For aid in commemorating the 100th anniversary of the recovery of Codex Sinaiticus, oldest complete Greek New Testament in existence, CHRISTIANITY TODAYis indebted to Dr. Raymond L. Cox, Hillsboro, Oregon, minister whose graduate thesis in the field of New Testament textual criticism occasioned considerable research into the histories of old manuscripts. Out of this experience Cox reconstructs the events surrounding the Codex Sinaiticus recovery.
This year marks the centennial of the salvaging from scrap of a Bible which when last sold cost its purchasers a half-million dollars!
The story of the saga began in 1844 when a 29-year-old parchment prospector hiked up the Mt. Sinai of Mosaic memory to visit the Monastery of St. Catherine. While browsing in a library there, Constantine Tischendorf stumbled upon a wastebasket crammed with loose leaves from an ancient Greek manuscript.
“This is the oldest Greek writing I’ve ever seen!” he said, recognizing the contents as part of the Septuagint version of the Old Testament. He counted 43 sheets.
“What are you going to do with these pages?” he inquired of the librarian.
“They’re bound for the incinerator,” the monk replied casually. “Not long ago we burned two basket loads like them in the furnace.”
“Since you plan to destroy them anyway,” proposed the parchment prospector, “may I have them?”
“You’re welcome to them,” granted the librarian.
Before leaving the Sinaitic monastery with his prize, the visitor learned that scores of other sheets from the same manuscript reposed with the monks. His requests to study them, however, aroused suspicions and his pleas were denied.
Though Tischendorf kept busy in ensuing years, he was constantly haunted by an ambition to study the other manuscripts at the monastery. He returned in 1853, but that visit proved fruitless. In February, 1859, he again appeared in quest of the treasure, but after several days he despaired of finding the documents.
One night the visitor huddled with a monastery steward. “I want to show you a copy of my recently published edition of the Septuagint Old Testament,” Tischendorf said as he handed the volume to the monk.
The steward examined the book with interest, then commented, “I too have a copy of the Septuagint. Would you like to see it?”
To Tischendorf’s surprise the steward produced a heap of loose parchments wrapped in a red cloth. It proved to be the very treasure the visitor had sought. Indeed, it was a greater treasure, for not only did Tischendorf recognize part of the Septuagint Old Testament, but also all of the Greek New Testament plus two apochryphal books, The Shepherd of Hermas and the Epistle of Barnabas.
The next morning the visitor asked, “Will you sell me this manuscript?”
“That would require a vote of the monks,” Tischendorf was told. The priests were polled, and Tischendorf lost out by a single vote.
But one ray of hope remained. The superior of the monastery of St. Catherine was in Cairo. Tischendorf looked him up, told him of the treasure, and suggested, “Why do you not send for the manuscript and inspect it yourself?”
The head monk dispatched an Arabian sheik to Sinai to bring back the prize. Tischendorf was permitted to copy its contents, quire by quire. Two other German scholars who happened to be in Cairo then assisted him.
Meanwhile, Tischendorf owed a favor to Tsar Alexander II of Russia who was his patron on this expedition to Egypt. The Tsar was also head of the Greek Orthodox Church to which the monastery on Mount Sinai belonged. “It would be a graceful deed,” Tischendorf suggested to the superior, “to present this manuscript as a gift to Tsar Alexander, the protector of your church.”
The monastery monks wanted the Tsar to exert whatever influence he had in the selection of a new archbishop. Tischendorf’s suggestion came at a strategic moment. “You are commissioned,” announced the head monk, “to take the codex to Russia for presentation to the Tsar.” Tischendorf left Cairo on September 28, 1859.
Alexander II, in turn, gratified the Oriental expectation of baksheesh by presenting a counter-gift of 9,000 rubles (about $6,750) plus several highly prized decorations to the monastery. Not until the Russian ruler was notified that his gift had been accepted by the monks did he place the codex in the Imperial Library.
Since it was found on Mt. Sinai, the manuscript was called Codex Sinaiticus. It is the oldest complete manuscript of the Greek New Testament in existence, having been translated about the middle of the fourth century. Only the slightly earlier, but incomplete Codex Sinaiticus is considered superior by scholars. Codex Sinaiticus consists of 346½ leaves, of which 147½ comprise the New Testament. Its pages originally measured 15 inches by 13½ inches and usually carry four columns per page. Originally the codex contained the complete Greek Bible, but much was lost in the Sinaitic wastebasket. Four scribes cooperated in transcribing the work. Scholars in 1860 hailed Tischendorf’s discovery as one of the greatest prizes of all time in the area of Biblical research.
A century later this estimate persists, although one hundred years ago one voice was raised debunking the find. Constantine Simonides seized upon the publicity accorded the discovery as an occasion to exact revenge upon Tischendorf. Simonides had been discredited, largely through Tischendorf’s efforts, as a fraudulent forger of ancient documents. Now he “confessed” that he had forged the Codex Sinaiticus and boasted that his work was so convincing that it deceived Tischendorf, the man who had exposed his other frauds!
Simonides’ claims created quite a stir for a short season, but scholarship vindicated the authenticity of Tischendorf’s discovery.
Codex Sinaiticus reposed in the Russion library for more than 70 years. But when the Bolsheviks seized power, feelers were extended in search for a purchaser. “We have no use for Bibles and much use for money,” resolved the men of the Kremlin. An American syndicate negotiated for the purchase, but the depression of 1929 precluded a deal. This gave England an opportunity. One hundred thousand pounds sterling, then equal to a half-million American dollars, was offered to the Russians for the codex. At Christmastime, 1933, the celebrated Bible was transferred to the British Museum, where it is still located and on view to visitors.
People: Words And Events
Elections: As president of the National Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, Mrs. Fred J. Tooze … as editor of the Mississippi Baptist Record, Joe T. Odle.
Appointments: As Harry Emerson Fosdick Visiting Professor at Union Theological Seminary, New York, Bishop Johannes Lilje, chairman of the United Evangelical Lutheran Church in Germany (for one semester beginning in January, 1960) … as general secretary-treasurer of the Baptist Federation of Canada, the Rev. R. F. Bullen … as foreign secretary of World Literature Crusade, Dr. Oswald J. Smith.
Retirement:Dr. Harry L. Turner, president of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, effective next May.
Airplane pilots are reported to have spotted ruins believed to be the site of ancient Gomorrah, according to Religious News Service.
The ruins associated with the biblical city—with Sodom a centuries-old symbol of infamy—are 40 feet below the waters of the Dead Sea at the south end of Jordan’s Lisan peninsula.
Jordanian officials say the area will be dammed off and drained if the site is confirmed as Gomorrah.
One of five “cities of the plain” mentioned often in the Bible, Gomorrah together with the others was destroyed by “brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven” because of the wickedness of their inhabitants (Genesis 13:13 and 19:24–25).
Archaeologists have long held that the cities and the plain were located in the area now inundated south of the spot of land extending from the eastern shore.
Radio to Russia
The city of Monte Carlo, famed European gambling resort, holds promise of becoming a key relay point for radio transmission of the Christian witness to Russia. A 100,000-watt transmitter is being constructed at Monte Carlo as an extension to facilities of the Voice of Tangier, missionary radio station in Morocco. Projected completion date: next May.
The new voice, to be known as Trans World Radio, will aim five 300-foot antennas at Russia and other Iron Curtain countries. Programs will be offered in 28 languages.
More than $500,000 will need to be advanced by the Voice of Tangier, said President Paul E. Freed, to put the new transmitter on the air. Freed said Russia has never attempted to jam Voice of Tangier broadcasts.
The new transmitter will be 40 times more powerful than the one at Tangier and will be nearly 1,000 miles closer to Russia. The transmitter site overlooks the Mediterranean Sea and the entire 375-acre principality of Monaco.
Europe is the last continent to get a missionary radio station. There are some 20 missionary broadcasting outlets in other continents.
TV from Moscow
NBC Television hopes to film two services at the Moscow Baptist Church for American network viewing. The plan is a joint effort of NBC and the Southern Baptist Convention’s Radio and Television Commission.
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