The Curse in the Colophon

by | Nov 17, 2020 | Book Review | 2 comments

Edgar J. Goodspeed was Professor of Biblical and Patristic Greek at the University of Chicago, eventually becoming Chairman of the Department of New Testament and Early Christian Literature. He also wrote a novel back in 1935 entitled The Curse in the Colophon. And it’s one that any NT Greek fan worth their NA28 textual apparatus will enjoy.  

Edgar J. Goodspeed. University of Chicago Photographic Archive, apf1-06424, Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library.

A colophon in a Gospels manuscript (perhaps this manuscript?) propels an academic named Chris and his brainy compatriots on an international caper in search of lost Byzantine manuscripts and treasure. He deciphers ancient texts under ultraviolet light, fights bad guys, and finds love—all in the name of scholarship. It’s not every day you read a novel that hinges on the colophons and palimpsests of a scribe. And what’s not to love about a story that drops terminology and names like recto and verso, Tischendorf, and purple parchments?

The final page containing text in GA 2406, Manuscript 134 (Larissa Gospels) in the University of Chicago Library, Goodspeed Manuscript Collection. The manuscript is incomplete and ends prematurely at John 20:3. We might never know if there really was a colophon at the end! (Goodspeed Manuscript Collection, ms134-245v, Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library.)

The band of adventurers sail the seas, scour the holdings of libraries and booksellers, and race against two Greek brothers named Pollux and Castor to find a trove of priceless Byzantine works. Parthenius the scribe has left a trail of clues leading to the treasure, which he sought to protect from Turkish invaders. The story reaches its climax when Chris and his friends finally reach the cliff-perched Sumela Monastery, where the treasure is held, only to find that a nefarious competitor has beaten them there. 

Sumela Monastery in the Trabzon Province of modern Turkey. Image Credit: https://www.sumela.gov.tr/sumela-manastiri

Not only did Goodspeed leave behind a legacy of impressive academic accomplishment, but he also wrote a fun (at times maybe a little contrived) and enjoyable adventure. It’s a leisurely read and one that will especially appeal to students of New Testament textual criticism.  

Brent Niedergall

Pastor, Grammarian, Runner

Brent Niedergall, MDiv, is Associate Pastor at Victory Baptist Church in Port Coquitlam, British Columbia. He’s gone to war in Afghanistan, felled towering trees, and parsed Greek verbs.

2 Comments

  1. Stephen Brown

    Based on the amazon thumbnail, you need to have already found a lost treasure in order to be able to afford the book…

    • Brent Niedergall

      Tell me about it! I felt bad including the Amazon link with it being so ridiculously expensive. But you never know when a seller will add one to buy. I got mine off Amazon for $6 a month or two ago. Little did I know that I could potentially turn a profit in the book market. =)

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