Saturday, August 09, 2008

Codex Sinaiticus

I saved this as a note in Scribefire a couple of weeks ago and then forgot about it.
Codex Sinaiticus, a manuscript of the Christian Bible written in the middle of the fourth century, contains the earliest complete copy of the Christian New Testament. The hand-written text is in Greek. The New Testament appears in the original vernacular language (koine) and the Old Testament in the version, known as the Septuagint, that was adopted by early Greek-speaking Christians. In the Codex, the text of both the Septuagint and the New Testament has been heavily annotated by a series of early correctors.

The significance of Codex Sinaiticus for the reconstruction of the Christian Bible's original text, the history of the Bible and the history of Western book-making is immense.
Interesting on more than one level. Not only a very early version of the New Testament, but it is constructed into something that we would look at and immediately identify as a bound book. And 1,600 years ago, book-making wasn't easy.
Codex Sinaiticus was copied by more than one scribe. Constantine Tischendorf identified four in the nineteenth century. Subsequent research decided that there were three, but it is possible that a fourth (different from Tischendorf’s fourth scribe) can be identified. Each of the three undisputed scribes has a distinctive way of writing which can be identified with practice. Each also had a distinctive way of spelling many sounds, particularly vowels which scribes often wrote phonetically. One of them may have been a senior copyist.

To make their manuscript, the scribes had to perform a series of tasks. They had to

1. determine a format (there are very few surviving manuscripts written with four columns to a page);
2. divide the work between them;
3. prepare the parchment, including ruling it with a framework for the layout of columns and lines;
4. prepare the manuscripts they were copying;
5. get pens and ink together;
6. write the text;
7. check it;
8. assemble the whole codex in the right order.
Of course it contains a few books that are now considered "apocryphal," and the order of the books is different from the modern Bible. There is a project now in progress to put the whole thing online in several different languages, but the project is still relatively new and there doesn't seem to be anything available in English yet. Read all about it at Codex Sinaiticus.

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