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FRIHUMSAM-Fri prosj.st. hum og sam

The Early History of the Codex: A New Methodology and Ethics for Manuscript Studies (EthiCodex)

Alternative title: Den tidlige kodeksens historie: En ny etikk og metode for manuskriptforskning (EthiCodex)

Awarded: NOK 11.7 mill.

Project Manager:

Project Number:

314240

Application Type:

Project Period:

2021 - 2026

Location:

Subject Fields:

When did we start reading books with pages? In the ancient Mediterranean world, literature had been written and copied on scrolls for centuries, but something happened during the Roman imperial period (circa 100-400 CE). The codex (that is, the book with pages) replaced the scroll as the main vehicle for the transmission of literature. The development of the technology of the codex marked a major change in the production and transmission of knowledge. But when exactly did this change happen, and why? Many scholars have suspected that followers of Jesus were among the first to embrace the new technology. The early history of the codex is thus of continuing interest to classicists, historians of the book, scholars of early Christianity, and many others. Yet, studies on the development and spread of the technology of the codex rely on a set of evidence that is both methodologically and ethically problematic. On the methodological side, the last systematic study of the early codex was produced in 1977 and relied mostly on samples of unknown date. On the ethical side, a significant portion of our surviving codex fragments have been acquired illegally. What is needed is a more ethically responsible and efficient way to handle a growing body of complicated evidence. The EthiCodex project will attempt to address these problems by constructing a comprehensive and sustainable online searchable database of physical features and provenance histories of the earliest Greek and Latin codices. This database will clearly distinguish between books that were legally acquired by current owners and those that are confirmed or suspected of being illegally traded. The project will also increase the number of securely dated early codices by funding radiocarbon analysis of legally acquired codices. Finally, on the basis of this newly acquired data, the project will produce a more nuanced and fact-based discussion of what we can know of the history of the early codex.

The technology of the codex, the book with pages, may appear natural to many of us, but the use of the codex as a vehicle for literature was an innovation of the Roman period (circa 100-350 CE). The replacement of the scroll, which had been the carrier of literature for millennia, marked a major change in the production and transmission of knowledge. Many scholars have suspected that followers of Jesus were among the first to embrace the new technology. The early history of the codex is thus of high interest to classicists, historians of the book, scholars of early Christianity, and many others. Yet, scholarship on the development and spread of the technology of the codex relies on a set of evidence that is both methodologically and ethically problematic. The body of surviving ancient Greek and Latin codices and codex fragments contains very few samples with secure dates, and a significant but currently undetermined portion of the corpus was acquired illegally. What is needed is a more ethically responsible and efficient way to handle a growing body of complicated evidence. EthiCodex proposes to meet this knowledge need by making a thorough examination of both the physical features and provenance histories of about 2500 of the earliest surviving Greek and Latin codices and codex fragments with the aim of producing an online open-access database that thoroughly describes their physical features but also clearly identifies the legal status of every codex and fragment. We will then subject selected legally acquired items in public collections to AMS radiocarbon analysis to increase the number of reliably dated samples in the database. The resulting database will provide scholars with an easily accessible way to survey critical data about our earliest codices and enable them to make ethically informed decisions about their use of evidence. This open-access online tool will be an indispensable resource for researchers in Norway, Europe, and beyond for decades to come.

Activity:

FRIHUMSAM-Fri prosj.st. hum og sam