with video: University of Michigan makes St. Paul's ancient letters available for perusal on your iPad or iPhone
You can now hold one of University of Michigan's most valuable possessions in your hands.
Well, sort of.
Thirty of the rarest, earliest leaves of the Epistles of St. Paul, dating from 180 to 220 AD, have been digitized and turned into an interactive app usable on iPhones and iPads.
"What's especially important is the direct experience with the ancient world," Arthur Verhoogt, acting archivist of the library’s papyrology collection, said of the app, called PictureIt: EP.
"History is nice to read about but it's much more important to be able to touch history."
The collection of letters, known to scholars as Papyrus 46, is believed to be the oldest known surviving copy of the Letters of St. Paul. Out of the 104 page collection, 30 leaves reside here in Ann Arbor, 56 leaves reside at the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin and 18 are lost. A leaf is made up of two pages of a book.
The new app, prepared by the Digital Media Commons 3-D Lab at U-M, allows users to flip through the letters as they would a book.
Users of the app can employ their finger to translate the Greek text into English. Annotations explain translation discrepancies and highlight errors put into the text by the original scribe.
The Greek text is continuous, with "no word division, no punctuation, no nothing," according to Verhoogt, but the app's English translation allowed for slight editing, such as simple punctuation.
And although biblical text is derived from the letters, the app's translation of the text is more literal than what you would read in a modern Bible.
"It requires a little bit of effort to read the translation, it's not like you would read the newspaper," says Verhoogt. There are also less known treasures, he adds: "This manuscript, it has the text that you know in the Bible, but there are many texts in the manuscript that didn't make it into the Bible."
The university purchased the leaves in the 1930s from antiquities dealers in Egypt. The dealers told U-M officials that the leaves were discovered in a graveyard belonging to monks, according to Verhoogt.
At 17,000 fragments, the university’s papyrus collection is the largest in North America— and one of the five largest collections in the world, according to university officials.
Even for Verhoogt, the new app has changed the experience of the viewing Papyrus 46. The actual letters are each individually framed, making it difficult to consider them as a whole. The app, not bound by glass frames, treats the leaves like a book.
- To download the free app for an iPhone or iPad, search for “PictureIt: EP” at iTunes.