Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts

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Codex Sinaiticus on-line

Daniel B. Wallace

9/15/2008

The famous codex from St. Catherine’s Monastery, Mt. Sinai, Egypt has begun to show up on the Internet. A joint project between the British Library, the University of Leipzig, the National Library in St. Petersburg, and St. Catherine’s Monastery at the base of Mt. Sinai, Egypt, has been underway for some time now. All four institutes own portions of this manuscript (with the BL owning the largest section, the complete New Testament—which, incidentally, is the oldest complete New Testament by half a millennium). The project to post these images on-line has involved new digital photography and some slick search-capable tools.

One can see the images already posted by going to this site: http://www.codex-sinaiticus.net/en/.

Unfortunately, only selections from the codex are on-line currently. The entire codex should be up by July 2009.

CSNTM has the complete NT on its site, but our images are digital photographs from the 1911 black-and-white folio photographs (http://www.csntm.org/Manuscript/View/GA_01).

In order to obtain permission from each institute to post their collective images of Sinaiticus, an agreement had to be made first. It was simply that the story of this manuscript’s modern history would be told and that the story would be something that all parties could agree to. That all parties could agree on the contents of the narrative is a grade B miracle! The reason is quite simple: Ever since the German scholar, Constantine von Tischendorf, took the manuscript from St. Catherine’s in 1859, there has been a dispute between St. Catherine’s and the new keepers of the MS as to who owned it.

Too much to go into now, suffice it to say that the story that most have heard is that Tischendorf saw the monks ripping out leaves of this codex and using them as kindling. Thus, most in the western world who know anything about Sinaiticus have assumed that the removal of the MS from Mt. Sinai was the act of a rescue mission rather than a theft. Although this has been strongly denied by St. Catherine’s, few in the western world knew much of the story—e.g., that Tischendorf had left a note telling the monks that he would return the MS when they asked for it. But with the discovery of the ‘New Finds’ (over 1000 MSS and 50,000 fragments found in 1975 in a hidden compartment at the monastery), the story may need some serious revision. What is most notable is that as many as 26 leaves or leaf-fragments of Codex Sinaiticus were found in the store-room or geniza. And the geniza was most likely used until the mid-19th century (judging by the latest MSS found in it). As well, the fact that the leaves of Sinaiticus that were found there were from the front (Pentateuch) and back of the book (apostolic fathers) seems to suggest that the geniza was used for manuscript leaves that had fallen off of the documents, most likely when the library was moved from one side of the compound to the other. Both the date when the geniza was in use and the leaves of Sinaiticus that were found there suggest that during the era when Tischendorf visited the monastery the monks’ modus operandi in disposing of old manuscripts was not to destroy them. In the least, this new evidence and its potential implications need to be given more serious consideration as the modern story of this remarkable manuscript is told.

Daniel B. Wallace
Executive Director
Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts