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Posted on Sat, Jan 5, 2013 : 5:57 a.m.

University of Michigan makes St. Paul's ancient letters available for perusal on your iPad or iPhone

By Kellie Woodhouse

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.

Kellie Woodhouse covers higher education for Reach her at or 734-623-4602 and follow her on twitter.



Mon, Jan 7, 2013 : 3:57 a.m.

What does this mean: "there are many texts in the manuscript that didn't make it into the Bible"? How intriguing - now I'm going to have to go look at the app...

Eric Maslowski

Sun, Jan 6, 2013 : 10:23 p.m.

Thanks for checking out the app and this great article! You can find more information about the 3D Lab and this project at: iPhone 5: The current app may experience some clipping if viewed on the iPhone 5. We're working on this and hope to update the app shortly to support newer platforms. The AppStore labels everything "optimized for iPhone 5" even if we tell them it's not. Crashes: If you download the app and it force closes while trying to use it, please send us a message at "um3d-support[at]" with "PictureIt" in the subject line and as much information you can give us. (device, iOS version,steps to reproduce the crash) We've tested it on a variety of devices but something can always sneak by. :) Android Support: Due to the small team and fragmentation of the Android platform we opted for this initial release to be on the iOS platform. We just couldn't test and supoort the variety of platforms Android is available on. However, we used the Unity3D engine as our backend to keep our options open and to help with porting at a later date if there's enough interest. As an Android user myself, I really hope we get the opportunity to pursue this. Thanks again for the great article and feedback!

Craig Lounsbury

Sun, Jan 6, 2013 : 1:43 p.m.

Android phones make up around 68% of the world market while apple phones are at about 17%. Given that lopsided fact do they have an android app too? Or plans for one?


Sat, Jan 5, 2013 : 6:26 p.m.

Very cool. But can't get past Romans 13:12 before the app closes. Can't wait for an update to fix it so I can really read it.


Sat, Jan 5, 2013 : 4:40 p.m.

Here's a link to the app (which seems to be in iTunes -- although no spaces in PictureIt:EP):

Kellie Woodhouse

Thu, Jan 10, 2013 : 4:47 p.m.

Thanks for posting this link.


Sat, Jan 5, 2013 : 4:04 p.m.

Just what is needed by a driver too bored to watch the road.

Joy Denton

Sat, Jan 5, 2013 : 3:38 p.m.

The app is not available on iTunes. All iOS apps are on Apple's App Store. Whether or not you agree with Paul's writings this is still very cool m

Joy Denton

Sat, Jan 5, 2013 : 3:41 p.m.

Oops! Can't type. I have downloaded it and it is impressive to be able to read what to me is indecipherable in English.


Sat, Jan 5, 2013 : 3:21 p.m.

FYI, tried to download: This app either is not yet available, does not really exist, or is incorrectly labelled in the article.

Dog Guy

Sat, Jan 5, 2013 : 2:47 p.m.

Not having an iAnything, I must leave the task of redacting these papyri to self-appointed editors with cutting-edge Christmas toys. I just hope that they electronically blue-pencil Paul's prescription for vigorous action along with his proscriptions of shameless acts, dishonorable passions, and unnatural relations. Paul is that unwelcome friend who nags you into 15k runs.


Sat, Jan 5, 2013 : 2:35 p.m.

The 3D Lab that did this app has an open house on Jan 18th from 12:00 to 6:00.

Kellie Woodhouse

Thu, Jan 10, 2013 : 4:46 p.m.

I'm going to this! Very excited!