Jubilees Palimpsest

The Jubilees Palimpsest Project

Using Advanced Imaging Technologies to Recover the Words of Moses and Luke According to Lost Forms of Judaism and Christianity

Project Description

The Jubilees Palimpsest project will use the latest developments in imaging technology to make available to all what has not been readable to the human eye for hundreds of years. The project will recover an ancient collection of books attributed to Moses and an interpretation of the Gospel of Luke. These writings reflect major movements and debates in early Judaism and Christianity. Later, they were rejected by the mainstream and nearly lost forever. The technology will allow us to distribute without cost, not only the textual discoveries, but the experience of working with the manuscript as a cultural artifact. For many students and scholars, this interactive online copy will be the closest they come to handling a fifth-century manuscript.

The 144-page manuscript is often referred to as the “Jubilees” palimpsest in reference to its oldest text, eighty pages of a Latin translation of a Hebrew composition from the 150s BCE, fragments of which were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran. The codex also includes sixteen pages of a first-century CE Jewish work called the Assumption or Testament of Moses, and forty-eight pages of a fourth-century CE Arian commentary on the Gospel of Luke. All reflect major developments in Judaism and Christianity, and all were eventually suppressed. Jubilees was treated as scripture among those responsible for the Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran, and “Arians” represented a major form of Christianity in the fourth century. Scholars of Judaism and Christianity will be most interested in evaluating the images to determine the oldest form of the ancient texts, which are known best or only from this manuscript. The manuscript itself tells the story of the “erasure” of alternative views of the Law and Christ, and replacement with a view that retained dominance, namely an anthology of Augustine’s writings.

This manuscript, now at the Ambrosiana Library (Biblioteca) in Milan, has not been thoroughly edited since 1828 (Commentary on Luke) and 1861 (Jubilees and the Assumption or Testament of Moses). The manuscript is a palimpsest, which means that the writing from the fifth century was erased so that the parchment could be reused to copy another text in the eighth century. Based on technology available in the nineteenth century, many readings of the erased text were uncertain or entirely impossible. Our team believes that current imaging technology can make more text readable and will preserve a digital copy of the complete visual experience of the manuscript. This project will combine two technologies which have proven successful in the past. Spectral imaging is particularly useful at producing enhanced images that distinguish materials (such as different types of ink or discoloration) well beyond the capability of the naked eye. Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) captures the texture and depth of a surface otherwise lost in a two-dimensional image. At high resolution the technology can make apparent the thickness of the ink, or the corrosion where lost ink has eaten into the parchment. Combined, the technologies allow a user to interact with the digital version of the manuscript. The spectral enhancements simulate rolling back the clock to show the appearance of the manuscript in the fifth or eighth centuries. The RTI images simulate holding an artifact up to a light at different angles, controlled by the user. Digital technology allows perfect duplication of the archive and transmission of the interactive experience over the Internet without cost.

The online user will experience the enhanced digital manuscript more fully than is possible in reality. The manuscript is now available only in Milan, and only to specialists under extreme restrictions for preservation, and even still is not readable. This project will recover lost traces of the history of Judaism and Christianity, and make available to the world a unique artifact of western cultural heritage.

Project Phases

Phase 1 (2011) – Team meeting in Los Angeles. First-hand inspection of the manuscript by Hanneken in Milan. Funded in part by the Speed Fund, St. Mary’s University.

Phase 2 (2013–2014) – Integrating Spectral and Reflectance Transformation Imaging Technologies. Funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, Office of Digital Humanities.

Phase 3 – Image data capture in Milan

Phase 4 – Image data processing

Phase 5 – Dissemination of an easily interactive digital facsimile of the complete manuscript


Todd Hanneken, St. Mary’s University (San Antonio), Project Director, specialist in ancient Jewish literature (stmarytx.edu)

Michael Phelps, Early Manuscripts Electronic Library, specialist in spectral imaging and artifact handling (emel-library.org)

Ken Boydston, MegaVision Corporation, President, specialist in digital imaging (megavision.com)

Bruce Zuckerman, University of Southern California, specialist in RTI and ancient Near Eastern texts (usc.edu)

William Christens-Barry, Equipoise Imaging, specialist in spectral imaging and illumination (eqpi.net)

Roger Easton, Jr., Rochester Institute of Technology, specialist in spectral imaging and processing (rit.edu)

Keith Knox, Retired from U.S. Air Force Research Labs, specialist in imaging science (af.mil)

Marilyn Lundberg, University of Southern California, specialist in RTI and ancient Near Eastern texts (usc.edu)

Leta Hunt, University of Southern California, specialist in RTI and information management (usc.edu)

Kenneth Zuckerman, University of Southern California, specialist in RTI and imaging humanities artifacts (usc.edu)

James C. VanderKam, University of Notre Dame, specialist in ancient Jewish literature (nd.edu)

Annette Yoshiko Reed, University of Pennsylvania, specialist in ancient Jewish and Christian literature (upenn.edu)

Daniel Sheerin, University of Notre Dame Medieval Institute, specialist in medieval Latin manuscripts (nd.edu)


Descriptions of the manuscript

Gryson, Roger. Les palimpsestes ariens latins de Bobbio: contribution à la methodologie de l’étude des palimpsestes, Armarium Codicum Insignium 2. Tourhout: Brepols, 1983.

Peyron, Amedeus. Ciceronis orationum. Stuttgart: Cottae, 1824.

Mai, Angelo. Scriptorum veterum nova collectio e vaticania codicibus. Vol. 3. Rome: Typis Vaticanis, 1828.

Ceriani, A. M. Monumenta Sacra et Profana. 2 vols. Milan: Bibliotheca Ambrosiana, 1861–1863.

Rönsch, H. Das Buch der Jubiläen oder die Kleine Genesis. Leipzig: Fues’s Verlag [R. Reisland], 1874.

Clemen, Carl. Die Himmelfahrt Des Mose. Kleine Texte für Theologische Vorlesungen und Übungen. Bonn: Marcus und Weber, 1904.

Tromp, Johannes. The Assumption of Moses: A Critical Edition with Commentary. Studia in Veteris Testamenti Pseudepigrapha. Leiden: Brill, 1993.

Knöll, Pius. Evgippii Excerpta ex operibvs S. Avgvstini, Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum 9. Vindobona: apvd C. Geroldi filivm, 1885.

Wordsworth, John, W. Sanday, and H. J. White. Portions of the Gospels according to St. Mark and St. Matthew. Oxford: Clarendon, 1886.


Scanned images of VanderKam’s microfilm (LINK)

2011 Photographs

Only four pages were photographed in 2011.

Bibliography on the Bobbio manuscripts

Seebass, O., “Handschriften von Bobbio in der Vatikanischen und Ambrosianischen Bibliotek” in Centralblatt für Bibliothekswesen volume 13 (1896) pp. 1–12, 57–79. Available through Google Books.

C. H. Beeson, “The Palimpsests of Bobbio,” in Miscellanea Giovanni Mercati, vol. 6, Rome 1946, p. 162–184 (Studi et testi, 126).

M. van den Hout, “Gothic palimpsests of Bobbio,” in Scriptorium, vol. 6 (1952), pp. 91–93.

P. Collura, Studi paleografici: la precarolina e la carolina a Bobbio, 2nd edition, Florence 1965 (Fontes Ambrosiani, 22).

P. Engelbert, “Zur Frühgeschichte des Bobbieser Skriptoriums,” in Revue Bénédictine, vol. 78 (1968), p. 220–260.

Michael Richter, Bobbio in the Early Middle Ages: The Abiding Legacy of Columbanus. 2008.

Wikipedia History of the Library at Bobbio Abbey wikipedia.org

Bibliography on Latin Palimpsests

E. A. Lowe, “Codices Rescripti: A List of the Oldest Latin Palimpsests with Stray Observations on Their Origin” 1964. First publication, Melanges Eugene Tisserant vol. 5, Studi e Testi 235., pp. 67–112, reprinted 1972.

Bernhard Bischoff, Latin Palaeography: Antiquity and the Middle Ages, Cambridge University Press, 1990. First published 1979.

George Declercq, ed., Early Medieval Palimpsests. Bibliologia 26. Tourhout: Brepols, 2007.

Bibliography on the Manuscripts of Eugippius

Gorman, Michael Murray. “The Manuscript Tradition of Eugippius’s Excerpta ex Operibus Sancti Augustini.” Revue Bénédictine 92 (1982): 7–32, 229–265.

Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum (CSEL) Vol. 9/2, EUGIPPIUS, Excerpta ex operibus S. Augustini, ed. P. Knöll, 1886. TEI Encoded XML

Bibliography on the Arian Commentary on Luke

Meslin, Michel. Les Ariens d’Occident, 335–430. Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1967.

Gryson’s edition in Corpus Christianorum Series Latina 87, Scripta Arriana Latina, 1982.

Kellerman, James A. Incomplete Commentary on Matthew (Opus Imperfectum). 2 vols. Vol. 1, Ancient Christian Texts. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2010.

Lorenz, Rudolf. Arius judaizans?: Unters. zur dogmengeschichtl. Einordnung d. Arius, Forschungen zur Kirchen- und Dogmengeschichte 31. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht, 1979.

Van Banning, Joop. Opus imperfectum in Matthaeum. Vol. 1, Praefatio. Turnhout: Brepols, 1988.

Compare Ambrose’s Commentary on Luke from around the same time: Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum (CSEL) Vol. 32/4 AMBROSIUS, Expositio evangelii secundum Lucam, ed. C. Schenkl 1902. TEI Encoded XML

Links pertaining to the Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan

Links pertaining to Reflectance Transformation Imaging

Bibliography on Reflectance Transformation Imaging and InscriptiFact

Hunt, Leta, Marilyn Lundberg, and Bruce Zuckerman. “InscriptiFact: A Virtual Archive of Ancient Inscriptions from the Near East.” International Journal on Digital Libraries, Special Issue on the Digital Museum 5 (2005): 151–251.

Hunt, Leta, Marilyn Lundberg, and Bruce Zuckerman. “Concrete Abstractions: Ancient Texts and Artefacts and the Future of Their Documentation and Distribution in the Digital Age.” In Textual Comparison and Digital Creativity, the Production of Presence and Meaning in Digital Text Scholarship. Edited by Wido van Peursen, Ernst Thoutenhoofd and Adraan van der Weel. Leiden: Brill, 2010.

Hunt, Leta, Marilyn Lundberg, and Bruce Zuckerman. “Getting Beyond the Common Denominator.” Literary and Linguistic Computing, 2011. Available online.

Zuckerman, Bruce. “The Dynamics of Change in the Computer Imaging of the Dead Sea Scrolls and other Ancient Inscriptions.” In Rediscovering the Dead Sea Scrolls: An Assessment of Old and New Approaches and Methods, edited by Maxine L. Grossman, 69–88. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010. Available online.

Links pertaining to open web dissemination

Standards for interoperable image repositories

iiif.io The International Image Interoperability Framework (IIIF) maintains two standards. The IIIF Image API makes it possible to store an image once and serve it as needed in small pieces of various resolutions, sizes, and orientations. The IIIF Presentation API defines an interoperable way to describe a canvas (such as a page of a manuscript) in the context of a larger object (such as page sequence and orientation) and the components (such as images and annotations) that describe it.

  • showcase.iiif.io The showcase highlights some key technologies and implementations of interoperable image repositories.

Viewing environments

projectmirador.org Mirador 2.0 offers a very powerful environment for viewing and comparing images described according to the IIIF standards. The project website offers a demo.

  • iangilman.com A demonstration of the “image choice” functionality planned for Mirador 2.1.

openseadragon.github.io OpenSeadragon similarly delivers zoomable images and fetches data only as needed.

  • boschproject.org An implementation demonstrating features of particular interest for disseminating palimpsest images. In addition to the documented views selected with numbers on the keyboard, note that ctrl+u offers a bookmark to the current view.

universalviewer.azurewebsites.net The Wellcome Library’s Universal Viewer also builds on IIIF. The beauty of a standards-compliant image repository is that it can be viewed in any standards-compliant viewer.

github.com Leaflet (with IIIF plugin) offers simple but versatile tools for annotation and viewing of complex image layers.

  • bl.ocks.org Among the examples, see especially the Martellus Map with IconLayers.

github Diva document image viewer offers key features in straightforward environment. Page 15 demonstrates annotation based on automated optical music recognition.

Open Annotation

openannotation.org The Open Annotation Collaboration published the standards for interoperable annotation used by Shared Canvas and the IIIF Presentation API.

harvard.edu An annotation demonstration in Mirador 2.0. (Add item MS Richardson 7 and click the dialogue bubbles to see annotations.)

schoenberginstitute.org The DM tools project has moved to Penn and may produce some useful tools for creating interoperable annotations.

w3c.org The World Wide Web Consortium defines standards for Web Annotation, including the Data Model, Protocol, and Linked Data Platform.


cnr.it WebRTI utilizes WebGL to display interactive RTI images in any web browser.

cnr.it PalazzoBlu demonstrates the power of WebRTI.

stmarytx.edu Images from the Integrating phase of the Jubilees Palimpsest Project have been published using WebRTI.

yale.edu The Yale Digital Collections Center has created an early proof of concept for embedding WebRTI within Mirador.

Discoverability / Accessibility

digitizedmedievalmanuscripts.org Digitized Medieval Manuscripts links to more than 400 (and growing) digital libraries.

ocp.tyndale.ca Online Critical Pseudepigrapha consolidates electronic editions of Pseudepigrapha. In the case of Jubilees, Ceriani’s 1861 edition of the Latin and VanderKam’s 1989 of the Greek (only) are available.

dp.la The Digital Public Library of America aggregates digital information from a variety of digital repositories.

worldcat.org Worldcat catalogs over 2 billion items in various media, including the Jubilees Palimpsest Project and archive of the Integrating Spectral RTI phase.

Links pertaining to spectral imaging

Bibliography on spectral imaging

Lehoux, Daryn. “Ancient Science in a Digital Age.” Isis 104 (2013): 111–18.

Christens-Barry, William A., Ken Boydston, and Roger L. Easton, Jr., “Some Properties of Textual Heritage Materials of Importance in Spectral Imaging Projects,” conference proceedings from Eikonopoiia, Digital Imaging of Ancient Textual Heritage, Technical Challenges and Solutions, 2010.

Easton, Roger L., Jr., “The Multispectral Imaging of the Archimedes Palimpsest,” Gazette du Livre Médiévale 45 (2004): 39–49.

Easton, Roger, Fourier Methods in Imaging (textbook). Chichester: John Wiley and Sons, 2010.

Easton, Roger L. Jr., Keith T. Knox, and William A. Christens-Barry, “Ten Years of Lessons from Imaging of the Archimedes Palimpsest,” conference proceedings from Eikonopoiia, Digital Imaging of Ancient Textual Heritage, Technical Challenges and Solutions, pp. 3–25, 2010.

Knox, Keith T., Roger L. Easton, Jr., and Robert H. Johnston. “Digital Miracles: Revealing Invisible Scripts.” In The Bible and the Dead Sea Scrolls, edited by James H. Charlesworth, 1–16. Waco: Baylor, 2006.

Knox, Keith T., “Enhancement of Overwritten Text in the Archimedes Palimpsest,” in Computer Image Analysis in the Study of Art, edited by D. G. Stork and J. Coddington. San Jose, California: Proc. SPIE, 2007.

Phelps, Michael B., and Michael B. Toth, “Strategic Considerations for Palimpsest Imaging Projects: Lessons Learned from the St. Catherine’s Monastery Palimpsest Survey,” conference proceedings from Eikonopoiia, Digital Imaging of Ancient Textual Heritage, Technical Challenges and Solutions, 2010.

Toth, Michael B., Roger Easton, Jr., Bill Christens-Barry, “Eureka! Dublin Core Based Metadata Supports the Archimedes Palimpsest Manuscript Imaging Program,” Proceedings of the International Conference on Dublin Core and Metadata Applications, Colima, Mexico. October 3–6, 2006, pp. 120–129.

updated 6/8/2016, TRH