Saturday, February 01, 2014

Sinaiticus: The Whole Bible in One Place

I took a fun class in seminary called New Testament Textual Criticism. It was with the late Bob Lyon, one of those professor personalities that becomes the stuff of lore. I think Dave Smith was in that class with me, although we didn't know each other then.

I reread yesterday and today about at the discovery of Codex Sinaiticus, one of the two oldest complete Greek manuscripts of the Bible. It's a fun story.

Enter Constantin von Tischendorf, German professor from Leipzig. His version of the discovery is a little suspect. He told everyone that he had seen leaves of this great manuscript in a trash bin at St. Catherine's monastery at Mt. Sinai, destined to be fuel for the oven. This seems highly unlikely to me and the monks later disputed it. They gave or sold him 43 leaves to take with him, including portions of 1 Chronicles and Jeremiah in Greek. This was 1844.

It would take about 15 more years before he could get them to show him the rest of the manuscript. He stayed up all night pouring over it the night before he had to leave. What then ensued was some clever manipulation on Tischendorf's part. He apparently convinced the monks that they could influence the Czar's appointment of a new abbot if they presented him with the manuscript. But apparently, Tischendorf had told them they would get it back.

They never did. Once in the Czar's hands, Tischendorf got the Czar to have it published in honor of the thousandth anniversary of the Roman Empire in 1862. Of course the communists weren't interested in it after the revolution, so the British Museum purchased it in 1933 for 100,000 pounds. And there the majority of the manuscript remains to this day.

Sinaiticus largely read like Vaticanus and a number of other manuscripts that were beginning to be grouped as "Alexandrian" in type. Almost all modern translations follow this type now.

1 comment:

Ken Schenck said...

P.S. I have been fascinated by the figure of John Burgon, the most famous personality to resist the implications of these ancient manuscripts. He was a valiant loser, considering Sinaiticus, Vaticanus, Alexandrinus, etc as corruptions of the biblical text rather than let go of the fact that the text the church had used for so long was not as accurate.