The story as it appeared in the Guardian (thanks for the tip, Charles!) is refreshingly simple, sans any Dan Brown-esque cliché. Even though the oldest known book-format Bible ended up scattered across the globe, with sections in London, Leningrad, Leipzig and Sinai (the fragments most recently found turned up in Sinai only in 1975), a determined team of scholars decided to bring them all together to form a single, online publication. There was even a conference on it at the British Library this week.

International collaboration aside, the way the data is presented on the website has many nice aspects, such as the fundamentally codicological mindset (the RGB images and raking angle images are just a click away from each other, though it’s a shame that you can’t switch from one to the other while under magnification), the parallel transcription, etc.

For the Voynich Manuscript, broadly similar things have been suggested for years: in fact, I’d say almost every Voynich expert has secretly wished for an Encyclopaedia Voynichiana, a book comprising not only good quality scans of each page, but also a transcription, detailed commentary on that page’s drawings and colours, unusual Voynichese word-patterns, contact transfers, and marginalia. The problem, of course, is that even if such a book could actually be written, it would be almost certainly be 3,000-pages long, which is longer even than Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell (and with almost as many footnotes).

The only reason that this kind of project is even remotely conceivable is because of the effort and resources the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library put into scanning the VMs: but to a very great degree over the last couple of years, I’ve come to realize the limits of this knowledge – that while it has enabled us to document the two-dimensional surface of the Voynich Manuscript (almost to the point of fetishizing it!), it has simultaneously blocked us from its inner dimensions, the codicological ‘superstrings’ coiled up within each mark.

Some days, I look at things like the Codex Sinaiticus and think: how wonderfully transparent it would be to work on an object of knowledge that was so gloriously shallow. But then I inevitably return to the sheer mountain face of the VMs, advancing one fragile epistemological fingerhold at a time: perhaps the climber is defined by the hill. 🙂

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