"We have come to know that an important manuscript which has been missing from one of our libraries appears now in the possession of your Museum."
The Story of Manuscript 18
In December 2014, the Green Collection of Oklahoma City donated a Greek minuscule copy of the four Gospels to Museum of the Bible. It was thought that the manuscript was the work of the late thirteenth-century scribe Theodore Hagiopetrites, who had produced several signed and dated manuscripts near Thessaloniki. Dr. Tommy Wasserman, a professor of biblical studies at Ansgar Teologiske Høgskole, Kristiansand, Norway examined this and other New Testament manuscripts while sponsored by the museum’s Scholars Initiative program. In the summer of 2015, Dr. Wasserman showed that the manuscript had been misidentified. The named scribe was not Theodore Hagiopetrites, but a person who called himself “Theodore, the sinful and reckless monk.” He also dated the manuscript to the twelfth century. With the help of Maurice Robinson, Emeritus Senior Professor of New Testament studies at Southeastern Baptist Seminary, Dr. Wasserman found that the manuscript was already known to New Testament scholars by the Gregory-Aland number GA 2120. Therefore, he contacted the Institut für Neutestamentliche Textforschung in Münster, Germany to update the manuscript’s location in both the Kurzgefaßte Liste der griechischen Handschriften des Neuen Testaments and the New Testament Virtual Manuscript Room (NTVMR). This information was in place by October 2015.
A Manuscript Is Missing
Approximately two months later, Professor Theodora Antonopoulou, director of the Library for Byzantine and Modern Greek Literature at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, learned that one of the library’s manuscripts was missing. In 1987, the university was celebrating its sesquicentennial anniversary. The library loaned the university’s newly-opened history museum four manuscripts for an exhibition to celebrate the occasion but the museum had not returned them. Professor Antonopoulou inquired about the manuscripts in late November. On December 3, 2015, the director of the history museum responded. The museum could return three manuscripts to the library. The fourth, designated Manuscript 18, was missing. The museum had inventoried everything in its collections in 1991, but Manuscript 18 did not appear on the list.
The Search Begins
Professor Antonopoulou began searching for the lost manuscript, and in early 2018 found the entry for GA 2120 on the NTVMR website.
Professor Antonopoulou turned to Dr. Kostas Buraselis, the Vice Rector for Academic Affairs and International Relations at the university for assistance. He sent a letter to the headquarters of Museum of the Bible in March 2018. The letter stated that Museum of the Bible’s manuscript 127 was the university’s Manuscript 18. The university had never given permission for the manuscript to leave the university or to be exported from Greece. The letter included a printout of information from the NTVMR and a photocopy of part of the manuscript’s description in a 1964 catalogue of manuscripts in the university’s collection. The university asked for the return of the manuscript.
Museum of the Bible’s Reaction
Museum of the Bible’s associate curator of manuscripts Brian Hyland immediately began an investigation into the manuscript’s provenance. He learned that the manuscript was originally part of the collection of Spyridon Lampros, a distinguished professor of paleography, history, and literature at the University of Athens and Greece’s prime minister from 1916–1917.
The Next Owner: Lina Tsaldari, Greece’s First Female Cabinet Member
After serving as Greece’s first female cabinet member (1956–1958), Mrs. Tsaldari donated her father’s manuscript collection to the University of Athens in 1964.
Other publications gave further evidence of the donation. When Kurt Aland published the first edition of the Kurzgefaßte Liste in 1963, he listed Mrs. Tsaldari as the owner. Six years later, in 1969, Aland published a supplement to the Kurzgefaßte Liste that listed the university’s Byzantine Seminar as the owner. These facts established the university’s claim to the manuscript but did not show how or when the manuscript disappeared from the library.
Sharing Research Results
Museum of the Bible and the University of Athens shared their findings in May 2018. A hand-written receipt placed the delivery of the four manuscripts from the Library for Byzantine and Modern Greek Literature to the university’s history museum on April 30, 1987.
Manuscript 18 disappeared at some time between that date and the 1991 inventory. As these dates are well before the foundation of Museum of the Bible, the university was reassured that the museum had played no role in the disappearance of the manuscript. On the contrary, the museum’s actions in asking Dr. Wasserman to study the manuscript led directly to Professor Antonopoulou finding it on the NTVMR website. Based on these findings, both institutions came to an amicable settlement.
Museum of the Bible would present a small exhibit highlighting its ongoing task of provenance research on artifacts in the collection, using Manuscript 18 as a case study to emphasize the importance of this research. The museum would also digitize the manuscript and share the images with the university. The two institutions agreed to collaborate in future projects such as further research and loans. Most importantly, Museum of the Bible returned Manuscript 18 to the University of Athens on October 26, 2018.
Quick FactsWhat Is Manuscript 18 (GA 2120)?
Manuscript 18 was produced in the 1100s. It is a copy of the four canonical Gospels in Greek on parchment. The writing is cursive, which scholars call “minuscule.” The scribe who copied one part of the manuscript signed it “finished by the hand of Theodore, the sinful and reckless monk.”Why Is This Manuscript Important?
The Greek manuscript tradition traces back to the earliest copies of the Gospels. Recent research indicates that even relatively late manuscripts, such as Manuscript 18, can contain an early form of the text. Therefore, each manuscript of the Gospels is important for study. For this reason, every New Testament manuscript has a number for easy identification, known as the Gregory-Aland (GA) number. In 1908, this manuscript received the GA number 2120.What Are Some Identifiable Features of This Manuscript?
- Someone used a black ink stamp rather than a pencil to number the leaves of Manuscript 18.
- Each Gospel begins with a title in red ink, and above the title is an ornate headpiece.
- The Gospel of Luke begins on the page stamped with number 122.
- Theodore’s signature is on the bottom of the last page.
Founding member of the Athenian Philological Society "Parnassos." Professor of Greek paleography, literature, and history at the University of Athens, university administrator, and Prime Minister of Greece. First known modern owner of Manuscript 18. (Photo courtesy of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens.)
Daughter, assistant, and heir of Spyridon Lampros. Member of Parliament and first female cabinet member in Greek history. Second known modern owner of Manuscript 18. (Photo courtesy of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens.)
Lost and Found: The Return of Manuscript 18
12th century "Theodore, the sinful and reckless monk” was one of the scribes of this four Gospels codex.
12th–19th centuries Various people signed the manuscript and added prayers.
1902 Hermann von Soden listed manuscript ε 2061 in Die Schriften des Neuen Testaments in ihrer ältesten erreichbaren Textgestallt—hergestellt auf Grund iher Textgeschichte (The Writings of the New Testament in Their Oldest, Accessible Textual Form), as “Privatbesitz von Lambros” (private possession of Lampros).
1908 Caspar René Gregory listed the manuscript as 2120 in Die griechischen Handschriften des Neuen Testaments (The Greek Manuscripts of the New Testament). This was the first publication of the manuscript with its current Gregory-Aland (GA) number. As of this publication, the folios were still not numbered.
1923 Neos Hellēnomnēmōn (New Hellenic Memory) published a catalog of the manuscripts that had been in the collection of Professor Lampros. The manuscript is number 18. The catalog gave the number of folios (263) for the first time, along with a description of the contents of the manuscript and the inscriptions on folios 262 and 263.
1963 The first edition of the Kurzgefaßte Liste der griechischen Handschriften des Neuen Testaments (Concise List of the Greek Manuscripts of the New Testament) by Kurt Aland listed GA 2120 as “Athen, Sp. Lambros 18, jetzt: Frau Tsaldaris” (Athens, Sp. Lampros 18, now: Mrs. Tsaldari.)
1964 Mrs. Tsaldari donated her manuscripts to the Seminar of Byzantine and Modern Greek Philology at the University of Athens.
1964 A Catalogue of the Manuscript Codices of the Seminar of Byzantine and Modern Greek Philology at the University of Athens was published. The description of Manuscript 18 is identical to the description in 1923.
1969 K. Aland published a supplement to the Kurzgefaßte Liste (Concise List) which updated the ownership of the manuscript as “2120: jetzt, Athen, Univ., Byz. Sem. 18” (2120: now, Athens, University, Byzantine Seminar 18).
1987 On April 30, the Byzantine Seminar loaned Manuscript 18 and three other manuscripts to the university’s new History Museum. The manuscripts were on loan for an exhibition to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the founding of the university.
1987-1991 At some point during these years, someone removed Manuscript 18 from the university History Museum.
1991 An inventory of the museum’s collection does not contain Manuscript 18. Apparently, the museum did not inform the seminar that the manuscript was missing.
1994 The second edition of the Kurzgefaßte Liste der griechischen Handschriften des Neuen Testaments (Concise List of Greek Manuscripts of the New Testament) repeated the description of the manuscript’s location from the 1969 supplement. It did not note that the manuscript was missing.
1998 Manuscript 18 appeared as Lot 67 in the London Sotheby’s auction catalog Western Manuscripts and Miniatures for December 1. The catalog misidentified the manuscript as 13th century and incorrectly named the scribe as Theodore Hagiopetrites. By this time, the manuscript was missing its final folio.
1998-2010 It is unclear how many people owned Manuscript 18 during this time. A small oval blue-and-gold paper bookplate with the letters “RLA” indicates that one owner was the internet pioneer Rick Adams.
2010 The Green Collection of Oklahoma City, OK, acquired Manuscript 18 from a rare book dealer in London.
2014 Manuscript 18 was donated to Museum of the Bible.
2015 Dr. Tommy Wasserman of Ansgar Teologiske Høgskole examined the manuscript. He corrected the name of the scribe to “Theodore, the sinful and reckless monk” and recognized that the manuscript was GA 2120. He contacted the Institut für Neutestamentliche Textforschung in Münster, Germany to update the manuscript’s location in both the Kurzgefaßte Liste der griechischen Handschriften des Neuen Testaments and the New Testament Virtual Manuscript Room (NTVMR). Wasserman's later research shows that another scribe, Damianos, a priest, likely copied all four gospels, but at some point, John’s Gospel, copied by “Theodore, the sinful and reckless monk,” was substituted. It is distinct from the other three gospels.
2015 Professor Theodora Antonopoulou of the Byzantine Seminar sent a letter to the History Museum inquiring about Manuscript 18 and the other three manuscripts loaned in 1987. A reply informed her that Manuscript 18 was missing, but the other three manuscripts were soon to return.
March-May 2018 The University of Athens contacted Museum of the Bible about Manuscript 18. After staff investigated the provenance of the manuscript, the museum agreed with the university that the manuscript must return to Athens.
August-October 2018 Museum of the Bible displays Lost and Found: The Return of Manuscript 18 exhibition. The manuscript returned to Athens in October 2018.