Saturday, January 06, 2018

Applying CT scans to a Coptic manuscript of Acts

A few years ago I blogged about the work of W. Brent Seales, a computer scientist at the University of Kentucky, who has found a way to read manuscript texts using CT scans. Back in 2015 he used it to read the 6th century Ein Gedi scroll of Leviticus.

Morgan Library MS M.910. (Photo by Nicole Craine for NYT)
Now he is applying it to a New Testament manuscript, this one being Morgan Library MS M.910 which is a Coptic codex of Acts that is too fragile to open. The New York Times reports the details here and says Seales and his team hope to have readable text later this month.
Dr. Seales has developed software that can model the surface of a contorted piece of papyrus or parchment from X-ray data and then derive a legible text by assigning letters to their proper surface.
The site for the Morgan Library doesn’t give a date for the manuscript, but the Times article says it was written sometime between 400 and 600 A.D. From the Morgan Library site we learn this too:
According to Petersen, “the text ... is substantially that of the standard Sahidic version found in the Beatty codex and also ... [M.664B.8] ... The present new text differs from the published texts only in a few individual spellings ... The recension of the text is the ‘Alexandrian’ one, which eventually supplanted a variety of different readings which were current in Egypt before the time of Origen.”
I wonder if any of our Coptologist readers or bloggers can tell us more about this codex. If the dates are 400–600, it will probably not shed a great deal of light on canonicity as the Times suggests, but this is still very exciting technology.


  1. From Depuydt's catalog (page LXXX):
    "THE MÖGER PURCHASE, M910 (1962)
    No. 28, a parchment codex, was acquired in Egypt by the Dutch dealer Joh. Möger of Soestdijk, The Netherlands, in the spring of 1962, and sold to the Library later that year. The manuscript is complete but badly damaged. It contains Acts in Sahidic and probably dates to the fifth or sixth century AD. The Egyptian source, provenance, and place of copying of this manuscript are unknown. The codex can be dated to before the Arab Conquest on the basis of the script, which has 4-stroke M and tall Y."

  2. Who is the Petersen mentioned? And what are they talking about when they refer to "readings which were current in Egypt before the time of Origen”?

    1. Based on Leo Depuydt, Catalog of Coptic Manuscriprs in the Pierpont Morgan Library (1993, v. 1, Foreword xii, pp.41-42, and Bibliography) apparently Theodore C. Petersen in a letter to John Plummer, Sept. 5, 1962, kept at the Library, based on photographs of 4 pages of the ms (M910; no. 28 in the book).