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Reassembling the Codex Sinaiticus

John on April 27, 2007 at 12:29 pm

Der Spiegel has an excellent piece on the scholarly attempt to photograph and publish all known pages of the Codex by the year 2010:

Parts of the ancient Bible is now scattered around the world. Forty-three pages are in the eastern German city of Leipzig. Three hundred forty-seven pages went to Russia in Tischendorf’s lifetime, but Joseph Stalin later sold them to the British government for the record sum of £100,000. Five pages are in storage at the Russian National Library in St. Petersburg. Another 12 remain in Egypt, at St. Catherine’s Monastery, which still houses the world’s oldest intact community of Christian monks. Members of this community have been celebrating morning mass without interruption for almost 1,500 years.

Since its rediscovery, no one has ever seen the book in one piece. But that’s now likely to change. Theologians and scholars of ancient scripts have joined forces in a large-scale project to finally assemble a complete Codex Sinaiticus on the Internet. Each page will be newly examined, transcribed and digitized. The German Research Foundation (DFG) has contributed €200,000 to support the effort.

I’ve left out the best parts of the article which detail the long and contentious history of its discovery. No one is certain how the Codex originated, but one interesting theory is that it was created on the order of Constantine himself:

All the research — which also involves American and Russian experts — has shed light on what many consider to be one of the world’s first books. It was created between 330 and 350 A.D. Scribes would have sat at small tables with inkwells and pencils, scratching chains of uppercase Greek letters onto the light-colored animal skins. “Scribe A” was the most original: He wrote with a flourish, but he was sloppy. He forgot four pages from the Gospel of St. Luke. He simply eliminated the famous definition of love in St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. Was it intentional? “Scribe D” noticed the mistakes and added the missing text in the margin.

But who commissioned the work in the first place? Many researchers believe the order came straight from Constantine, the first Christian Roman Emperor. In 313 AD he lifted all state sanctions against what was then a persecuted “Jesus cult.” He ordered a number of churches built, and had 50 magnificent Bibles made to spread the little-known religion of brotherly love throughout the Roman Empire. The Codex may have originated during this period.

A date of 330 places it immediately after the Council of Nicaea, at which Constantine was the presiding authority. Truly an amazing piece of history.

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Category: Religion & Faith |

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