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Cambridge University Library


Revealing secrets using multi-spectral imaging: The Codex Zacynthius

In 2013 Cambridge University Library (CUL) launched a successful bid to acquire an outstanding biblical manuscript, Codex Zacynthius, one of the few ‘named codices’, important witnesses to the text of the Greek New Testament. Zacynthius, now Cambridge University Library MS Add.10062, is a palimpsest, a reused manuscript. It originally contained a commentary on the Bible (a catena), which was written about 700 CE, but when the style of writing fell out of fashion in the 13th century, its owners copied a Greek evangeliary over the top and rebound the leaves into a new book. The undertext, however, contains the oldest known works of early Christian theologians to sit alongside a biblical text, and is both a significant source of knowledge on the writings of the early Church Fathers and an important witness to the text of the Gospel of Luke.

A successful bid to the Arts and Humanities Research Council by The Institute for Textual Scholarship and Electronic Editing (ITSEE), working in cooperation with CUL, resulted in a nearly £1 million project to study the palimpsest and transcribe the important commentary and biblical text of Luke. As a palimpsest, however, this is no simple task. The undertext was washed or scraped away before it was overwritten in the 13th century and though traces are visible, it is illegible to the naked eye in many places, especially where it is masked by the text written right over it. Through high-resolution visible light photography carried out by CUL’s Digital Content Unit, and the multi-spectral imaging experts from the Early Manuscripts Electronic Library (EMEL), the researchers will finally be able to read and study this important text.

The project has only recently gotten underway, so keep an eye out for developments and updates!

Digitisation, imaging, multi-spectral, palimpsest, Codex Zacynthius, manuscript, research, biblical texts

Key People
Dr Ben Outhwaite, Maciej Pawlikowski, Huw Jones, Professor David Parker, Dr Hugh Houghton, Michael Phelps


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