About The Collection

Edgar J. Goodspeed (1871-1962)

Edgar Johnson Goodspeed was born in Quincy, Illinois, and graduated in the final preparatory class of the original (Old) University of Chicago in 1886. After receiving a B.A. from Denison University, in Granville, Ohio, in 1890, Goodspeed went to Yale for a year to study Semitic languages under William Rainey Harper. When Harper was appointed the first president of the University of Chicago, Goodspeed moved back to Chicago and continued his graduate studies at the new institution, where his father, Thomas W. Goodspeed, was an incorporator and secretary of the Board of Trustees. While pursuing graduate work, Goodspeed taught classics at two Chicago-area schools, the Morgan Park Academy and South Side Academy.

Goodspeed received his D.B. from the University of Chicago in 1897 and his Ph.D. in 1898. At the initiative of President Harper, he spent the following two years abroad, traveling and studying in Germany, England, the Netherlands, Egypt, Palestine, and Greece. Upon his return to Chicago in 1900, he joined the University faculty and rose steadily to become Professor of Biblical and Patristic Greek in 1915. When his New Testament colleague Ernest DeWitt Burton was appointed president of the University of Chicago in 1923, Goodspeed succeeded him as Chairman of the Department of New Testament and Early Christian Literature. In 1937, Goodspeed became an emeritus member of the faculty and retired with his wife, Elfleda Bond Goodspeed, to a home in Bel-Air, California.

Goodspeed's lengthy bibliography reflected his interest in presenting results of manuscript research to scholarly as well as popular audiences. His publications included Chicago Literary Papyri (1908); A Descriptive Catalogue of Manuscripts in the Libraries of the University of Chicago, with Martin Springling (1912); The Story of the New Testament (1918); Greek Gospel Texts in America (1918); A Harmony of the Synoptic Gospels in Greek, with Ernest D. Burton (1920); The New Testament: An American Translation (1923); The Bible: An American Translation, with J. M. Powis Smith (1931);The Rockefeller McCormick New Testament, with Donald W. Riddle and Harold R. Willoughby (1932); The Story of the Old Testament (1934); The Apocrypha: An American Translation (1938); and How to Read the Bible (1946).

Early Manuscript Studies at the University of Chicago, 1869-1927

During his graduate studies at the University of Chicago in the 1890s, Edgar Goodspeed was drawn to manuscript research by two of his professors, biblical Greek scholar Caspar Rene Gregory and Egyptologist James Henry Breasted. Goodspeed completed his dissertation on a mathematical papyrus fragment and later brought unpublished fragments to his classes for students to decipher.

Goodspeed recognized the importance of locating unpublished sources and describing them for scholarly research. His Descriptive Catalogue of Manuscripts in the Libraries of the University of Chicago (1912), published to coincide with the opening of the William Rainey Harper Memorial Library, was one of the first published catalogues of manuscripts in American library collections. In the introduction to this volume, Goodspeed stated his belief that the Catalogue would "make the manuscripts now in the University's possession more useful to the departments to which they relate, and that the only way to build up a notable collection of manuscripts in the University is to make the most of what we have."

When Goodspeed wrote these words, the University of Chicago already held two New Testament manuscripts. In 1869, a fifteenth-century harmony of the Gospels, Evangeliorum quattuor harmonia (Ms. 19), had been acquired by the Baptist Union Theological Seminary, predecessor of the University of Chicago Divinity School, along with other volumes from the library of German orientalist and biblical scholar Ernst Wilhelm Hengstenberg.

In 1895, as Goodspeed recounted in the Catalogue, the University of Chicago purchased a codex of the Greek Gospels, designated the Haskell Gospels (Ms. 46), "through Professor Ernest D. Burton and Professor Caspar Rene Gregory, from the estate of a Greek of Thera, by whom it had been brought to Chicago." This text remained for a generation the only New Testament Greek manuscript in the University's collection, and many New Testament students were trained on it.

Acquired with the Haskell Gospels in 1895 was Ms. 50, a Greek lectionary designated the Haskell Lectionary. Both the Gospels and Lectionary were named in honor of Frederick Haskell and his widow, Caroline E. Haskell, who provided funds for construction of Haskell Oriental Museum, the home of the Divinity School, as well as two endowed lectureships on religion.

Building the Goodspeed Collection, 1927-1952

Within years of his appointment as chairman of the Department of New Testament and Early Christian Literature in 1923, Edgar Goodspeed accelerated his search for New Testament manuscripts for the University of Chicago. Goodspeed considered manuscripts to be as essential to research in the humanities as laboratories in the natural sciences. His goal was the acquisition of hitherto unknown, unlisted, and undescribed sources that could provide the basis for new scholarship. Building on a remarkable series of acquisitions achieved in rapid succession, Goodspeed was able to create the core of the notable collection of New Testament manuscripts that today bears his name.

Goodspeed's first discovery, made almost by chance at the conclusion of a summer-long search through Europe, was of unparalleled historical and iconographical significance. In September 1927, while in Paris, Goodspeed found in the shop of art dealer Maurice Stora a complete Byzantine New Testament (Ms. 965) written in a fine cursive hand, bound in splendid gilt covers, and containing more than ninety miniatures. The manuscript was acquired by Goodspeed's colleague Harold R. Willoughby on behalf of Mrs. Edith Rockefeller McCormick, who made it available on loan for study by the New Testament Department. Four years after its arrival in Chicago, a three-volume facsimile edition of the manuscript, edited by Goodspeed and colleagues, was published by the University of Chicago Press as The Rockefeller McCormick New Testament (1932).

The acquisition of the Rockefeller McCormick manuscript, at the time only the second complete Byzantine New Testament manuscript in America, generated sensational publicity on radio and in the press. By 1930, in the midst of continuing public interest, the University of Chicago had acquired fourteen complete or fragmentary Greek New Testament manuscripts from a variety of sources, including Chicago's local Greek community. As the collection grew, so too did the research interests of the Chicago faculty, expanding to encompass iconographical study as well as textual collation.

The year 1929 was notable for the large number and range of acquisitions. These included the Nicolaus Gospels (Ms. 129), signed by its scribe, Nicolaus of Edessa, in 1133; the Chrysanthus Gospels (Ms. 131), with a double set of evangelist potraits; the Hyacinthus Gospels (Ms. 135), dated 1303 and one of three known to have been written by Hyancinthus; and the Theophanes Praxapostolos (Ms. 142), a codex Goodspeed successfully secured from a dealer who was intending to disbind it and sell leaf by leaf.

In the next two years, fourteen more manuscripts were added to the growing collection. Among these were the D'Hendecourt Roll (Ms. 125) of the thirteenth century, which had been used as a magical amulet; the Argos Lectionary (Ms. 128), which was acquired from the manager of a Chicago restaurant owned and frequented by gangland figures and described in the media as "the Gangster Bible"; and the Serpent Lectionary (Ms. 715), named for a fanciful decorative headpiece that turns a simple rope twist into a serpent entwined around a rod.

Among the acquisitions of 1932-1937 were the Ira Maurice Price Praxapostolos (Ms. 922), according to one method of classification the oldest representative of a "family" of the texts of Acts; and the Gregory Matthew-Mark (Ms. 899), a fragment from a large ninth- or tenth-century lectern Bible, one of a number of Armenian manuscripts acquired by Goodspeed. The single most spectacular acquisition of these years was the Elizabeth Day McCormick Apocalypse (Ms. 931). As Goodspeed recounted in his memoirs, while lunching one day with Elizabeth Day McCormick, she asked him whether he would be interested in a manuscript of Revelation with text illustrations. When Goodspeed expressed interest but declared that no such manuscript was known to exist, she responded that she had one with sixty-nine miniatures; the manuscript was soon presented to the University of Chicago as a gift. The only known illustrated Apocalypse in Greek, dated to ca. 1600, the text was published by the University of Chicago Press in a two-volume facsimile edition, The Elizabeth Day McCormick Apocalypse (1940).

Through the work of Harold R. Willoughby and other colleagues, the later 1930s and 1940s brought further riches to the New Testament collection. These included the Silver Gospels (Ms. 951), an Armenian manuscript in a beautiful silver binding, contemporary with the school of silversmiths that flourished at Caesarea in the seventeenth century; and the Rockefeller McCormick New Testament itself, which was purchased by Elizabeth Day McCormick in 1942 from the estate of her late cousin Edith Rockefeller McCormick and presented as a gift to the University of Chicago.

In 1948, the University of Chicago acquired, along with other Greek and Armenian manuscripts, the Edward Goodman Gospels (Ms. 202), a thirteenth-century Greek text representing the last phase of Byzantine ornament in the prominent palmettes decorting the headpiece at the beginning of Luke. In 1952, Goodspeed himself made the final addition to the collection when he presented, as a gift in memory of his wife, the Elfleda Bond Goodspeed Gospels (Ms. 1054), a Greek manuscript of the tenth century containing a fine example of early minuscule hand.

Goodspeed's leadership and initative had brought tangible and substantive results. During the years he was directly involved in building the collection, he had also relished the thrill of pursuing and locating previously unknown manuscripts, a passion reflected in the only mystery novel he ever wrote, The Curse in the Colophon (1935), featuring a manuscript scholar clearly patterned after Goodspeed himself.

In October 1948, on the occasion of Goodspeed's seventy-fifth birthday, the University of Chicago formally acknowledged the results of his diligent collecting and scholarship by inviting Goodspeed to return to campus as the guest of honor at a two-day international conference on New Testament Manuscript Study. To mark the occasion, the University of Chicago Press published A Biography and Bibliography of Edgar Johnson Goodspeed (1948), compiled by James Harrell Cobb and Louis B. Jennings. And recognizing the creation of what was then one of the largest collections of its kind at any American university, Harold H. Swift, chairman of the Board of Trustees, announced the decision to name the University of Chicago's collection of New Testament manuscripts in honor of Edgar J. Goodspeed.

For further information on the Goodspeed Collection and related print, archival, and manuscript resources, please contact:

Hanna Holborn Gray Special Collections Research Center
University of Chicago Library
1100 E. 57th Street
Chicago, Illinois 60637

Contact the Hanna Holborn Gray Special Collections Research Center.