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Codex Sinaiticus

(Probably Written by order of Constantine in 331 AD and preserved in the Monastery at Mt. Sinai. It was later discovered by Tischendorf in 1859)

The Codex Sinaiticus was one of the oldest Bibles in the world and its discovery in the 19th century made it more significant in Biblical history. According to Biblical scholar Constantine von Tischendorf, the Codex Sinaiticus was one of the Bibles commissioned by the Roman emperor Constantine after he converted to Christianity. It was named after the place where it was found, the Monastery of Saint Catherine in the Sinai Peninsula of modern Egypt. The Codex Sinaiticus is recorded on the Biblical Timeline Poster with World History in the 7th century AD.

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The Codex Sinaiticus included both the Old and New Testaments which were painstakingly handwritten on four hundred large leaves of parchment (animal skin); each parchment leaf measured 380 mm high and 345 mm wide. It was a period that marked the gradual transition from papyrus roll to the increased use of sheepskin and goatskin parchment to record texts, including the Bible. It contained half of the Septuagint (the Old Testament and Apocrypha), the New Testament, and other Christian texts that were not included in modern Bibles. Missing, however, were the historical books of Genesis up to 1 Chronicles, as well as the Apocryphal texts of Wisdom, Sirach, Tobit, 1 & 4 Maccabees, Judith, and 2 Esdras. The books were also ordered differently from the modern Bible.

Who Wrote Codex Sinaiticus?

According to Tischendorf, as much as four scribes wrote the Codex Sinaiticus on parchment but modern analyses claim that only three scribes worked on this heavily annotated text (this was based on the distinctive handwriting found in the text). Before the texts were written, the scribes first decided on a suitable format to maximize their use of parchment. The texts were written on four columns of each page, except for the poetical books (Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes, etc.) which were placed in two columns per page. After the texts were checked, the leaves were assembled and bound together.

Present Location of the Manuscript

The Codex Sinaiticus was found in the Monastery of Saint Catherine, but at present, most of the manuscript can be found in the British Library, which owns 347 leaves. The University Library in Leipzig owns 43 leaves, while the National Library of Russia has fragments of six leaves. The remaining leaves remain in Saint Catherine’s Monastery after they were found in 1975.

“Tischendorf in 1870”

Timeline of the Codex Sinaiticus

Fourth Century – Probable date of writing of the Codex in Saint Catherine’s Monastery in Sinai Peninsula. The manuscript was preserved in the monastery for hundreds of years until its discovery in the 19th century.

1761 – Manuscript first mentioned in the journal of naturalist and archaeologist Vitaliano Donati, an Italian guest of the monastery.

Between May 24 and June 1, 1844 – German Biblical scholar Constantine von Tischendorf discovered a manuscript (which would be known later as the Codex Sinaiticus) in the Saint Catherine’s Monastery. He was shown 129 leaves of the Old Testament.

1845 – Constantine von Tischendorf brought 43 leaves of the manuscript to Germany. He named the manuscript Codex Friderico-Augustanus to honor the king of Saxony, Frederick Augustus II. These were later acquired by the University Library in Leipzig where the 43 leaves of the manuscript can still be found.

1845 – The Russian Bishop Porphyrius (Konstantin Aleksandrovich Uspenski) traveled to Mount Sinai and visited the monastery. He examined 347 leaves of the manuscript and obtained fragments of two pages (which he took with him to Russia). These fragments were called Codex Porphyrianus after the Russian bishop and were obtained in 1883 by the Imperial Library of Saint Petersburg.

1853 – Tischendorf’s second visit to the Saint Catherine’s Monastery and he acquired another fragment of the manuscript.

1859 – Final visit of Constantine von Tischendorf to the monastery and this time, he was sponsored by Tsar Alexander II of Russia. Tischendorf requested for the remaining 347 leaves to be transferred to the metochion (embassy church) of the Monastery in Cairo.

February 25, 1859 – All leaves were transferred to Cairo for examination.

September 16 or 28, 1859 – Tischendorf received authorization from the monastery to take the 347 leaves to Russia and compare his earlier work with the original manuscript. The donation of the manuscript had a condition that the leaves would be returned to the monastery anytime it requested.

1862 – Publication of the print facsimile edition by Tischendorf in Russia. The original manuscript was acquired by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Saint Petersburg, which they kept for the next seven years.

1869 – Codex Sinaiticus was transferred to the Imperial Library.

1911 – Fragment from the binding of the Codex was identified in the safekeeping of the Society of Ancient Literature in Saint Petersburg.

1933 – Codex Sinaiticus sold to Britain by Joseph Stalin for the sum of 拢100,000 to support his government’s second Five-Year Plan. It arrived in London on 26 Dec 1933 and received by the British Museum on the following day.

January 29, 1934 – Archbishop Porphyrios of Sinai sent a telegram to Britain, which asserted the monastery’s right as the sole owner of the Codex. The Codex Sinaiticus remained at the British Museum after an analysis of the events related to its donation to Tischendorf by the Monastery’s community.

May 26, 1975 – More leaves and fragments of the Codex Sinaiticus found by Skeuophylax Father Sophronios inside a room underneath the Saint George’s Chapel in the Monastery. The eighteen leaves and fragments can be found today at Saint Catherine’s.

Picture By Unknown, Public Domain,
“History of Codex Sinaiticus.” Codex Sinaiticus. Accessed July 13, 2016.
Lampe, G. W. H. The Cambridge History of the Bible. Volume 2: The West from the Fathers to the Reformation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969.
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