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Vatican, Bodleian libraries unite to put ancient texts, Bibles online

By Laura Smith-Spark, CNN
updated 2:05 PM EST, Tue December 3, 2013
A bound icon manuscript from the Dionysiou monastery (XIII-XIVth century)
A bound icon manuscript from the Dionysiou monastery (XIII-XIVth century)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The Bodleian and Vatican libraries are digitizing rare and ancient texts in a joint project
  • The texts will be freely available online for anyone who wants to look at them
  • They include Greek and Hebrew manuscripts and early printed books

(CNN) -- Some of the world's oldest and rarest Bibles and biblical texts were placed online Tuesday in newly digitized form by two of the world's most venerable libraries.

The project, which aims to make 1.5 million pages of ancient texts freely available in virtual form over the next three years, is a joint effort by the Bodleian Libraries at Oxford University and the Vatican Library.

The project is focused on three main areas: ancient Greek manuscripts, Hebrew manuscripts and 15th-century printed books, known as incunabula. They will include secular and religious texts.

For its online launch, however, the organizers have highlighted a smaller group of Bibles and biblical commentaries, each of which has been chosen for its particular historical importance.

They include a copy of a Gutenberg Bible, the first major book printed with moveable metal type in the Western world, and the beautiful woodcuts of a Bible printed in 1478-1479 in Cologne, known as Stamp. Ross. 283.

The four-year project, which began in 2012, is funded by a 2 million pound (nearly $3.3 million) award from the Polonsky Foundation, a charity that supports higher education and research.

Dr. Leonard Polonsky, in a video clip posted on the project's website, said that it would ensure that fragile texts that "should be part of the inheritance of mankind" were safeguarded for future generations.

"It's too dangerous to have unique exemplars of anything in one place," he said. "Digitizing enables us to secure all of this material and of course make it broadly available. It's an opportunity you can't resist."

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said, "Where you can see these actual texts there is just a lifting of the spirit, something that inspires worship."

The project is of "huge international significance," he said, because a far wider range of scholars than before will now be able to see the texts.

Conservation staff at the Bodleian and Vatican libraries have worked together to ensure the ancient documents are not exposed to any harm in the digitization process, a news release from the Bodleian Libraries said.

Scholars will be able to zoom in on texts and images to study them more closely.

"I envision how useful it will be to scholars and many other interested people," Monsignor Cesare Pasini, the prefect of the Vatican Library, is quoted as saying.

"Moreover, I see the common fruit of our labor as a very positive sign of collaboration and sharing that is a trademark of the world of culture."

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