App puts Epistles of St. Paul papyrus at your fingertips

December 21, 2012
PictureIt: EP

The University of Michigan Library’s most famous papyrus, known to scholars as Papyrus 46 (or P46), is now widely available in the form of an app for iPhone and iPad. Users of “PictureIt: EP” can flip through high-resolution images of the 3rd century codex—the oldest known copy of the Letters of St. Paul—as though through pages of a book. 

“This gives an idea of what it was like to read an ancient book, with no capitals, no spaces between words, and no punctuation,” explains Arthur Verhoogt, Acting Archivist of the Library’s Papyrology Collection. The app reveals a translation from the Greek into English with a touch of a finger, either word-by-word or by the page. Readily accessible annotations explain where the papyrus differs from the Standard Version that people know from their New Testament. They also point out scribal errors, which were common in an era when books were copied entirely by hand.

The codex in its entirety was originally made up of 104 leaves (pages), of which 86 survive. The University of Michigan purchased thirty leaves in the 1930s from antiquities dealers in Egypt, and the remaining 56 leaves (which are not included in the app) reside in the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin, Ireland.

Verhoogt believes an app featuring the Pauline Epistles will be a great service. “A general audience wants to touch this text. It’s important to them,” Verhoogt says. Images of the leaves can be viewed online, but the presentation of P46 as an electronic codex, accompanied by the translation and annotations, provides a richer experience of the material, particularly for the non-scholar.

The app was made possible with the support of the Gardner and Ann Parsons Papyrology fund, and was built by Eric Maslowski, Digital Media Commons 3D Lab Manager, along with Graphics Engine Programmer Sean Petty and 3D Artist Stephanie O’Malley. Edgar Ebojo of the University of Birmingham prepared the translation.

To download the free app onto your iPhone or iPad, go to the iTunes Store and search for “PictureIt: EP.” The app has not yet been optimized for the iPhone 5.

To learn more about the Pauline Epistles, see lib.umich.edu/reading/Paul/index.html.

To view photos of the Michigan leaves in the Advanced Papyrological Information System (APSI) database, go to lib.umich.edu/papyrology-collection, select APIS, select Search APIS, and then type 6238 in the search field.

For a video preview of the app, visit youtube.com/watch?v=BxIkcONUSdU.

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Last modified: 01/04/2013