Cal. Institute of Technology Borrows Rare Manuscript
by Richard Muntz
Salem, OR, July 1976
California Institute of Technology and Western Baptist Bible College might seem academically as far apart as Egypt is from Mars geographically. But all four are being brought together in a research project headed by Dr. John F. Benton, Professor of History at Caltech.
In 1953, Robert S. Allen, then instructor in archaeology at WBBC, purchased a papyrus fragment from a dealer in Egyptian antiquities. It proved to be a 5th century palimpsest -- a Coptic text of the Wisdom of Solomon superimposed on an earlier text of Vergil’s Georgics. This over-writing technique has obscured texts which scholars would like to study. Enter Dr. Benton, who proposed that the same vidicon camera and computer techniques used to “enhance” pictures sent back by television signal from spacecraft, be applied to ancient manuscripts. The process has already been used on a 14th century manuscript to recover “lost” (erased, illegible) writing. Benton believes that since the inks from different periods would have different compositions, overwriting could be visually eliminated in the same way the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s computer eliminates the “space static” from Mars photographs. The result would be a clearly readable under-text, without damage to the precious manuscript.
Benton found the Allen manuscript listed in E.A. Lowe’s Codices Latini Antiquores. He stated: "it is the only early palimpsest known to me on the West Coast and perhaps in the United States.” Permission was granted by Allen, then in Hong Kong, for WBBC to loan his manuscript to Caltech for this potentially vital research. The results of the project will be published in Scriptorium, an international review of manuscript studies. Benton, who has already sent Western some superb photographs of Mars, will bring personal report on the project and its significances. The research is supported by the Caltech President’s Fund for Parchment Photography and Image Processing.
The latest report from Benton states that in three full days of the Mariner Jupiter-Saturn vidicon system, “we took images of the palimpsest under various lights and with a variety of filters, thus permitting color differentiation of the inks. On Friday, September 3, I saw the first prints drawn from these tapes. Their quality is superb. We can clearly enhance the under-writing without difficulty. How well computer-processes can work to ‘erase’ the upper writing remains to be seen.”
The Robert S. Allen Archaeology Museum of WBBC, the official depository for the Georgics manuscript, is a valuable adjunct to classes in history, art and language, as well as archaeology. Every year classes from Salem’s high schools conduct field trips to the museum. At present, Dr. J. Franklin Prewitt, Professor of Bible, is preparing an additional room to house the manuscript collection, which includes a complete 17th century Hebrew synagogue Torah scroll and photographic facsimiles of every page of all of the most ancient and most famous manuscripts of the New Testament from 130 A.D. through the 5th century. Here the Allen manuscript will find a new resting place on its return from its adventure with space technology.
|Photos (top to bottom)
5th century palimpsest with both texts visible. The Robert S. Allen Archaeology Museum of Western Baptist College is the official depository for the manuscript and is open to the public during normal business hours. or by appointment.
The first Viking Orbiter 1 picture of Phobos showing a heavily cratered side of the Mars satellite that was not viewed by Mariner 9. North is at the top of the picture while the point on Phobos which always points toward Mars is at the lower left portion of the image. The large crater near the North pole is approximately 5 kilometers (3 miles) across while craters as small as a few hundred meters can be seen. The diameter of the Phobos when viewed from this angle is about 22 kilometers (14 miles), and only about one-half of the surface of Phobos facing the camera was illuminated. This picture was take on July 25, 1976.
Dr. J. Franklin Prewitt and student Sue Summers, Fort Wayne, IN, in the museum corridor.