This website of “Narrations Useful to the Soul,” a genre that flourished in Late Antique monasticism, has quietly been online since at least 2001, when it is cited by John Wortley, its author, in Dumbarton Oaks Papers 55. Is this one of the first online resources to be explicitly cited in an article on Late Antiquity? In any case, it is still available at the author’s personal webpage courtesy of the University of Manitoba, where he is an emeritus professor. The Repertoire consists of over 900 précis of “spiritual tales,” culled from a wide variety of Late Antique sources, selected primarily according to criterion of narrative form. The tales are ordered arbitrarily according to “W” numbers, and frequently cross-reference the entries of François Halkin in Bibliotheca Hagiographica Graeca (1957) and Novum Auctarium Bibliothecae Hagiographicae Graecae (1984), which one must consult for manuscript descriptions of unpublished texts. The great research benefit of the site (is it good for the soul?) is the ability to search these texts for content.
The Corpus Coranicum is a long-standing research project at the Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften, under the direction of Prof. Angelika Neuwirth, established in 2007 and currently funded through 2025. Its ultimate goal is the production of a comprehensive commentary on the Qur’an, based on both the textual tradition, especially early manuscripts, and literary passages, including biblical traditions, which shed light on the context of its production. A beta version of the online commentary is now available. One can browse by sura and verse (displayed with a special font, “Coranica”), exploring a facsimile of the associated page(s) in the 1924 Cairo print edition; scanned black-and-white photographs of the associated page(s) in early manuscripts from the archive of G. Bergsträßer, assembled in the 1920s, lost, and sensationally rediscovered in 2008; variant readings; “Texte aus der Umwelt des Korans,” most frequently from the Hebrew Bible and New Testament (the latter given in Greek, not Syriac); and an associated commentary. Of course, this magisterial project is also a massive undertaking, and the final two sections are only available for certain verses. The “Texte aus der Umwelt,” in particular, is a wide-open field, and is currently the subject of intensive research, as evidenced especially by the recent creation of IQSA. As Qur’anic studies rapidly develops, there is no question that Corpus Coranicum will be an essential resource.
The British Library, which labels itself “The World’s Knowledge” with some justification, has a large collection of ancient manuscripts in diverse languages and media, probably the most impressive in the world. Less well known, perhaps, is its outstanding blog, which includes both reflections on collection items as well as entries on newly digitized texts, including the Egerton Gospel and Codex Alexandrinus. The latter has a great entry on the conservation process, as does the entry on “Some Syriac Manichaean Treasures in the British Library.” Ephrem’s otherwise lost Prose Refutations of Mani, Marcion, and Bardaisan, preserved as a palimpsest on Add. 14623 was recovered by Charles Mitchell, with the help of a certain “re-agent” at the turn of the century. The nature of this unidentified chemical is discussed, along with the eminent possibilities for reading the earlier text with the help of advanced digital photography. This wonderful post explores other significant holdings on Manichaeism, such as the Chinese Compendium on the Teachings of Mani, the Buddha of Light.
American avant-garde composer Morton Feldman’s “Turfan Fragments” (1980), a piece on the famous (East) Berlin collection now largely available online, can be listened to on YouTube, as performed by the Orchestra of the SEM Ensemble, with conductor Petr Kotik:
As a connoisseur of fragmentary ancient texts, I found this agitated work unexpected and inspirational!
Elsewhere on YouTube, there is a documentary on Turfan (“A Heat Wave Called Turfan”), part of a 12-episode series on the Silk Road in English, with joint Japanese and Chinese production.
The Iranian texts discovered at the beginning of the 20th-century during the German excavations of the Turfan oasis constitute a major source for modern scholarship on Manichaeism; like the Nag Hammadi Library, they provide an important corrective to the exclusively polemical accounts that had survived the manuscript transmission. The numerous textual fragments have been patiently published over the past century by a number of scholars, and this critical project is still ongoing.
The Turfanforschung group at the Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften has published to the web the Digitales Turfan-Archiv, which includes a variety of literature from the Turfan oasis, including “Texte in Manichäischer Schrift,” in the Parthian and Middle Persian languages, as well as some in Old Turkic. This section contains high-resolution images of basically the entire run of texts in Manichaean script, more than 9,200 fragments, catalogued according to the more recent “M” categorization cited in contemporary scholarship (from Mary Boyce’s A Catalogue of the Iranian Manuscripts in Manichaean Script in the German Turfan Collection [Berlin, Akademie Verlag, 1960]); the glass plates show the former “T” categorization:
The Middle Persian and Parthian eTexts for many of these documents is available from TITUS at the University of Frankfurt:
Vetus Latina Iohannes, also known as the Verbum Project, is an online, electronic critical edition of the Old Latin Gospel of John from the manuscripts (Patristic citations are not included at this point); it is one of the earliest online DH projects within early Christian studies, founded in 2002. The Verbum Project is housed at the University of Birmingham’s Institute for Textual Scholarship and Electronic Editing, under the direction of David Parker. Each of the manuscript witnesses is described, including previous editions and reproductions consulted, as well as notes on the features recorded in the Verbum Project’s transcription. The edition, which is powered by Peter Robinson’s COLLATE software, can be viewed as a synopsis of all manuscript witnesses for a particular verse, or as continuous text from a given manuscript (and optionally, according to page format, which includes features such indentation, justified texts, the obeloi and other marks).
This site offers basic information on the Old Latin (Vetus Latina) versions of the bible, which remain comparatively intractable and overlooked in research on the history of the biblical text and of early Christianity. Last updated in 2008, it nevertheless contains some useful information, including a book-by-book list of the available editions, an ongoing project of the Institut Vetus Latina in Beuron, published by Herder Press. Also useful is the explanation of the numbering system for Old Latin manuscripts, which includes a few stray images. To my knowledge, the only fully digitized Old Latin manuscript is Codex Bezae at Cambridge; some important codices, such as Codex Veronensis (4), are partly photographed as part of the Verbum Project, which I will review shortly. The extensive note cards of patristic citations, held at the Institut Vetus Latina, have been digitized and are available for a subscription fee from Brepols, but even this resource can be difficult to navigate.
Transcription for Paleographical and Editorial Notation, or “T-Pen,” developed at the Center for Digital Theology of Saint Louis University, is a tool for the transcription and annotation of manuscripts, through their digital images, to which they are linked on a line-by-line basis; it is currently in its beta version, and will continue to add features. By signing up, one can make transcriptions from the numerous manuscripts and notebooks made available by libraries, some of which contain texts from Late Antiquity (i.e., the Parker Library at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, is associated with T-Pen); transcriptions can be exported as a .pdf or XML, but not, apparently, to editorial software (such as Classical Text Editor). Continue reading
Museums large and small are not only digitizing their inventories; many now also create permanent websites for special exhibitions. An excellent example of the latter is “Byzantium and Islam: Age of Transition,” at the Met between March 14 and July 8 2012, one of the best presentations of the material culture of later Late Antiquity, which brought the now widespread academic trend of viewing early Islam within its historical context to a wider audience; Continue reading
The Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland, like many institutions with important manuscripts, is digitizing their collection; a Preservation and Access grant from the NEH is supporting the creation of images for their Byzantine, Armenian, and Ethiopian holdings. The Walters Art Museum’s approach, however, is multi-faceted: one can flip through “digital surrogates” of select manuscripts, especially in the Islamic collection, including this copy of the Shahname; or download digital images of others, such as this Syriac Galen, on a different site. Most innovative, perhaps, is their creation of a Flickr stream with images from their archiving project, which may indeed be an effective way to have these manuscripts reach a broader audience. Continue reading