1930s and 1950s, are some of the oldest and most important biblical manuscripts known to exist. Housed at the Chester Beatty Library (CBL) in Dublin, they have attracted countless visitors every year. It is safe to say that the only Greek biblical manuscripts that might receive more visitors are Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Alexandrinus, both on display at the British Library.

The Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts (CSNTM) is pleased to announce that a six-person team, in a four-week expedition during July–August 2013, digitized all the Greek biblical papyri at the Chester Beatty Library.The CBL has granted permission to CSNTM to post the images on their website (, which will happen before the end of the year.

The New Testament papyri at the CBL include the oldest manuscript of Paul’s letters (dated c. AD 200), the oldest manuscript of Mark’s Gospel and portions of the other Gospels and Acts (third century), and the oldest manuscript of Revelation (third century). One or two of the Old Testament papyri are as old as the second century AD.

Using state-of-the-art digital equipment, CSNTM photographed each manuscript against white and black backgrounds. The result was stunning. Each image is over 120 megabytes. The photographs reveal some text that has not been seen before.

Besides the papyri, CSNTM also digitized all of the Greek New Testament manuscripts at the CBL as well as several others, including some early apocryphal texts. The total number of images came to more than 5100.

CSNTM is grateful to the CBL for the privilege of digitizing these priceless treasures. Their staff were extremely competent and a joy to work with. Kudos to Dr. Fionnuala Croke, Director of CBL, for such a superb staff! This kind of collaboration is needed both for the preservation of biblical manuscripts and their accessibility by scholars.
Perhaps it is needless to say that this very prestigious enterprise will be important for the CSNTM and its professional reputation. Hopefully this success can open up many doors in the future so that the scholarly community and everyone interested in New Testament manuscripts can have access to state-of-the-art images of these ancient Christian artefacts and the text they carry.

Since I happened to know about this expedition beforehand, I managed with short notice to organize for a student to go along on the expedition for a few days in the summer and study one of the papyri on site for his thesis work.  He will do a guest blogpost about his wonderful experiences in the Chester Beatty Library – stay tuned.


  1. Well done Dan and the team. These are really quite important. For whatever reason the CBL never posted images it had taken some years ago. In addition the facsimiles in the editions are relatively hard to get hold of. Furthermore the available images otherwise are relatively quite low quality, while these will I am confident be absolutely excellent.

  2. And thanks to Tommy for helping the student.

  3. Doing NT textual criticism is going to be quite different in a few years time. I hope that ready access to images of the manuscripts will improve the discipline, but it is hard to predict the future.

  4. I think that having high quality images available will increase interest in New Testament Textual Criticism and even in the history of Christianity in general.

  5. "digitized all the Greek biblical papyri at the Chester Beatty Library"
    Can anybody confirm if this includes the OT papyri?


    Matthew Hamilton

  6. One would think (and hope) that would have been the case.

  7. Rob Marcello9/19/2013 4:52 pm

    The biblical papyri includes both the Greek Old and New Testament manuscripts. We also digitized all of the Greek apocryphal and other christian works.

  8. Is the CSNTM aware that they also need to take into account earlier photographs of P42, and probably others, though P42 is the only one i have first hand knowledge of. The leaves of this codex are unusually thin and frail, and each leaf typically has damage around the lower margin, esp at the outer edge. For many years the Michigan portion of the codex was stored upright rather than lying flat, causing a certain amount of subtle damage that will not be apparent unless compared to the earlier photos. So in this respect, new digital images will be a step backwards.

    Michigan has black and white negatives form the thirties, and so presumably does the Chester Beatty Library: the colorized prints published by Kenyon are not very satisfactory in this regard.