Thursday, January 8, 2015

Greek Exodus Fragments at the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

My family and I have been travelling throughout Europe for the past few weeks on a grand Christmas market tour, and I decided to stop by some major European libraries and museums along the way. On the 23rd of December I was able to visit the Ägyptisches Museum und Papyrussammlung of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin to examine several Greek Exodus fragments held in the collection. Marius Gerhardt was kind enough to welcome me and assist me in the study room, even during the holiday season.

I was able examine parts of three manuscripts:
  • Ra 835 (P. 11766 + 14046) - The large fragment of this manuscript was on display in the museum (and so unavailable for detailed examination), but I was able to examine a fragment containing parts of Exodus 5.
  • Ra 960 (P. 13994) - This fragment, once thought to be missing, has thankfully been found again, and I was able to examine its contents including parts of Exodus 23 and 31.
  • Ra 978 (P. 16990) - This fragment contains parts of Exodus 34.
  • Unfortunately, Ra 836 (P. 14039) was being restored, so I was not able to examine it.
These fragments have all been published, but a few notes are in order from my visit. One of the most interesting things for me was that these fragments were all parchment fragments, rather than papyri. Before looking into them more closely, I had assumed they were papyri. They were included in Wever's "Papyri and Fragments" category and housed in the papyrus collection in Berlin. But as it turns out, they were not. In fact, many of the surviving Greek Exodus fragments were written on parchment, and references to these manuscripts are frequently unclear or inaccurate with regard to the material medium. This is a good example of the need to double check original materials, rather than simply relying on secondary literature.

Perhaps most importantly, Marius also pointed me in the direction of online digital images of each of these manuscripts. The museum has been very good about digitizing their collection in Berlin, and many high-quality digital images are available online. During our time in the study room in fact, Marius uploaded several new fragments from the collection! He noted that they have had problems with scholars publishing the images and stressed to me that they were for research purposes, not for publication. The downloadable images have a resolution of 600 dpi on a white background, which is sufficient for most purposes. I was able to access digital images of three out of the four manuscripts I was looking for in the collection:
Textually, the most interesting phenomenon I looked into was the transition from Exodus 23:13 to 31:12 in Ra 960. On the verso side, 23:13 ends near the end of a line in the middle of the column and is followed by a vacat of 1-3 letter spaces left of the right margin. 31:12 then begins at the left margin of the following line without any obvious indications preserved of the massive jump in the text. Looking at this fragment was very helpful for me to understand the nature of this intriguing manuscript.

All in all, it was a very fruitful and enjoyable experience at the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, and I would like to thank Marius and the rest of the team again for allowing me the opportunity. There really is nothing like first-hand familiarity with the manuscripts you are working on, and I recommend all textual scholars to get to know their sources well.

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