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Greek paleography: a course in sound reasoning and serious scholarship

Oh, that old manuscript that changes everything forever!

Here and there we hear of some recently discovered manuscript fragment that allegedly “shakes the very foundations” of… of whatever you like, it doesn’t really matter, since only the headlines usually manage to survive in public imagination and pop culture, after the extravagant theory has long fallen into oblivion.

Conspiracy theories and urban myths apart, how do serious scholars decipher and interpret old manuscripts? How do they date those documents, and how accurate are the methods employed? How far can we get in drawing conclusions and advancing hypotheses?

Well, these were the questions addressed by Professor Juan Chapa (Universidad de Navarra) in his Greek Paleography course here at Polis Institute. Quite appropriately, the course started with a 10-minute walk to the archives of the Greek Patriarchate, where Archbishop Aristarchos kindly introduced our graduate students to the Patriarchate’s collection.

And then, walking back to Polis, the real gymnastics began, as we tried to get our Ancient Greek in shape by deciphering, for instance, the most peculiar (to say the least) handwriting you see here below. Try it yourself, if you dare!

Did you give it a try? How was it, then? If you felt like the Ethiopian in Acts 8,31 (“How can I, unless someone explains it to me?” ), it’s ok. Many times we felt just the same. But fortunately we had Professor Chapa to explain everything to us.