Codex Sinaiticus

Codex Sinaiticus (London, Brit. Libr., Add. 43725; Gregory-Aland nº א (Aleph) or 01) is a 4th century uncial manuscript of the Greek Bible, written between 330–350. While it originally contained the whole of both Testaments, only portions of the Greek Old Testament or Septuagint survive, along with a complete New Testament, the Epistle of Barnabas, and portions of The Shepherd of Hermas (suggesting that the latter two

A portion of the Codex Sinaiticus, containing Esther 2:3-8.

may have been considered part of Biblical canon by the editors of the codex [citation needed]). Along with Codex Vaticanus, Codex Sinaiticus is one of the most valuable manuscripts for textual criticism of the Greek New Testament, as well as the Septuagint. For most of the New Testament, Codex Sinaiticus is in general agreement with Codex Vaticanus and Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus, attesting an Alexandrian text-type, but in John 1:1-8:38, Codex Sinaiticus is in closer agreement with Codex Bezae in support of a Western text-type. A notable example of an agreement between the Sinaiticus and Vaticanus texts is that they both omit the phrase "without cause" from Matthew 5:22.


The entire codex consists of 346½ folios, written in four columns. Of these, 199 belong to the Old Testament and 147½ belong to the New Testament, along with two other books, the Epistle of Barnabas and part of The Shepherd of Hermas. The books of the New Testament are arranged in this order: the four Gospels, the epistles of Paul, the Acts of the Apostles, the General Epistles, and the Book of Revelation.

Of its prior history, little is known. It is speculated to have been written in Egypt and is sometimes associated with the 50 copies of the scriptures commissioned by Roman Emperor Constantine after his conversion to Christianity.

A paleographical study at the British Museum in 1938 found that the text had undergone several corrections. The first corrections were done by several scribes before the manuscript left the scriptorium. In the sixth or seventh century many alterations were made, which, according to a colophon at the end of the book of Esdras and Esther states, that the source of these alterations was "a very ancient manuscript that had been corrected by the hand of the holy martyr Pamphylus" (martyred AD 309). From this is concluded, that it had been in Caesarea Maritima in the 6th or 7th centuries.[1] Uncorrected is the pervasive iotacism, especially of the ει diphthong.


The Codex Sinaiticus was shown to Constantin von Tischendorf on his third visit to the Monastery of Saint Catherine, at the foot of Mount Sinai in Egypt, in 1859. The first two trips had yielded parts of the Old Testament, some found in a basket of manuscript pieces, which Tischendorf was told by a librarian "were rubbish which was to be destroyed by burning it in the ovens of the monastery".[2] (However, this story may have been a fabrication, or the manuscripts in question may been unrelated to Codex Sinaiticus: Rev. J. Silvester Davies in 1863 quoted "a monk of Sinai who ... stated that according to the librarian of the monastery the whole of Codex Sinaiticus had been in the library for many years and was marked in the ancient catalogues ... Is it likely ... that a manuscript known in the library catalogue would have been jettisoned in the rubbish basket." Indeed, it has been noted that the leaves were in "suspiciously good condition" for something found in the trash.[3]) Tischendorf had been sent to search for manuscripts by Russia's Tsar Alexander II, who was convinced there were still manuscripts to be found at the Sinai monastery. In May 1975, during restoration work, the monks of St. Catherine's monastery discovered a room beneath the St. George Chapel which contained many parchment fragments. Among these fragments were twelve missing leaves from the Sinaiticus Old Testament.

The story of how von Tischendorf found the manuscript, which contained most of the Old Testament and all of the New Testament, has all the interest of a romance. Von Tischendorf reached the monastery on January 31; but his inquiries appeared to be fruitless. On February 4, he had resolved to return home without having gained his object:

On the afternoon of this day I was taking a walk with the steward of the convent in the neighbourhood, and as we returned, towards sunset, he begged me to take some refreshment with him in his cell. Scarcely had he entered the room, when, resuming our former subject of conversation, he said: "And I, too, have read a Septuagint" — i.e. a copy of the Greek translation made by the Seventy. And so saying, he took down from the corner of the room a bulky kind of volume, wrapped up in a red cloth, and laid it before me. I unrolled the cover, and discovered, to my great surprise, not only those very fragments which, fifteen years before, I had taken out of the basket, but also other parts of the Old Testament, the New Testament complete, and, in addition, the Epistle of Barnabas and a part of the Shepherd of Hermas.[4]

After some negotiations, he obtained possession of this precious fragment. James Bentley gives an account of how this came about, prefacing it with the comment, "Tischendorf therefore now embarked on the remarkable piece of duplicity which was to occupy him for the next decade, which involved the careful suppression of facts and the systematic denigration of the monks of Mount Sinai."[5] He conveyed it to Tsar Alexander, who appreciated its importance and had it published as nearly as possible in facsimile, so as to exhibit correctly the ancient handwriting. The Tsar sent the monastery 9,000 rubles by way of compensation.

Regarding Tischendorf's role in the transfer to Saint Petersburg, there are several views. Although when parts of Genesis and Book of Numbers were later found in the bindings of other books, they were amicably sent to Tischendorf, the codex is currently regarded by the monastery as having been stolen, is a view hotly contested by several scholars in Europe. In a more neutral spirit, New Testament scholar Bruce Metzger writes:

Certain aspects of the negotiations leading to the transfer of the codex to the Czar's possession are open to an interpretation that reflects adversely on Tischendorf's candour and good faith with the monks at St. Catherine's. For a recent account intended to exculpate him of blame, see Erhard Lauch's article 'Nichts gegen Tischendorf' in Bekenntnis zur Kirche: Festgabe für Ernst Sommerlath zum 70. Geburtstag (Berlin, c. 1961); for an account that includes a hitherto unknown receipt given by Tischendorf to the authorities at the monastery promising to return the manuscript from St. Petersburg 'to the Holy Confraternity of Sinai at its earliest request', see Ihor Ševčenko's article 'New Documents on Tischendorf and the Codex Sinaiticus', published in the journal Scriptorium, xviii (1964) pp. 55–80.[6]

For many decades, the Codex was preserved in the Russian National Library. In 1933, the Soviet Union sold the codex to the British Library for £100,000. Visitors in our day report that the monks at St. Catherine's Monastery display the receipt they received from Tischendorf for the Codex, in a frame that hangs upon the wall.

One theological controversy arising from the content of the Codex Sinaiticus are the different writing styles in the Gospel of Mark, indicating the addition of the Resurrection in a different, more informal hand (possibly to an earlier, shorter version of Mark that finished with the empty Tomb).

Present location

The codex is now split into four unequal portions: 347 leaves in the British Library in London, 12 leaves and 14 fragments in St. Catherine's Monastery of Sinai, 43 leaves in the Leipzig University Library, and fragments of 3 leaves in the Russian National Library in St Petersburg.

In June 2005, a joint project to produce a new digital edition of the manuscript (involving all four holding libraries) and a series of other studies was announced. This will include the use of hyperspectral imaging to photograph the manuscripts to look for hidden information such as erased or faded text.[7] This is to be done in cooperation with the British Library.

See also

  1. ^ Bruce M. Metzger, the Text of the New Testament, its Transmission, Corruption and Restoration, Oxford University Press, 1992, p. 46.
  2. ^ Skeat, T. C. "The Last Chapter in the History of the Codex Sinaiticus." Novum Testamentum. Vol. 42, Fasc. 3, Jul., 2000. p. 313
  3. ^ Davies words are from a letter published in The Guardian on 27 May 1863, as quoted by J.K. Elliott in Codex Sinaiticus and the Simonides Affair, (Thessaloniki: Patriarchal Institute for Patristic Studies, 1982), p. 16; Elliott in turn is quoted by Michael D. Peterson in his essay "Tischendorf and the Codex Sinaiticus: the Saga Continues", in The Church and the Library, ed. Papademetriou and Sopko (Boston: Somerset Hall Press, 2005), p. 77. See also notes 2 and 3, p. 90, in Papademetriou.
  4. ^ See Constantin von Tischendorf, The Discovery of the Sinaitic Manuscript, Extract from Constantin von Tischendorf, When Were Our Gospels Written? An Argument by Constantine Tischendorf. With a Narrative of the Discovery of the Sinaitic Manuscript [New York: American Tract Society, 1866].
  5. ^ James Bentley, Secrets of Mount Sinai (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1986), p. 95.
  6. ^ Bruce A. Metzger, The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption and Restoration, Oxford University Press, 1992, p. 45.
  7. ^ Oldest known Bible to go online. August 3, 2005. Accessed June 08, 2006.

This entry incorporates text from the public domain Easton's Bible Dictionary, originally published in 1897.

External links