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

Codex Sinaiticus: The Story of the World's Oldest Bible. DC Parker. The British Library/Hendrickson 2010. ISBN 9780712358033

This Review was first published in Essentials Spring 2014

One of the moving experiences I remember well is seeing Codex Sinaiticus in the British Library some years ago. What it is, why it is important, and how it got to the Library is told in this very interesting book.

In one way the book is the report and promotion of the collaboration of four groups in the research, and making available to the world, of Codex Sinaiticus. The project came together in 2005 when the Archbishop of Sinai, the British Library, the Leipzig Library and the National Library of Russia, St Petersburg agreed to collaborate in making their different portions of the Codex available to the world.

This book is a report of the collaboration and an introduction to the Digital Project which now has the whole of the Codex viewable by anyone with access the World Wide Web [codexsinaiticus.org].

At present the Codex is found in Leipzig (eighty six pages); in the British Library (694 pages); St Petersburg (parts of eight pages); and St Catherine's (parts or all of thirty six ages – found along with other manuscripts in a room in the monastery in 1975).

 

For many people it is Constantin Tischendorf who is associated with the story of the Codex. But the story is much more complex and interesting. David Parker is Edward Cadbury Professor of Theology and Director of the Institute for the Textual Scholarship and Electronic Editing at the University of Birmingham. He tells a fascinating story not only of the coming together of the Digital Project but the whole story of the manuscript.

He outlines the content of the manuscript which includes parts of the Shepherd of Hermas and Epistle of Barnabas. The chapter on the Christian book in the time of Constantine shows how Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus were pioneers in the modern form of the book (folded pages, written on both sides and sewn together). Discussions of the roles of Constantine and Eusebius of Caesarea in the production of the Codex are detailed and judicious. Parker outlines issues to do with the canon, Greek versions of the OT and NT and the reasons why two non-canonical books were bound with the others.

The art of book making is discussed in detail, including the ink, the parchment, the layout and the scribes (three probably). Dating manuscripts, identifying scribes, working out how they worked together as a team, where they got their source materials from, and the budget, is just fascinating.

Chapters on the work of the scribes, and the correctors gives wonderful background not only into the production of the book, but also of the transmission of the biblical text. Parker also compares the text of the bible in Sinaiticus with the text of other manuscripts and codices.

What happened to the Codex after it was competed in the middle of the 4th century? Various other people made glosses notes and corrections to it right up to the middle ages and beyond. It seems it eventually went out of use because of the change in script in general use – not many people could read the old majuscule script after a certain time.

The history of what happened in the 19th and 20th centuries occupies three chapters. Parker serves us well in clarifying the role of Tischendorf as compared with his legend. Others had visited the monastery over the years. Nevertheless Tischendorf played a number of crucial roles. Not only in playing a part in the transfer of some leaves to Leipzig and later the codex as a gift to the Russian Tsar, but in his amazing transcription of the text and the subsequent production of a facsimile edition. Parker makes this a very enjoyable, and clear, story.

The book concludes with the story of how the Codex came to the British Library and how the Virtual Codex Sinaiticus came into being. The book has lots of very fine colour plates of pages of the manuscript illustrating the text and one or two historical photos.

If you are interested in books, old manuscripts, history, adventure, intrigue, textual criticism, or the digitising of old texts, or Codex Sinaiticus itself, this is a great book.

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