—Published in Fides et Humilitas, no. 3 (2016): 138–143—
This book is a collection of papers given at the Codex Sinaiticus Conference on July 6–7, 2009, at the British Library, held to celebrate the digitization of a fourth century manuscript, Codex Sinaiticus, often referred to as “the world’s oldest Bible” (cf. http://www.codexsinaiticus.org/en/). The purposes of the book and website of Codex Sinaiticus are to provide “a suitable starting point for those new to the world of late antique Christianity or Biblical textual criticism, a worthy resource for scholars already working in the field, and an illuminating guide for the general reader” (p.xix). The diverse range of essays makes the book approachable by novices and beneficial for practitioners. This publication is divided into five sections, discussed below.
1. Historical Setting
This section contains a single essay. Gamble offers a magisterial treatment of the fourth century CE context of Sinaiticus. He offers compelling evidence against commonly asserted origins of the codex. For example, he argues Sinaiticus did not originate by the command of Constantine.
2. The Septuagint
Following, then, are three short essays on the Septuagint. One of the essays, by Kevern, only incidentally concerns the Septuagint. Her focus is on the painstaking process of manuscript conservation and transcription.
Tov provides a masterful analysis and discussion of the order of books within Sinaiticus by situating it within its fourth century CE Christian environment while considering its earlier, formative Jewish traditions.
In discussing Psalms, Pietersma uses Rahlfs’s Psalmi cum Odis as a conversation partner. He shows where Rahlfs’s criteria for establishing the text come up short and argues that there are instances where Rahlfs should follow Sinaiticus when it does not.
3. Early Christian Writings
This is the lengthiest section, in which each essay provides a (para-)textual study of the New Testament or apocryphal text of Sinaiticus, with the exception of Epp’s discussion of the nineteenth century context of the Codex. Epp regales the reader with a fascinating history of the use of Sinaiticus in printed editions and the modern historical context in which the manuscript emerged.
Trobisch’s discussion of nomina sacra offers a typical introduction (summary of Traube’s seminal work), but provides no empirical evidence from Sinaiticus. His brief discussions of titles within the codex (Gospel According to Matthew, etc.) and order of books, however, are rich with evidence and provide solid, intriguing conclusions.
Wachtel provides a data heavy essay on the correctors of Sinaiticus, noting that though Milne and Skeat discussed the correctors in detail, a profile of each corrector’s corrected text has never been produced in full.
Hernández documents several textual items in Sinaiticus in Revelation and includes discussions of interesting readings, indicating that Revelation in Sinaiticus was “Perhaps…considered fit for use within worship settings, at least by its earliest copyists and readers” (p.110), which is especially striking since no known Greek lectionaries include Revelation.
Head analyzes para-textual features in the work of scribe D in the NT portions of Sinaiticus, focusing on how the scribe ends lines of text, e.g. contraction of letters, abbreviations, and fillers. Myshrall provides compelling evidence that there were four original scribes of the codex, functioning as two teams: scribes A and D, and scribes B1 and B2, suggesting that there were apprenticeships. Batovici analyzes the codicological and paleographical features of the Shepherd of Hermas and discusses the debate concerning its placement within the codex. Archbishop Damianos of Sinai gives an exciting first-hand account of finding fragments and missing leaves of Sinaiticus, focusing on the Shepherd of Hermas.
4. Modern Histories
Böttrich offers a well-written essay of the history of Tischendorf’s dealings with St. Catherine’s Monastery, the Russian government, and the Russian Orthodox Archimandrite Porfirij Uspenskij, who also deserves recognition for the discovery of the Codex. Fyssas sympathetic essay provides several letters to the end that the Codex was sold by the Monastery, superficially as a donation, due to extortion.
Frame recounts how the British Museum acquired the Codex, juxtaposing political, social, and financial considerations against the backdrop of the economic depression of the 1930s. Nikolopoulos gives his first-hand account of the New Finds of the Monastery, which most importantly were the 17 leaves of Sinaiticus.
5. Codex Sinaiticus Today
The essays in this section encompass three areas: manuscript digitization process, New Finds, and St. Catherine’s library. An essay on the importance of the Codex for contemporary Christians is also included.
Moorhead, Mazzarino, Marzo, and Knight, the conservation team at the British Library, offer details about the physical construction of the Codex, including commentary on the quality and size of the parchment, its binding, the way the folios were ruled for writing, and the ink used.
Hieromonk Justin describes areas within St. Catherine’s where books are kept, how the New Finds were discovered, and the process of photographing Sinaiticus at Sinai. In the same chapter, Sarris describes how he identified portions of Sinaiticus in the New Finds of St. Catherine’s Monastery.
Three further essays in this section are primarily first-hand accounts of digitization, focusing on transcription of the Codex (Brown), online user interface (Robinson), and user-end website navigation (Parker). The final essay, provided by Walton, reads somewhat awkwardly as an apologia for the type of text that Sinaiticus represents. Some of his essay is a refutation of the Majority Text theory; he also inappropriately ventures into the territory of the “fallibility” of the Qur’an.
The volume suffers from several oversights and shortcomings. Because of the six-year gap between the conference and the book’s publication, contributions after 2010, “with very few exceptions” were unfortunately not considered in the essays (p.vii). Also, a number of URLs were no longer valid when the volume was finally published (e.g. Dubai School of Government [p.276]; Patriarchal Text Online [p.303 n.16]).
There is a dearth of Septuagint research represented in this volume. Organization of the essays is problematic. Kevern’s topic has more in common with essays that deal with the conservation and digitizing of Sinaiticus rather than the studies of the Septuagint text. Epp’s historical essay would have been better situated in the Modern Histories section and the section, Codex Sinaiticus Today, lacks a common theme.
The editors failed to cross-reference authors within the volume at crucial places of contrast, e.g. Trobisch and Batovici disagree on what constitutes an appendix, and there are obvious disagreements about the modern history of Sinaiticus.
There are many flummoxing features of the indices, e.g. NT manuscripts are placed prior to OT manuscripts, pages references for the 101 manuscripts listed in the index of manuscripts are missing (Sinaiticus is listed twice, once as ℵ and again as S), and the Latin manuscripts, t and gig, are referred to by their alphabetic sigla (p.310), but listed imprecisely as “Gregory-Aland numbers” (cf. p.307).
Positively, the essays provide various perspectives, unique studies, and first-hand accounts, which are useful contributions individually, flavoring the volume with the apparent complexities that Sinaiticus has to offer. In spite of its tardy publication and a number of quibbles/short-comings resulting from poor editing, the contributors of this long-awaited volume are to be heartily commended. I cannot foresee how this work could be ignored when considering the rich history of Codex Sinaiticus.
Bibliographical InformationScot McKendrick, David Parker, Amy Myshrall, and Cillian O’Hogan, eds. Codex Sinaiticus: New Perspectives on the Ancient Biblical Manuscript . The British Library, 2015. Pp. xix + 320. ISBN: 978-0-7123-5860-6. £50.00 [Hardback].
About the Author:Gregory S. Paulson
Gregory S. Paulson (Ph.D., University of Münster)is a research associate at Institut für neutestamentliche Textforschung.