This facsimile has been created under the auspices of the British Library and is published by Hendrickson Publishers, the world's leading publishers of Bibles. It is available to Folio Society members at a considerable saving on the published price.
The facsimile is accompanied by a 32-page booklet which introduces the Codex and its history and offers a page-by-page navigation to link the Codex folios to books and chapters of the Bible in English.
The Codex Sinaiticus found its way to St Catherine’s Monastery, Mount Sinai, the world’s oldest Christian monastery, where it remained, unknown to scholars in the West, until the mid-19th century. It was seen by Constantin Tischendorf, a visiting German scholar, in 1843, and he was given 43 leaves, which he took home to Leipzig.
Given that much of the manuscript had already been removed and that the monastery was put under significant pressure, in 1869 it was agreed to donate the Codex to the Tsar of Russia. It was obviously a matter of great personal interest to the imperial government of the time, which went to considerable lengths to obtain the Codex, proudly housing it in the Hermitage in St Petersburg.
After the Bolshevik Revolution, many in the West feared for the safety of the precious manuscript, but in fact it remained carefully protected in the library. When Stalin was in need of hard currency to pay for his industrialisation programme, he earmarked the Codex as a treasure likely to appeal to the West. After protracted negotiations, the Codex was bought by the British Museum for £100,000, making it the most expensive manuscript ever sold up until that time. It was a formidable sum for the museum to raise, but a public appeal (the first such) was extremely successful, providing half the total, while the government matched the public donations.
When the manuscript went on display at the British Museum in 1933, the queue of visitors stretched from the Reading Room all the way to Great Russell Street. Men removed their hats in a gesture of reverence as they approached the book. Now in the care of the British Library, it remains one of its most valued, and visited, treasures. Apart from its cultural and religious significance, it is quite extraordinary to look on a work of such antiquity.
The Codex was a work of great importance – not only was it painstakingly copied and then corrected by a team of scribes, but several centuries later it was extensively corrected and amended. Over 23,000 marginal amendments and notes can be seen in the text: some are tiny punctuation or spelling corrections probably made to assist readers, others are insertions of text (sometimes quite long blocks) that had been omitted or corrections against exemplars which a later writer considered more accurate. At the end of 2 Esdras a corrector wrote: ‘Collated against an extremely old copy corrected in the hand of the holy martyr Pamphilus, which copy at the end has a signature in his own hand.’ We know that Pamphilus was martyred in 309 and any books he wrote have been lost. If the unnamed scholar had correctly identified the manuscript it says much for the status of the Codex that such effort was made to ensure its textual perfection.
The Codex Sinaiticus is also a triumph of bookmaking, a revolution in how writing was recorded. Previously, literary works were written as scrolls, just as the Hebrew scriptures continue to be today. Early Christians popularised the codex format, folding papyrus sheets to make a bound book of pages. The 4th century saw the first large-scale parchment codices. It is extraordinary that they developed so quickly the ability to prepare large amounts of fine-quality parchment (each folio as thin as a normal piece of paper). It was this ability which enabled the formation of a one-volume Bible, the origin of the Bible as we conceive it today: one large-scale work, assembled in a particular order, rather than a series of separate pamphlets.
Written in the script known as biblical majuscule, it is an austere but very beautiful text. Delicate corones adorn the beginning and end of each chapter, but the measured beauty of the calligraphy and contrast between red and black inks is sufficient decoration for the manuscript as a whole.
No reader can fail to be moved by its venerability, and the intense care that went into both the making and conservation of the Codex Sinaiticus for over a millennium and a half.
Such a complex history explains why today parts of the Codex are to be found in different collections. The British Library holds the vast majority of the material, but there are 86 pages in Leipzig, and fragments in St Petersburg. Thrillingly, in 1975, a forgotten room was discovered in St Catherine’s Monastery at Mount Sinai, containing a further 18 leaves from the Codex.
A major project under the auspices of these four institutions has photographed and transcribed all the extant pages and fragments of the manuscript and brought them together to create a digital online version, allowing scholars to study the Codex with ease. (see http://www.codexsinaiticus.org/en/).
Crucially, the Codex Sinaiticus project has created a printed, colour facsimile, permitting people to handle the book and appreciate its worth as a cultural object as well as a text.
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