The Maxwell Institute's Center for the Preservation of Ancient Religious Texts (CPART) is primarily devoted to the task of improving access to the written records of Judaism and Christianity. Through the application of technology, scholars are now able to gain access to these records in a greatly enhanced form. CPART projects have also included subjects as diverse as Mayan mural painting and Epicurean philosophy. It has pioneered the employment of Multi-Spectral Imaging (MSI) on damaged texts to enhance legibility, often dramatically, and continues to innovate in digital imaging and the creation of electronic texts.
A great number of important texts are in largely inaccessible Middle Eastern collections, and even more important ancient manuscripts may yet remain unknown to the West. We therefore recover known but inaccessible manuscripts for both scholars and members of religious communities by imaging, archiving, cataloging, and distributing them. We recover "lost" texts by searching out, cataloging, and imaging obscure and unknown collections. We also recover texts directly and dramatically through the application of MSI and other technology to important damaged manuscripts in both Eastern and Western collections. Our first experience with MSI was with the Mayan murals at Bonampak, Mexico. In a joint project with Yale University and the National Geographic Society, BYU scientists were able to get behind the pigments in the murals and learn more about their development than had been known previously.
Many manuscript collections, especially in developing countries, are poorly conserved and their condition deteriorates daily. We are focusing on individual manuscripts or collections that are of exceptional worth and interest to scholars and religious communities, and collections that, while perhaps of lesser importance, are physically threatened. A primary function of CPART is to provide scholars access to the manuscripts necessary for the preparation of editions and translations. Once digitized, we need a means of searching the digital archive. BYU's WordCruncher is a powerful text search and retrieval software program integral to our end product.
Dead Sea Scrolls — BYU/Brill Electronic Reference Library
Perhaps our most visible work has been the publication of the Dead Sea Scrolls Electronic Reference Library, a database containing fully searchable transcriptions (courtesy of the WordCruncher software) of all the nonbiblical texts published up to that point as well as linked images of the scrolls themselves. A newly revised and updated version of the database containing all the published scrolls and fragments is in preparation. Because of the success that WordCruncher has had with the Dead Sea Scrolls, we have been approached by scholars at Marshall University to produce a similar database with the text of the Popol Vuh, which is the most important early Colonial Mayan theological and historical text. This project will result in a CD-ROM containing high resolution digital images of the earliest known manuscript of the Popol Vuh (currently located in the Newberry Library, Chicago), together with transcriptions, a translation of the text, and other important related reference material.
Freer Gallery of Art in the Smithsonian — Greek Biblical Manuscripts
BYU is partnering with the Society of Biblical Literature and the Smithsonian Institution's Freer Gallery of Art in imaging five Greek biblical manuscripts from the Freer collection. Of particular importance is the Freer codex of the Gospels (Codex W), perhaps the single most important biblical manuscript in America. In addition, we have imaged over 2,000 grayscale images of the Freer codex of Paul (Codex I). These images enhance the legibility of this heavily damaged text and will assist scholars in studying one of the oldest surviving copies of the Epistles of Paul.
Biblioteca Casenatense — Psalms of Solomon
These first century BC Jewish psalms portray the atmosphere of crisis present in the Jewish capital at the time of the Roman captivity. Originally written in Hebrew, they now survive only in Greek and Syriac translation. In almost illegible condition after various treatments, the psalms are now available to scholars thanks to our MSI technology.
Herculaneum — Epicurean Philosophical Texts
The private library at the Villa of the Papyri, the only library preserved from the classical world, was unearthed in 1753 and is providing an unparalleled look into the classical era. Some scholars compare this discovery—an extraordinary amount of new information on ancient philosophy and philosophers from the period 300 BC to AD 78—to that of the Dead Sea Scrolls in terms of the quantity of historically significant writings.
The most serious problem facing scholars of this collection is that the fragile scrolls—although carbonized, covered, and preserved by the famous eruption of Mount Vesuvius that destroyed Pompeii in AD 78—are largely unreadable. Thanks to a joint project between BYU and the Biblioteca Nazionale di Napoli, over thirty thousand images were made of the extant papyrus fragments using MSI, enabling study of these texts, some of which have never been published.
Petra — Legal Papyri
The Petra scrolls—one of the largest papyrus finds in recent years—range in date from about AD 513 to 582; 152 of the approximately 180 scrolls have been unrolled. Before their discovery, almost nothing was known about sixth-century Petra from actual documentary evidence (it was even assumed that the city had been destroyed by an earthquake in AD 551).
The challenge of the Petra papyri was that they had been carbonized, and that in some cases the carbonization was extensive enough to make reading difficult or impossible for the unaided eye. Using MSI, the BYU team found that the images varied significantly in the contrast between ink and papyrus both within a fragment and from fragment to fragment over the full spectrum. Because the entire Petra scroll collection is charred, the image resolution for all of the scrolls needed to be very high (at least as clear as that observed under a microscope). This was the first time that MSI was applied on such a large scale.
BYU Ancient Studies Collection
In the 1980s, BYU Professor S. Kent Brown coordinated an ambitious and successful project to microfilm important Eastern Christian manuscripts. Funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the project resulted in microfilmed copies of some 1,800 manuscripts from collections in Egypt and Israel. In 2001, the Maxwell Institute began the process of digitizing the microfilms.
Vatican Apostolic Library — Syriac Manuscripts
The Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana has in its incomparable collection over 800 Syriac manuscripts. This collection began to grow significantly in the early eighteenth century under the pontificate of Clement XI, who encouraged a number of successful missions to Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East to acquire manuscripts.
In 1999, Mar Bawai Soro, a bishop of the Assyrian Church of the East, approached BYU to be a partner in the project to make this Syriac collection more accessible both to scholars and to the religious communities who originally produced them. A pilot project made an initial selection of 33 manuscripts. The manuscript imaging was undertaken in two phases in June 2000 and April 2002.
The Pontifical Oriental Institute, Rome, Italy — Old Church Slavonic Manuscripts
The Pontifical Oriental Institute is one of the world's premier centers for the study of Eastern Christianity and is known the world over for its superlative collection of Christian oriental literature. Part of this treasury is a small but valuable collection of Slavonic manuscripts. Old Church Slavonic is the liturgical language of the Russian and Eastern European Orthodox Christians. In 2002, BYU completed a project at the Pontifical Oriental Institute to digitize the complete collection of fifty-four manuscripts.
Notre Dame University, Beirut — Christian Arabic Manuscripts
Notre Dame University-Louaize is an American-oriented educational institution possessing a valuable collection of manuscripts and unique folio editions relating to Eastern Christianity and its history. In 2000, BYU began a joint project that, over a two year period, resulted in the digitizing of 614 Christian Arabic manuscripts.
Université Saint-Joseph, Beirut — Christian Arabic Manuscripts
The Bibliothèque Orientale at the Université Saint-Joseph boasts a collection of 3,500 manuscripts that were carefully collected during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries by Jesuit scholars. In 2002, BYU began a joint project with the Université Saint-Joseph to digitize their manuscript collection.
Université Saint-Esprit de Kaslik, Lebanon — Christian Arabic Manuscripts
The central library of the Université Saint-Esprit de Kaslik houses a collection of some 200 manuscripts and a number of extremely rare and valuable early Syriac and Christian Arabic printed volumes, including a copy of the first book printed in Lebanon (Syriac and Garshuni Psalter printed in 1610). Numbering in excess of 2,500 manuscripts, this collection is the object of a joint initiative between the Université Saint-Esprit de Kaslik and BYU which began in 2003.
For more information see our Web site: http://cpart.byu.edu