A Guide for Using the New Testament Virtual Manuscript Room (Part 1)

Greg Paulson has already written a very helpful introduction to the New Testament Virtual Manuscript Room (NTVMR) as a guest post on this site. I plan to do a deep dive in my next few articles on using the NTVMR for personal transcription work as well as how to use that transcription for further research. In this first article, I will describe the beginning of this process and share some tips and tricks along the way that have helped me with my own work.

The very first step is to make sure you have an account set up with the NTVMR. For those without an account, this process is easy enough compared to creating an account with Twitter. Simply click on Sign In, create an account, and then provide basic info such as your name, email, and your screen name. 

Once you have logged in to the VMR, the next step is to find the manuscript you want to transcribe. To do this first you will need to click on the tab “Transcribing” in the menu on the left-hand side of the screen. After the page redirects, you can search for the manuscript in the quick search of the catalogue on the right-hand side of the screen.

Now there are two ways to search for a manuscript. The first way is to change the search type from ID to Name on the drop-down menu on the right-hand side of the search box. If you choose to search by name, then manuscripts can be searched for by their GA number such as P45, 1072, etc. You must remember to prefix the number with P or L if the manuscript is Papyri or Lectionary or a 0 if it is a Majuscule.

The second way is to leave the search type as ID. This search type is like the first but will always take a five-digit number and takes a little getting used to. The first number in the five digits will depend on the type of manuscript. If the manuscript is written on papyrus, the first number will be a 1. If it is a Majuscule, the first number will be 2. If it is a Minuscule, the first number will be 3. Finally, if the manuscript is a Lectionary, the first number will be 4. The next part of the five-digit number is the four-digit version of the GA number. Basically, take the GA number and if that does not contain four digits, add 0(s) to the front. Using P45 again as an example, the ID would be 10045. The 1 at the front signifies that it is a papyrus manuscript. The two zeros are at the front of 45 because we need a four-digit version of the GA number 45. 

Once you have decided on the method for searching the manuscripts, click on the little blue magnifying glass. The table below should populate with information on the manuscript. Hover over any part of that information and click on it to open the manuscript. 

After clicking on the manuscript, the table should now be populated with data containing the page id, the biblical content on the page, and a link to an image of the page.

If the content cell is empty, this means that the manuscript has not been indexed. You can and should remedy this by indexing the manuscript by using the “Indexing” tab in the menu at the top. A future post will explore how to do this. 

The final step to begin the transcription process is picking an image to transcribe. There are a few tips that I would like to share, though, for utilizing the very best images possible. Most of the images available on the VMR are images of black and white microfilm. If this is all that is available, we can make do. However, some of these images are very blurry, have spots on the images that cover portions of the text, etc. If better images exist, I highly suggest you use those. Your transcription will be more accurate if you can clearly see every millimeter of the manuscript. 

One place I would look is the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts (CSNTM). This website is free, and you do not need an account to browse the images. The images are crystal clear and can be zoomed in extremely close without sacrificing image quality. A caveat of using these images, however, is that not every image is indexed for a manuscript either. So, you may need to do a little digging to gain your bearings on the manuscript. The digging is worth it, however, for a better image.

A second tip is that even when a color image exists on the VMR, it is worthwhile to double check if the image is accessible via the holding institution. For example, let’s look at GA 023 (20023). This beautiful manuscript is made from parchment that has been dyed purple and the text was written with gold ink. On page id 100 (6 verso) at the end of the fifth line the words του σιτου should come next at this point of Matthew 13:25. At the start of the next line the last three letters of σιτου are there but the first two letters σι seem to be missing. If you zoom in as far as you can at the end of the fifth line you can barely make out a smudge of gold, but it is not clear enough to tell what it is. You could add the letters σι, mark them as unclear within the text editor and move on.

However, it could prove helpful to dig a little deeper. The image copyright at BnF Gallica appears at the top right-hand corner of the image window. This is often a good tip that the image is available elsewhere. If you take a moment to search for the manuscript from the Liste (Greek) tab at the top menu, detailed information about the manuscript is available. Details about the housing institution are available by scrolling down on this page of information.

After clicking on the link Biblioteque Nationale I fumbled my way around the website to the Gallica catalogue and tried a few different searches. First, I tried to search 023 (the GA number), but that didn’t yield any relative results. Then I searched 1286 (the shelf number I got from the image above). This search led me to all the available images, though the images are not as easily navigated as the VMR. After finding the correct image, I immediately noticed there is more than a smudge at the end of the line.

I think I can make out a very faint ση. This would be σητου, a variant of σιτου because of the similarity in sound that ι and η make.

This extra step takes admittedly longer and is more complicated than just using the images available on the VMR, but my example demonstrates that better images can help tremendously with creating a more accurate transcription. Take some time to do due diligence in hunting these images down. 

In this first post, I have walked you through how to begin the process of transcribing a manuscript. My next few articles will show you how to transcribe, as well as some different steps to utilize the resulting transcription for further research.

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