Sinai Library Digitization Project
St. Catherine’s Monastery of the Sinai, Egypt.
A collaboration of EMEL, St. Catherine’s Monastery of the Sinai, and the UCLA Library to digitize the Monastery’s unparalleled manuscript library (including the New Finds) and publish the resulting images online with searchable metadata. Donors include the Ahmanson Foundation, Arcadia, the Steinmetz Family Foundation, and the Museum of the Bible.
- Phase One: Arabic & Syriac (2018-2021)
The Monastery holds arguably the world’s most important collection of Christian Arabic manuscripts and one of the two most important collections of Syriac manuscripts. These preserve important contemporary evidence for the transmission of Greek classical learning into Arabic, fostering the “Golden Age of Islam,” which in turn influenced the reading of the classics in the West.
- Phase Two: Greek, Georgian, Slavonic, and other languages (2021-2027)
The Monastery’s collection of Greek manuscripts is considered to be second only to that of the Vatican Library. The Monastery also preserves important and unique manuscripts in Georgian, Slavonic, and seven other languages.
- Continuation of Palimpsest Imaging
Project plans include the resumption of the spectral imaging of palimpsests, continuing the first scientific imaging campaign of 2011-2016 (see Sinai Palimpsests Project below in “Past Projects”)
2013 to present, Vienna Palimpsests Projects – Austrian National Library
EMEL is a long-term partner with the Austrian National Library and the Byzantine Research Division of Institute for Medieval Research, Austrian Academy of Sciences. EMEL provides spectral imaging and image processing to recover erased ancient texts on selected palimpsests. Funded by the Austrian Science Foundation.
2019 to present, the Vienna Herodian palimpsest (Codex Historicus graecus 10) preserves in its erased layer a unique 10th century copy of De prosodia catholica by Aelius Herodianus (2nd century CE). Herodian’s Prosody is one of the most influential works in linguists from the ancient world. The Vienna palimpsest contains 20 pages of this mostly lost work, which otherwise survives only in quotations by other ancient authors.
The project will pioneer the integration of X-ray fluorescence imaging (XRFi) and spectral imaging, and generate derivative images which combine information otherwise unique to each imaging technology.
Project scholars will publish a full, critical edition of the fragments online, complete with images from the project.
Projects: see below for Past Projects
2017-2020, Jubilees Palimpsest Project — Ambrosiana Library, Milan.
A collaboration of EMEL and St. Mary’s University, San Antonio, to apply spectral imaging and reflection transformation imaging to palimpsests at the Ambrosiana Library in Milan. Funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Multi-spectral imaging recovered texts that included a 5th century copy of the Book of Jubilees, the only surviving copy of the Testament of Moses (both ancient Jewish texts) and the only surviving copy of an ancient Christian commentary on the Gospel of Luke.
2018-2020, Codex Zacynthius spectral imaging project
Cambridge University Library.
A collaboration of EMEL, Cambridge University Library, and the Institute for Textual Scholarship and Electronic Editing at Birmingham University. The project is led by Professor David Parker (Principal Investigator) and Dr Hugh Houghton (Co-Investigator) and is funded by an Arts and Humanities Research Council Research Grant.
The erased layer of Codex Zacynthius, a palimpsest, preserves a 7th/8th century copy of the Gospel of Luke, which is the oldest Greek New Testament manuscript to contain extracts from writings by early Christian theologians alongside the biblical text.
Recovering these original extracts reveals tantalizing glimpses of lost writings and lost interpretations of the Gospels. A full transcription is being produced, along with an innovative presentation of images of the undertext and overtext, all of which will be openly available online through Cambridge Digital Library.
2017-2018, Spectral Imaging of Codex Climaci Rescriptus —
The Museum of the Bible.
Spectral imaging of an important palimpsest of Sinai provenance, in collaboration with the Lazarus Project and the Museum of the Bible Scholars Initiative. Funded by the MOTB SI.
This palimpsest includes recycled folios from at least ten different Greek and Christian Palestinian Aramaic manuscripts. Multispectral imaging has revealed that the original Greek writings are a mixture of classical and biblical texts. All the Western Palestinian Aramaic texts are biblical. The biblical passages in both languages are a mixture of continuous texts and excerpts for lectionaries or use in homilies.
2011-2016, Sinai Palimpsests Project — St. Catherine’s Monastery of the Sinai, Egypt.
A collaboration of EMEL, St. Catherine’s Monastery of the Sinai, and the UCLA Library to recover erased texts from the Monastery’s many palimpsests. The project spectrally imaged 74 palimpsests (6,800 pages), identified 305 erased texts from Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, and created world’s largest collection of spectral data in the humanities. Funded by Arcadia.
Constructed between 548 and 565 CE, St. Catherine’s Monastery of the Sinai is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to the world’s oldest continually operating library. Among its treasures are 160 known palimpsests. Palimpsests are recycled manuscripts. Ancient and medieval scribes would sometimes erase the writing from older manuscripts and reuse the pages to make new manuscripts. The erased layers of writing in Sinai’s palimpsests preserve ancient and medieval texts in 10 languages that date from the 5th to 12th century, nearly all of which had not been studied or identified until now.
The goals of the Sinai Palimpsests Project were to:
• Use spectral imaging to recover erased ancient texts on Sinai palimpsests.
• Identify and paleographically describe the erased texts, as possible.
• Publish an online, digital library of Sinai palimpsests for scholarly access.
Before the Sinai Palimpsests Project, only three of the Monastery’s 160 known palimpsests had been comprehensively studied by scholars and published. Over the course of the five-year project, EMEL spectrally imaged 74 of the Monastery’s palimpsests (6,800 pages). Based on these images, participating scholars identified 305 erased texts. Many of these texts are new discoveries, previously unknown to scholarship, and others are either the oldest surviving copies of known texts or the first instance of a known text in a new language (e.g., translations of Greek texts into Christian Palestinian Aramaic).
A digital library of Sinai palimpsests, prepared by UCLA, is hosted online on behalf of St. Catherine’s Monastery. See www.sinaipalimpsests.org
2016, Scythica Vindobonensia Imaging Project — Austrian National Library
Funded by the Austrian Science Foundation.
Continuing from initial imaging in 2013, this project applied advances in spectral imaging to Scythica Vindobonensia, Codex Historicus gr. 73 of the Austrian National Library, to elucidate further a unique witness to the historical writings of Dexippus, an Athenian historian of the 3rd c. CE.
The project applied both spectral imaging and x-ray fluorescence imaging (XRFi) to the palimpsest, revealing a detailed narrative of at least two invasions of the ‘barbarians’ into the Roman provinces in the Balkans in the middle of the third century A.D.
2016, Enoch Palimpsest Imaging Project — State Library of Berlin
EMEL spectrally imaged a palimpsest that preserves rare early Ethiopic texts, including the oldest surviving copy of the Books of Enoch, the oldest non-biblical Ethiopic text, and several yet unidentified texts. Funded by the German Research Council.
EMEL applied spectral imaging to a rare Ethiopic palimpsest at the State Library of Berlin, revealing fragments from at least nine earlier codices, the majority of which date to the 14th century and before; several texts contain archaic linguistic features attested in only the earliest stratums of Ge’ez material evidence. Manuscripts represented include Enoch, Acts, an Old Testament lectionary, a homiliary, and multiple hagiographic codices.
2015, Martellus Map Imaging Project — Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale University
Funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.
The Martellus’ map, which dates to about 1491, is a highly detailed map of the then known world – reputedly studied by Christopher Columbus. “Multispectral imaging recovered more information than we dared to hope for,” says Chet Van Duzer, a map historian who led the project. Van Duzer also commented that it is a seminal and tremendously important document of African mapping by the people of Africa, in this case preserved by a western source. The new images also have helped to determine how the Martellus map influenced later cartographers.
The new images will be made available to scholars and the public on the Beinecke Library’s website.
Text in the southern Asia portion of the map describes the “Panotii” people, who purportedly had ears that were so large they could use them as sleeping bags.
A text box in the Indian Ocean warns of the orca, “a sea monster that is like the sun when it shines, whose form can hardly be described, except that its skin is soft and its body huge.”
2015, Spectral Imaging of Selected Cairo Geniza Fragments – Cambridge University Library
Coordinated by Judith Olszowy-Schlanger of the École Pratique des Hautes Études in Paris, in collaboration with Ben Outhwaite of the Taylor-Schechter Genizah Research Unit, the project applied cutting-edge spectral imaging and multidisciplinary materials’ analysis to the study of dozens of Genizah fragments. Some of the fragments were palimpsests, and others were illegible due to deterioration.
In the case of the palimpsests, both lower and upper texts of these fragments contain unique texts, such as Greek Bible translations of Aquila, and Origen’s Hexapla (which had long been considered lost), or the most ancient extant copies of the Jerusalem Talmud. Improved readings of the palimpsests and of the faded or disputable passages of important writings such as the so-called ‘Kiev letter’ (T-S 12.122) or Damascus Document (T-S 16.311) will contribute considerably to our knowledge of Genizah manuscripts and Jewish history in general.
2014, Spectral Imaging of Menander Palimpsest — The Vatican Library
Funded by the Classics Conclave, Oxford.
In 2003, nearly 200 verses of an unknown comedy of Menander, a Greek dramatist (c. 342/41 – c. 290 BC) were discovered in a palimpsest in the Vatican library. The verses by Menander are the oldest layer of writing in a double palimpsest, i.e., a palimpsest with two layers of erased text. The palimpsest is one of several in the Vatican Library that were previously part of the library of St. Catherine’s Monastery.
In 2014, EMEL collaborated with the Lazarus Project and the Vatican Library to use spectral imaging to recover the verses by Menander. A full publication is in preparation.
2013-2014, Integrating Spectral and Reflection Transformation Imaging Technologies
In collaboration with West Semitic Research of USC. Funded by National Endowment for the Humanities.
This project integrated two proven technologies for imaging cultural artifacts:
• Spectral imaging, which collects detailed color data in order to recover information which is indistinguishable to the naked eye, such as unreadable text on a manuscript or stages of revision in a painting.
• Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI), which captures the detailed surface texture of artifacts. RTI images can be viewed interactively and enhanced, allowing scholars and conservators to reconstruct the methods by which an artifact was produced and to analyze its current physical condition.
2013, Important Textual Witnesses in Vienna Greek Palimpsests — Austrian National Library. Funded by the Austrian Science Foundation.
Five unique Ancient Greek and Byzantine textual witnesses of great importance were imaged from palimpsests within the rescripti Vindobonenses. Imaging techniques included spectral reflective, fluorescence and transmissive modes.
2012, Restoring David Livingstone’s Nyangwe Diary, David Livingstone Library, Scotland. Funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.
The David Livingstone Spectral Imaging Project was a collaborative, international effort to use spectral imaging technology and digital publishing to make available a series of faded, illegible texts produced by the famous Victorian explorer when stranded without ink or writing paper in Central Africa.
2006-2009, Next-Generation System for Imaging Fragile Codices. Funded by the Seaver Institute.
EMEL worked with Stokes Imaging of Austin, Texas, to develop a computer-controlled cradle which supports fragile manuscripts during digitization and which improves efficiency and lowers costs for the digitization of large collections of precious manuscripts.
This system is now installed at:
• St. Catherine’s Monastery of the Sinai, Egypt
• the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore
2007 to present – Sinai Diaspora Project
EMEL has a long-term program to digitize manuscripts which originate from St. Catherine’s Monastery of the Sinai, but which are now scattered in libraries in Europe and North America.
To date, EMEL has digitized a 12th century Greek Gospels codex held by UCLA Special Collections and two Georgian codices held by the National Centre of Manuscripts, Tbilisi, Georgia.