"If you want to be an archaeologist, get out of the library." --Indiana Jones to a student, in the movie, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
My wife and I saw the new Indiana Jones movie the other day. Personally, I thought the story line was predictable and boring, even though Indy spends a lot of time acting like James Bond. I suppose if Indy acted like a real archaeologist, that wouldn't make for a very exciting movie.
However, there do exist today real life explorers who are making exciting discoveries. One of those adventurers is an old professor of mine, Dr. Dan Wallace of Dallas Seminary. Dan heads the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts and their mission to preserve ancient hand written copies of the NT through digital photography.
In June 2007, Dan and his team traveled to Tirana, Albany to look at 13 manuscripts that were known to exist by Western scholars, yet were rarely seen and only two that had been photographed. When they arrived at the National Archive, they made an incredible discovery. 34 other manuscripts were also on-hand-- at least 17 of these were unknown to Western scholars. Never have so many unknown New Testament manuscripts been discovered at a single moment. A two week trip suddenly turned into nearly five weeks as the team photographed 18,000 pages, nearly a terabyte of data.
The oldest manuscript in the collection is Codex Beratinus, a codex that had been dyed in purple, with silver and gold letters written on it. Containing only Matthew and Mark today, this codex, written in the sixth century, is very rare because it is a royal codex. Only a handful of purple biblical codices still exist. The National Archive staff told of the great lengths that they had to go to protect this document. For example, during World War II, Hitler learned of it and sought it out. Several monks and priests risked their lives to hide the manuscript. Codex Beratinus is now registered with UNESCO as a world treasure.
Right now, Dan and his team are in Greece photographing manuscripts held by local monasteries. You can read updates here.
Indy got it right. You gotta get out of the library.
Picture above: An icon of St. Mark from Albanian National Archive manuscript # 10.