By NARDINE SAAD,
Associated Press Writer Nardine Saad,
Associated Press Writer – Mon Jul 6,
6:26 pm ET
LONDON – The surviving pages of the world’s
oldest Christian Bible have been reunited — digitally. The early work known as the
Sinaiticus has been housed in four separate locations across the world for
more than 150 years. But starting Monday, it became available for perusal on
the Web at http://www.codexsinaiticus.org
so scholars and other readers can get a closer look at what the British Library
calls a "unique treasure."
"(The book) offers
a window into the development of early Christianity and firsthand evidence of how the text of the
Bible was transmitted from generation to generation," said Scot McKendrick, head of Western manuscripts at the British Library.
As it survives today,
Codex Sinaiticus comprises just over 400 large leaves
of prepared animal skin, each of which measures 15 inches by 13.5 inches (380
millimeters by 345 millimeters). It is the oldest book that contains a complete
Testament and is
only missing parts of the Old Testament and the Apocrypha.
The 4th-century book,
written in Greek, has been digitally reunited in a project involving groups
from Britain, Germany, Russia
which each possessed parts of the 1,600-year-old manuscript.
They worked together to
publish new research into the history of the Codex and transcribed 650,000
words over a four-year period.
The Codex was both a key
Christian text and "a landmark in the history of the book, as it is
arguably the oldest large-bound book to have survived," McKendrick said.
Codex Sinaiticus, which loosely translated means "the book
from Sinai," was discovered at the Monastery of Saint Catherine at Mount
Sinai by German Bible scholar Constantine Tischendorf
in the mid-19th century. Much of it eventually wound up in Russia — just how
exactly the British Library won’t say, citing lingering sensitivity over the
circumstances surrounding its removal from the monastery.
The British Library
bought 347 pages from Soviet authorities in 1933. Forty-three pages are at the University Library in Leipzig, Germany, and six fragments are at the National Library of Russia in St. Petersburg. And in 1975, monks stumbled
on 12 more pages and 40 fragments stashed in a hidden room at the monastery at Mount Sinai.
Juan Garces, the Codex Sinaiticus project manager, said putting the book online
was a "definitely a historical moment."
because it’s the oldest almost completely preserved bible," Garces said.
Garces said the only
other Bible that rivals Codex Sinaiticus in age is
Vaticanus, which was written around the same time but lacks parts of the New Testament.
"It’s such an
important book — that’s why it should be accessible," Garces said.
"If you would have liked to see it before you would have had to travel to
four countries in two continents. If you want to see the manuscript right now
all you have to do is go online and experience it for yourself."
On the Codex parchment
leaves is written around half of the Old Testament and Apocrypha, the whole of the New Testament and two early
Christian texts not found in modern Bibles. Most of the first part of the Bible
manuscript — containing most of the so-called historical books, from
Genesis to 1 Chronicles — is missing and presumed to be lost.
Garces said Codex Sinaiticus was handwritten by four scribes. Experts had
previously believed there were only three, but researchers at the British
Library looked at the script with high quality digital imaging that revealed
the hand of a fourth penman.
"From Parchment to
Pixel: The Virtual Reunification of the Codex Sinaiticus," an
exhibit about the Bible’s reunification process, opened at the British Library
on Monday and runs until Sept. 7.
The digitized manuscript
includes more than 800 pages and fragments, including the pages discovered in
1975 — published for the first time.
"There’s a high
demand," Garces said. "Our Web site has crashed because people want
to look at it."
On the Net: http://www.codexsinaiticus.org