Written by hand more than 1600 years ago, and divided into four institutions in as many countries, the Codex Sinaiticus is all together again ? on line. Called one of the most important books in the world, not only for the text it contains, but for the 4th century technology used to make it, the Codes Sinaiticus has collided with the 21st century.
The manuscript is a Christian Bible written in Greek, and is the oldest complete copy of the New Testament. As of July 6, 2009, the Codex Sinaiticus website offers all extant pages of the document. Now, scholars can study the entire manuscript which may lead to new conclusions about a document that remains controversial.
Did words from Proverbs inspire the researchers who worked on this project? ?Happy the man who finds wisdom, the man who gains understanding? says Chapter 3, Verse 13, which can be seen on the website as:
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Research based on handwriting dates the Codex Sinaiticus. The manuscript is being studied for reconstruction of the Christian Bible’s original text, how the Christian canon was established, insight into the history of the Bible, and general review of the development of books.
The name "Codex Sinaiticus" literally means "the Sinai Book", indicating its form and its place in history. When it was written, sheets were folded and bound together as we know books today, replacing the method of writing on rolls like those of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
A papyrus codex was a distinctive feature of early Christian culture. The Codex Sinaiticus, however, was written on animal skin parchment making it an important transition in book making history.
Prior to preserving the pages as digitized images, the originals of the antique and fragile document needed to be protected. The physical characteristics of each leaf were analyzed and recorded, and limited conservation was done where necessary. It was examined to determine which animal skins were used to make the parchment leaves, how they were prepared before text was written upon them, and what types of ink were used.
The criteria for digitization was that the writing on the leaves had to be readable on the resulting images and that the natural appearance of the parchment and ink had to be faithfully reproduced. Making the process more difficult was the necessity of photographing the pieces at the four institutions that held them, each with different equipment. The manuscript is scattered among the British Library, in the UK which holds 347 pages, the Leipzig University Library in Germany with 43 leaves, St Catherine’s Monastery, Sinai its original location, now has only 12 leaves and 40 fragments, and the National Library of Russia in St Petersburg has portions of 6 pages.
Lighting the leaves to photograph them was a challenge. Each page reflected light at a different angle. A compromise was settled upon which lit the page at an angle of 45 degrees on low intensity without any backlighting. Additionally, the parchment has many marks on its surface ? puckering, ruling indentations, and other naturally occurring blemishes and marks which didn?t show well under the 45 degree angle. So, each page was processed twice, the second exposure using a light source at a low angle from a top corner to show the physical features of the parchment. A third situation had to be overcome – the thin leaves allow the text from the other side of the page to ?bleed through? when photographed.
Only portions of the bible as we know it are preserved. The Codex Sinaiticus consists of approximately half of the Old Testament and Apocrypha (the Septuagint), the entire New Testament, and two early Christian texts not found in modern Bibles. The books of the New Testament are arranged in a different order than our modern bibles.
Transcriptions show that corrections were common over the years, made by the original scribes as well as others all the way through the 12th century. Changes range from a single letter being altered to entire sentences being inserted. The Septuatint was especially susceptible to modification. Continued study will raise continued controversy.