TMU students, faculty work to transcribe ancient Greek texts

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CLEVELAND — Truett McConnell University professors joined with the Museum of the Bible Scholars Initiative as scholar-mentors, allowing qualified students the opportunity to participate as junior scholars in collaborative research on ancient Hebrew and Greek texts.

Samuel R. Pelletier works with Christian studies major Andrew Nichols on The Greek Psalter Project. TMU/Special

The work was part of The Greek Psalter Project, an effort to produce a modern critical edition of ancient Greek Psalter text (RA 2110). A select group of these scholars from academic institutions around the world are conducting primary research on items from the Museum of the Bible Collection – one of the world’s largest private collections of rare biblical texts and artifacts. 

From the beginning of the project in 2017, graduate students Hayden Fleming, Scott Bosier, John Thomas Justus, Alexander Bradley, Megan Taylor, Tyler Eanes, and Matt Carpenter have each worked at different times under the supervision of Jeremy Lyon, associate professor of Old Testament and Hebrew, and Samuel R. Pelletier, professor of biblical languages, transcribing several Greek and Hebrew manuscripts.

“Most recently,” Lyon said, “the students worked on RA 2110,” which, according to the Museum of the Bible website “is of particular significance for both its early date (likely third or fourth century AD) and the extent of its contents (Psalms 17-118).” TMU students are given unprecedented access to various ancient manuscripts through high resolution images digitized from the original papyri.

For all of the participants, the knowledge obtained from the Hebrew and Greek courses provided in the theology program helped in transcribing the texts. “While I wouldn’t call it easy, having a background in the Greek language helps tremendously in untangling the text,” said TMU graduate and current graduate student John Thomas Justus.

“I benefited with a head start by translating some of the Psalms written in Greek under the tutelage of Dr. Pelletier,” said Justus. “This helped prepare me for what we were able to accomplish with the Psalter project.”

“The students involved in the RA 2110 project develop an appreciation for how the Bible has been preserved throughout history,” Pelletier said. “The work these students did will enable scholars to develop a more well-versed picture of the Greek text at various periods of time.”

The TMU grad students spent countless hours deciphering the scribe’s handwriting in these manuscripts, but the effort was not without rewards. “I would say my proudest moments would be when I found an obvious variant in the Greek that was not present in other manuscripts,” said Justus. “For example, I transcribed Psalm 46, which includes the verse, ‘Be still, and know that I am God.’ In this particular manuscript, my version read ‘See, and know that I am God.’ Not a big deal to some. But, to me, discovering the little things made the project interesting.”

Students who participated in the Scholars Initiative also had the opportunity to apply for the Logos in Oxford Fellowship. This two-week, all-expense paid conference at the University of Oxford in England allowed students to engage with other students and scholars from around the world. Those who were chosen to participate in the conference toured the university, viewed many ancient Biblical manuscripts and artifacts, and attended lectures from leading experts in the field. To date, Hayden Fleming, Alexander Bradley, John Thomas Justus have received this award.

The two professors plan to continue partnering with the Museum of the Bible Scholars initiative this spring. The new semester will include graduate students and the first undergraduate student, A.J. Nichols. “We are not just the two-year school we used to be,” said Lyon. “We are a university participating in active research in this field.”

“The Scholars Initiative is addressing a two-fold need in biblical studies,” he added, “equipping the next generation of scholars and researching a vast reservoir of primary resources.

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