Codex Sinaiticus: The Story of the World's Oldest Bible

by D. C. Parker

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Retail: $34.95
Size: 6.75 x 9.75 inches
Binding: Cloth
Pages: 208
Pub Date: 2010
ISBN: 9781598565768
ISBN-13: 9781598565768
Item Number: 565768
Categories: Church History; Archaeology and Biblical History

Product Description

Despite its rather austere appearance, the Codex Sinaiticus is a treasure beyond price. Produced in the middle of the fourth century, its bound parchment pages hold the full canon of the Christian Bible and more—the handwritten Greek text of the earliest surviving copy of the complete koine New Testament; the earliest and best copies of some Septuagint texts, the Old Testament Scriptures as they were adopted by the first-century church; and two late fi rst-century Christian texts, the Shepherd of Hermas and the Epistle of Barnabas. The sections are heavily marked by early correctors.

Told here is the compelling story of how the Codex Sinaiticus was created and used in the ancient church; how it was preserved for centuries at the monastery of St. Catherine’s, Mount Sinai; its subsequent history and how its pages came to be divided and dispersed; and how it has been compiled again and made accessible to a worldwide audience for the first time.

D. C. Parker’s outstanding research and excellent storytelling skills simultaneously illuminate the chronology of bookmaking in Western culture and the effects of that technology on the presentation of the biblical canon. Offering a fascinating look at the task of making a Bible in the year, AD 350, he discusses how included books were chosen—or not; physical elements of production—layout, ink, parchment, binding, and budget; the jobs of scribes and correctors; and the role of annotators. As readers follow the travels of the pieces of the Codex Sinaiticus through the twentieth century, they’ll discover key personalities and places, and absorb the details of the current production of the Internet electronic edition of this singular document. Full-color illustrations and suggestions for further reading add much to the journey.


"Published alongside the facsimile, is the superb volume written by David Parker that communicates the story of Codex Sinaiticus and the project that resulted in the production of the facsimile and the development of the technologically innovative website. Parker’s book is much more than a retelling of the history of Codex Sinaiticus. As a master scholar of textual criticism and codicology, he unpacks the relevance of this gargantuan manuscript as part of the fascinating task of understanding the development of book-making and the ongoing quest to study the text of the bible. Arranged over twelve chapters and lavishly illustrated, Parker presents a highly readable yet also intellectually sophisticated appreciation of this fourth century textual masterpiece. In the first chapter the history of the manuscript is described. The process of correcting the manuscript from the time of its creation till around the year 600 is outlined in a section dealing with the use of the Codex in antiquity (p. 3). The next chapter provides a more generalized overview of Christian books in the time of Constantine, particularly highlighting the emperor's commission to Eusebius to produce fifty copies of the scriptures for use in churches in Constantinople (p. 19). Chapter three discusses some of the decisions which may have led to the selection of texts included in Codex Sinaiticus - including the Shepherd of Hermas and the Epistle of Barnabas after the book of Revelation.

"After considering details of the selection process, Parker spends the next three chapters outlining what can be known about the actual production process. Tischendorf's ‘romantic notion that the parchment might be antelope hide’ (p. 44) is rejected with the benefit of scientific analysis. Parker states that ‘examination of the entry point of the hair into the skin reveals that some sheets are cattle hide and some are sheep skin’ (p. 44). It is estimate that the cost of producing the manuscript would have been equivalent to the price of about five tons of wheat, or slightly less than the annual income of a priest or deacon. Yet Parker provides far more than fascinating snippets. Issues surrounding scribal habits are described in detail in chapter five, and in the sixth chapter the work of the various correctors. It may at first glance seem staggering to the casual reader to learn that there are approximately ‘27,305 places where the text has been altered’ (p. 79). Three broad reasons for corrections are noted: to correct mistakes made by the scribe; to change the presentation; and, to change the text to make it conform to a different text (p. 86). The seventh chapter discusses major text-critical issues that revolve around discussing the type of texts to which it bears witness. As Parker highlights, it is necessary to speak of texts in the plural because Codex Sinaiticus contains Greek texts of much of the Old Testament, including writings that are often designated as part of the Apocrypha, as well as the earliest complete collection of New Testament writings, and two other early Christian writings. Each of the texts that make up this Codex has a different textual history, which prevents one from resorting to broad generalizations. Here some of the principles of New Testament textual criticism are introduced to non-specialist readers using the data in Sinaiticus to provide examples. In particular the absence of both the longer ending of Mark's Gospel (Mk 16.9-20) and the story of the woman taken in adultery is noted.

"Chapters eight to twelve cover the later history of this Codex. Annotations found written within the Codex are documented, as well as possible sightings of the manuscript in the eighteenth and first half of the nineteenth centuries. In chapter nine, the now famous (or infamous) story of Constantin von Tischendorf's ‘discovery’ is recounted. The account that Tischendorf rescued the manuscript just before it was about to be burnt is deconstructed (pp. 128-131). The story of the ‘transfer’ of Codex Sinaiticus into Russian hands is presented as being due to discussion surrounding the withdrawal of financial support from St Catherine’s monastery. Next, the modern stage of the story is traced, with an account of the purchase of the Codex by the British Library in 1933 for the sum of £100,000, which at the time ‘made it by a long way the most expensive book in the world’ (p. 157). The final chapter relates the story of the presentation of digital web-based images (pp. 167-184).

"Codex Sinaiticus, one of the most ancient of the extensive biblical manuscripts, is now available in the most modern and technologically advanced of formats. The website allows access to a huge range of extra digital features. The facsimile is not just a physical monument to this great fourth century manuscript; moreover, it is a significant research tool in its own right. Parker's introduction, Codex Sinaiticus: The Story of the World’s Oldest Bible, makes the story of this astounding Codex more accessible, but more than this it also updates that story in light of recent developments and the latest scholarship, Whereas the original Codex Sinaiticus cost something in the vicinity of the annual wage of a priest, this splendid facsimile costs less than the weekly wage of most workers. Nearly seventeen centuries on from its original production, Codex Sinaiticus is no less magnificent, no less splendid, no less breath taking, It is amazing that this beautiful facsimile reproduction can be part of even a private library. Many thanks go to David Parker and the entire team of scholars and technicians involved in the Codex Sinaiticus Project. The life of this great book is guaranteed for many centuries to come."
Expository Times

“Codex Sinailicus: The Story of the World's Oldest Bible, by D. C. Parker, (2010) will be of great interest to collectors who focus on the original biblical documents. It recounts in some detail the making and eventual discovery by Constantine Tischendorf (1844-1869) of a handwritten Greek manuscript of the most ancient complete New Testament (4th century). This book includes 22 color plates of Sinaiticus leaves and persons involved in its discovery.”
Bible Editions and Versions

“Codex Sinaiticus (S) of ca. 350 A.D. is one of the most famous books ever produced. P.'s volume provides a wide ranging account of the manuscript that includes discussion, e.g., of its original content (not only the books of the LXX OT and the NT, but also the Letter of Barnabas and the Shepherd of Hermas), current extent (the books Genesis-Kings are largely missing) and whereabouts (besides leaves preserved in libraries in London, Leipzig and St. Petersburg, the so-called "New Finds" of 1975 are housed in St. Catherine's Monastery in the Sinai), paleography, S's multiple scribes and correctors, its textual character and peculiarities and the complicated and controverted story of its "discovery" by the Western world beginning in 1844. In addition, P. presents the electronic version of S that became available in 2009 ( and directions for how this might he used. The volume is illustrated with a series of colored plates that convey a sense of the manuscript's opulent beauty.”
Old Testament Abstracts

Author Bio

D. C. Parker is the Edward Cadbury Professor of Theology and Director of the Institute for Textual Scholarship, University of Birmingham, England. He is also the author of An Introduction to the New Testament Manuscripts and their Texts, Codex Bezae: Papers from the Lunel Colloquium and The Living Text of the Gospels.

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