Scholars plan to reunite ancient Bible -- online
- Scholars plan to reunite ancient Bible -- online
The Associated Press
Updated: Mon. Jul. 21 2008 9:08 PM ET
LONDON � The oldest surviving copy of the New Testament, a 4th
century version that had its Gospels and epistles spread across the
world, is being made whole again -- online.
The British Library says the full text of the Codex Sinaiticus will
be available to web users by next July, digitally reconnecting parts
that are held in Britain, Russia, Germany and a monastery in Egypt's
A preview of the Codex, which also has some parts of the Old
Testament, will hit the web on Thursday -- the Book of Psalms and the
Gospel of Mark.
"Only a few people have ever had the opportunity to see more than a
couple of pages of the (Codex)," said Scot McKendrick, the British
Library's head of Western manuscripts. The website will give everyone
access to a "unique treasure," he said.
Discovered at the Monastery of Saint Catherine at Mount Sinai by
German Bible scholar Constantine Tischendorf in the mid-19th century,
much of the Codex eventually wound up in Russia -- just how exactly
the British Library won't say, citing lingering sensitivity over the
circumstances surrounding its removal from the monastery.
The British Library bought 347 pages from Soviet authorities in 1933.
Forty-three pages are at the University Library in Leipzig, Germany,
and six fragments are at the National Library of Russia in St.
Petersburg. And in 1975, monks stumbled on 12 more pages and 40
fragments stashed in a hidden room at the monastery.
Biblical scholars are thrilled at the news that the Codex Sinaiticus -
- divided since Tischendorf's trip to the monastery in 1844 -- is
finally being put back together, albeit virtually.
In the past, anyone wishing to examine the document first hand would
have had to approach the British Library "on bended knee," said
Christopher Tuckett, a professor of New Testament studies at Oxford
"To have it available just at the click of a button is fantastic," he
said. "You could do in two seconds what would take hours and hours of
flicking through the leaves."
Handwritten in Greek more than 1,600 years ago -- it isn't exactly
clear where -- the surviving 400 or so pages carry a version of the
New Testament that has a few interesting differences from the Bible
used by Christians today.
The Gospel of Mark ends abruptly after Jesus' disciples discover his
empty tomb, for example. Mark's last line has them leaving in fear.
"It cuts out the post-resurrection stories," said Juan Garces,
curator of the Codex Sinaiticus Project. "That's a very odd way of
ending a Gospel."
James Davila, a professor of early Jewish studies at St. Andrews
University in Scotland, said the Codex also includes religious works
foreign to the Roman Catholic and Protestant canons -- such as
the "Epistle of Barnabas" and the "Shepherd of Hermas," a book packed
with visions and parables.
Davila stressed that did not mean the works were necessarily
considered Scripture by early Christians: They could have been bound
with the Bible to save money.
The Codex itself is a fascinating artifact, representing the best of
Western bookmaking, Garces said. The parchment was arranged in little
multipage booklets called quires, which were then numbered in
"It was the cutting edge of technology in the 4th century," he said.
The British Library bound its quires into two volumes after their
purchase from the Soviets, one of which is kept on show in a climate-
controlled, bulletproof display case. Visitors can peer at the
ancient book, but only see two pages at a time.
By next July, the entire Codex will be available for free -- along
with transcription, translation and search functions -- on the