Yesterday I had the pleasure of visiting the Rubenstein Library at Duke University with a few M.Div. students from Shepherds Theological Seminary to examine a number of items in the Greek manuscripts collection. I had made arrangements for students to view a variety of manuscript types (a papyrus, a Gospels codex, a lectionary, etc.) to supplement the work they are doing for the International Greek New Testament Project. There is a world of difference between seeing images of these Christian artifacts and being able to view and handle them in person.
The library’s Curator of Collections was quite gracious and creative in pulling additional manuscripts from the collection and providing a tour of items. Students were able to view items dating from the 6th century (a papyrus of Acts) to the 16th century (the one printed item, the Complutensian Polyglot). Fourteen such items were discussed and the students were invited to examine the manuscripts after they were introduced.
Additionally, students enrolled in the New Testament Textual Criticism Lab this semester were able to examine 1 Timothy in GA 1780 (a Byzantine text), which they will analyze against a non-Byzantine manuscript; being able to autopsy the physical manuscript allowed them the opportunity to identify corrections and second hands with confidence.
Experiences like this one were invaluable to me as a Ph.D. student and it is a shame that very few opportunities like this exist for graduate students, because encountering the complex textual history of the Christian church in tangible ways is powerful and inspiring.