Argos Lectionary. Edgar J. Goodspeed Collection of New Testament Manuscripts. MS128
The Edgar J. Goodspeed Manuscript Collection comprises sixty-eight early Greek, Syriac, Ethiopic, Armenian, Arabic, and Latin manuscripts ranging in date from the fifth to the nineteenth centuries. The acquisition of these manuscripts was spearheaded by Edgar J. Goodspeed - Professor of Biblical and Patristic Greek at the University of Chicago, and later Chairman of the Department of New Testament and Early Christian Literature - in the first half of the twentieth century in order to support new scholarship in the humanities.
Among the sixty-eight manuscripts in the Goodspeed collection is a tenth-century lectionary (a selection of texts from the Bible for study and worship) with an interesting past – or, at least, an intriguing legend. The manuscript was brought from Argos, Greece, by an immigrant who salvaged it from a ruined church and passed it down to his heirs in America. In 1930, the manuscript was purchased from the owner of Colosimo’s Restaurant, a gang headquarters in Chicago, who claimed that Al Capone’s gang swore their oaths over the book. The colorful oral history of “The Gangster Bible” suggests that it might have figured strategically in the dramas of Chicago’s gangland.
For this reason, the Argos Lectionary is an item that is frequently displayed in the Special Collections Research Center as an object of curiosity. However, the manuscript has much to offer as a teaching tool and object for study.
For instance, the lectionary is an excellent example of ecphonetic notation: those little red squiggles sprinkled throughout the manuscript indicating the proper recitation of the text. The ecphonetic notation throughout the Argos Lectionary suggests that it would have been used for solemn readings of the Greek Gospel, or readings chanted to musical tones. Using pairs of signs or “neumes” written above, below, or between phrases of the text, ecphonetic or lectionary notation frames individual kolons, each a short phrase to be chanted to a particular melodic formula. Thus, unlike the melodic notation that developed contemporarily but separately in Byzantine chant tradition, ecphonetic notation cannot be interpreted in isolation, that is, without knowing these chanting formulas in the first place. Ecphonetic notation served less as a system of accurate musical transmission but more as mnemonic aids to the chanter who would have known the formulas by heart. This type of notational practice is traceable to as early as the 9th century in Byzantine chant, and parallels can be found in Syriac, Hebraic, and Latin biblical chanting traditions.
What else can you see in the Argos Lectionary? We challenge you to mine the manuscript for more information about its past. Who knows? Maybe Capone left a few clues.
Special thanks to Lester Zhuqing Hu, PhD student in the University of Chicago Music Department, for information about ecphonetic notation in the Argos Lectionary.