The Principio Project: Studying the Greek textual tradition of John’s Gospel

The purpose of this brief article is twofold: to announce collaboration between the Institut für Neutestamentliche Textforschung, Münster (INTF) and the International Greek New Testament Project (IGNTP); and to describe a project which has become possible as a result of this development.


1. Collaboration between (INTF) and (IGNTP)

At present, INTF and IGNTP have agreed to collaborate in a comparison and assessment of their two ways of analysing manuscripts groupings, the use of Teststellen and the Claremont Profile Method. This will be done with two closely connected goals in mind: to establish manuscript groupings, in particular Byzantine sub-groups, in the Gospel of John; and to ascertain the textual history necessary for the selection of manuscripts to be cited in a future edition of the Gospel of John.

Collaboration between Münster and IGNTP consists in commitment to specific tasks where we can achieve more together than we could alone. It does not consist in any loss of identity on either side. And the IGNTP will continue to use the willing helpers who have done the majority of its work in the past.

It should also be noted that the British and American Committees of IGNTP have agreed that they are no longer committed to producing publications which print an apparatus under the Textus Receptus, and consider that the appropriate ultimate goal, beyond Principio, is a critical edition of the Gospel of John. INTF and IGNTP both hope that, if initial collaboration is successful, this may be realised by IGNTP contributing to the Editio Critica Maior.

It must be emphasised that the other components of the Principio Project, along with any projects associated with it, are not part of the present agreed collaboration between IGNTP and Münster.


2. The Principio Project

The Principio Project is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Board, a UK government funding agency. The project, which began in September 2000, will last for three years. The team of five members consists of Dr D.C. Parker as director, Dr Ulrich Schmid, Dr Bill Elliott, and two research students, Mr Bruce Morrill and Mrs Rachel Kevern.

In addition, the United Bible Societies are funding an associated project, the creation of a critical edition of the Byzantine text of the Fourth Gospel, with particular reference to the textual interests of the orthodox churches.

The project is officially summarised in the funding application as follows:

The Project will reconstruct and assess the textual history of the Gospel of John, by completing an examination of all 2,000 continuous text manuscripts, providing as appropriate transcriptions, photographs, collations or statistical and textual analyses.

The immediate goal of Principio consists of four publications:

  1. An edition of the ancient, pre-Byzantine manuscripts. This volume will contain three elements will be published by E.J. Brill of Leiden in the series New Testament Tools and Studies
    1. transcriptions of the 44 fragmentary parchment manuscripts
    2. plates of these 44 manuscripts
    3. an apparatus criticus containing all variations in the 44 fragmentary parchment manuscripts (this data is largely prepared), the 25 manuscripts written on papyrus (incorporated from the 1995 volume), several papyrus manuscripts subsequently discovered, and the 37 complete parchment manuscripts. In all, 110 manuscripts will be included in the apparatus.
  2. One or more volumes containing the data for an analysis of all the manuscripts of the Gospel of John. These volumes will follow in the series Text und Textwert, published by de Gruyter of Berlin. The volume will also contain an account of the course of the Project, and a discussion of the editorial problems and solutions which have arisen, in addition to addressing the questions raised in the first paragraph of Section 9 above. It is this volume which will represent the collaboration between INTF and IGNTP.
  3. The first doctoral thesis will consist in a study of methodology of profiling manuscripts, in particular the approaches of the INTF and the IGNTP. We intend to provide in fact a commentary on our own work, both to establish a framework, and to provide scientific criteria for testing our results.
  4. The second doctoral thesis will deal directly with the analysis of the collation, sampling and profiling of the manuscripts in order to interpret the data and provide a history of the text.

The Project will use a programme called Collate, developed by Dr Peter Robinson for the Canterbury Tales Project. Collate permits the electronic encoding of all data, so that it can be generated in electronic and paper forms according to the requirements of the editors. We hope that the use of Collate in this huge task will prove a helpful contribution to the use of computers in the humanities. The use of computers makes it possible to bring together collations made against different base texts, and to change base texts without any further collating. The IGNTP is no longer committed to the Textus Receptus as the base text, and we shall be looking at all the possible alternatives.

The biggest task is to tackle the 1,900 minuscules, and in particular to find a satisfactory process for analysing them. Once the necessary materials for testing the manuscripts have been assembled, the project will apply and compare the results of the methods used by the Institut and by the IGNTP, as well as comparing them with other tools, including the Cladistics programme which is built into Collate.

The Principio Project will do more than speed up a slow process. The fact is that we can hardly expect to achieve our aims without it. But it is more than pragmatic. It has also the potential for the development of better tools for manuscript analysis, by the combination of the resources and approaches of the Institut and the IGNTP.


Update from 20 June, 2002

After just under two years of work, the team is nearing the end of transcribing all available manuscripts in John 18, either by visiting libraries, or from microfiche, either in the IGNTP collections in Birmingham and Claremont, in the Patriarchal Institute, Thessaloniki, or in the Institut für Neutestamentliche Textforschung, Münster.

Visits to libraries containing manuscripts of the Gospel of John have included most British and Irish libraries, St Petersburg, Moscow, Rome, Paris, Wolfenbüttel, Münster, Bucharest, Sofia, Chicago, Durham NC, Boston and Cambridge Mass., and Tirana.

Inevitably, not every single known extant manuscript will be included in the edition, since there are ones which are not photographed, and which neither time nor funds will permit the team to examine. It is anticipated that the transcriptions will have been completed by the end of August, 2002. Starting in September, the data will be analysed.

The preparation of the volume of majuscule manuscripts is also proceeding steadily. Plans have now developed to focus on a digital edition.