[Mirrored from: http://www.entmp.org/entmp/proposal.shtml]

Electronic New Testament Manuscripts Project

Proposal for the Electronic New Testament Manuscripts Project Pilot Phase


  1. Summary
  2. Rationale
  3. The Larger Project
  4. Scope of the Pilot Phase
  5. Current Status


The Electronic New Testament Manuscripts Project aims to make available on the Internet, and on CD-ROM, transcriptions and digital images of Greek manuscripts of the New Testament.

The Project has been under development for the last two years and has generated considerable interest amongst scholars and manuscript holders. Recently libraries at Harvard, Oxford, UIUC and the University of Glasgow, amongst others, have shown interest in participating, as have the British Library and Cambridge University Press.

The pilot phase of the project would, over one year, transcribe and digitize a number of papyri and important uncial manuscripts. The transcriptions and images would be made publicly available over the global Internet via World Wide Web information servers. This would be used as a demonstration of the validity of the full project.

This ambitious project promises to have a dramatic effect on New Testament textual research.


The Greek manuscripts of the New Testament are amongst the most important documents surviving today. But unlike many other manuscript collections which are contained at a handful of locations, the five thousand Greek New Testament manuscripts are spread across the globe in hundreds of libraries.

The large number of manuscripts and their dispersed geographical location present enormous problems for scholars working on the text of the New Testament. The numbers mean that comprehensive textual data is usually not available. The dispersed locations of the manuscripts means that scholars usually have to trust possibly erroneous transcriptions or work from poor quality facsimiles if they are obtainable at all.

Through the medium of electronic publication, digital technology offers us a solution to these problems. Electronic transcriptions and high-quality digital images of the manuscripts can now be made available to scholars on a large scale. Peer review would be made easier as transcriptions can easily be compared to images of the original manuscripts. This means that any scholar can decide whether the given transcription is accurate at a glance and errors can be corrected immediately. This is in contrast to the current situation where the process takes many years.

Consequently, this project promises to provide New Testament textual research with a powerful new tool.

The Project

The Electronic New Testament Manuscripts Project aims to make available on the Internet and on CD-ROM, electronic transcriptions and high-quality digital images of the most important Greek manuscripts of the New Testament. An additional aim is to produce extensive catalogues and collations of manuscripts, as well as providing software for variant analysis and image annotation.

The information will be linked so that a scholar can move instantly from viewing a collation to a transcription of a particular manuscript, and from a transcription to an image of the relevant part of the manuscript itself.

It is envisaged that the Project will be published both online via the World Wide Web and on a series of CD-ROMs. Agreements with manuscript owners may require certain images to appear only on the CD-ROM and not on the Internet. Every effort will be made to indicate clearly any prohibition on copying or redistribution of images made available online.

Transcriptions will come under a copying policy similar to that of the Free Software Foundation. This would mean that transcriptions are redistributable but that the original transcribers and editors would retain the copyright.

Transcriptions will be done under the Standard Generalized Markup Language (SGML) application produced by the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI). This scheme, devised by Humanities scholars in Europe and North America provides a standard means for the the transcription of primary sources and textual variants. An increasing amount of software works with TEI encoded documents, including software for collating manuscript variants automatically. Because the manuscript transcriptions will be based on an SGML application, they will be platform-independent and will not become obsolete as software technology advances.

The images will be kept in high-resolution true-colour lossless format in-house but will be made available in compressed JPEG (or similar) format to dramatically reduce space requirements on the CD-ROMs and Web server. Where possible a digital camera will be used to capture visible light images of the manuscripts, as well as infrared and ultraviolet images where desirable. In the majority of cases, though, the manuscript custodians will provide a 5" x 4" colour transparency which would then be scanned.

Scope of the Pilot Phase

The pilot phase will be a scaled-down version of the full project. The focus will be on a number of papyri and important uncial manuscripts. Which images are included will depend greatly on which manuscript owners are willing to participate at this early stage.

The pilot phase will include only online publication (i.e. not CD-ROM) and is envisaged to take one year to complete. This would be used as a demonstration of the validity of the full project.

Current Status

The project has been under development for the last two years and the majority of the 45 papyri custodians have been contacted. The response has been positive, and some are particularly keen to participate. Recently, a number of these have been contacted to establish whether they would be interested in taking part in the pilot phase. These include Glasgow University Library, the Houghton Library at Harvard University and Magdalen College, Oxford. Others who have shown a strong interest include the British Library and the Egyptian Exploration Society of London (owners of many of the Oxyrhynchus papyri). Cambridge University Press considers the project a candidate for CD-ROM publication.

A mailing list has been set up on the Internet to bring together volunteers to begin transcriptions. The response has been good and a number of people have already begun transcribing manuscripts to make available to the project.

Maintained by James K. Tauber / jtauber@entmp.org
Wednesday, 21-Aug-96 08:17:34 EDT