Friday, May 19, 2017

Krister Stendahl Working on the Textual Apparatus

Life Magazine (26 Dec 1955) featured an article by Alfred Eisenstaedt on Harvard Divinity School, “Harvard Revival. Back in touch with life of the churches its Divinity School gains a new vigor.” The article includes a curious photo of a group of three scholars working on analyzing textual variants in the New Testament using the latest high-tech, the Harvard Lab’s computer. I think this model might be Harvard Mark IV (built by Harvard engineers in 1952 under the supervision of Howard Aiken) or perhaps Rand´s Universal Automatic Computer (UNIVAC). Perhaps one of our readers can tell us which it is.

The doctoral student sitting at a desk is Rev. John W. Ellison who subsequently completed his thesis on “The Use of Electronic Computers in the Study of the Greek New Testament” (Harvard Divinity School, 1957).  Ellison also used UNIVAC to create a concordance of the NRSV text (published in 1957).

The scholar leaning over the desk is the Swedish Bishop and Harvard Professor Krister Stendahl. I don’t know who the third guy is, perhaps a computer technician. Does any reader know?

A former student of mine asked, when he saw this picture, “What is that big machine?” I replied that it is a textual apparatus.

Another pioneer in this field was Vinton A. Dearing, who wrote a program for the IBM 7090 to record and analyze variant readings. The results were published in Methods of Textual Editing, (Los Angeles: William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, UCLA, 1962).


  1. Thanks Dr. W., this is both fascinating and for us old guys nostalgic!


  2. I'm fairly certain the computer pictured is part of the Mark IV (which used magnetic drums). Adjacent to this machine (to its right) was the UNIVAC 1, and opposite the machine pictured the stood the Mark I. (cf. I'm contracted to write a book on the history of computing, hence my interest in these details.

  3. I meant to say a book on computing and the Bible.