New Piece of an Old Book

An new fragment of Codex Sinaiticus has been discovered in Egypt by a British graduate student at St. Catherine’s Monastery.  The article in The Independent calls Codex Sinaiticus “the world’s oldest Bible.”  There are many fragments of biblical manuscripts older than Sinaiticus–but it is a nearly complete whole Bible in Greek, containing both the Old Testament and the New Testament.  In that sense, it is proper to call it the world’s oldest Bible.

Ancient manuscripts often had interesting histories.  Constantine Tischendorf found the codex in1859 in a basket at St. Catherine’s monastery, where it had been for centuries.  He made arrangements for the Russian government to purchase it.  Eventually the British government bought it from the Russians (who kept 6 leaves for themselves), and now most of it (347 leaves) is in the British Library in London.

The University of Leipzig, where Tischendorf was professor, obtained 43 leaves of it.  In 1975 the monks at St. Catherine’s discovered 12 new leaves and 40 fragments.  The new fragment was found as part of “recycled” parchment.  It had been used to form the binding of another book.

Until just this summer (June 6, 2009 to be precise) if you wanted to see the whole manuscript you would have to travel to museums in four countries just to get a glimpse.  (I saw a portion under glass in a dimly-lit room last year at the British Library.)  Only a few elite scholars have been actually allowed to study it.

But now the entire manuscript (well, except for the newly discovered fragments) is available online.  Go to the official site here to learn more about the manuscript and to see the digital images.

Thanks to Joe Collins for sending me the tip.