Eastern and Western approaches to the Bible manuscripts
A researcher of Bible studies and Byzantine biblical manuscripts, practising in the Western academic world, is confronted by two very different approaches – that of Eastern Orthodox scholarship in countries as Greece, Russia, Romania and so forth, and the established practices of Western scholarship. When CBM started in 2009, we invested in the introduction of Eastern Orthodox views on and, more importantly, experience of Byzantine biblical manuscripts to Western scholarship, aiming to bridge a little the worlds of scientific study of manuscripts on the one hand and liturgical practice and tradition on the other – the latter being the ground from which the manuscripts grew.
CBM formulates fundamental questions, as:
- is it possible to elucidate the differences in approach to the Bible and to manuscripts?
- can we explain where these differences lie and of which nature they are?
- can we set up a cooperation in the area of biblical manuscripts, as manuscripts are a shared source of Christian churches in East and West?
In order to explore the difference we undertook a visit to Hagion Oros (Mount Athos, in Northern Greece), where many of the Byzantine biblical manuscripts are kept today in the twenty monasteries and other monastic settlements, and where Eastern Greek Orthodox practice can still be experienced in an authentic way. We visited Mone Karakallou, and some other renowned monasteries and manuscript repositories, Mone Panteleimon, Mone Vatopediou, and Mone Iviron. Here the Bible, the Hieron Evangelion (the four Gospels in liturgical fashion), the Apostolos, and the OT Scriptures are used in liturgical practice, both in common worship as well as in by individual monks in their kellia (small rooms in the monastery).
One look inside the monasteries’ libraries makes it immediately clear that the manner in which the Byzantine manuscripts are kept in the library is a direct reflection of present-day liturgical life in the monastery. This observation is underlined by the many old printed Greek books in the library, that stand alongside the Greek manuscripts and correspond to the codex types, quite unknown to Western scholars, (see Sources: Eastern printing history of the Bible). In close cooperation with the monks of Karakallou the idea arose to set up a pilot project in which the liturgical practice of this one monastery and its manuscripts and old printed books could act as an example of how the biblical books of old functioned and still function in liturgical practice. This CBM pilot project was warmly supported by the monastery and its abbot Archimandrite Philotheos and Librarian Father Nektarios of Karakallou (see the Karakallou pilot project).