Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Codex Sinaiticus On-line: Initial Thoughts


The initial stage of the on-line Sinaiticus project is (as already noted) here. The initial stage includes all the leaves currently in Leipzig (43 leaves = 86 pages), comprising portions of 1 Chronicles, 2 Esdras, Esther, Tobit, Jeremiah, and Lamentations. In addition from the British Library portions we have Psalms and Mark’s Gospel, as well as additional BL leaves of the books mentioned above. A complete list of available pages (with links) is here.

There are some great things about this web-site:
  1. The web site is very clear, and it is easy to navigate to get to a particular passage. You can choose what to have displayed (image, transcription, translation, conservation notes).

  2. The photos are excellent. Very zoomable, excellent detail etc. The raking light option is helpful for whole pages (esp lining techniques etc.) - although these are not, as far as I can see, zoomable. [22.8.08: good news these images are zoomable now.]

  3. The extra information (when available) is generally interesting. (I confess to being most interested in the photos and the conservation notes.)
  4. Having all the Leipzig pages is very valuable, since the preservation of the Leipzig pages has long been talked about as a problem. It is also possible to compare the images from London with the images from Leipzig. For example, Quire 34, folio 8 verso (1 Chron 10:11 - 11:22) is in the British Library; while Quire 35, folio 1 recto (1 Chron 11:22 - 12:18) is in the Leipzig University Library. The technical people have done a great job in ensuring precisely the same standards for photos taken in different places at different times. It just looks like you move from one page to the next. The Leipzig pages may not have fared so well in terms of preservation, but they are easily readable and the magnification works fine. (There is a bit more difference to be observed if you compare Quire 37 folio 3 verso (Tobit 1:7 - 2:2; Leipzig); with Quire 37 folio 4 recto (Tobit 2:2 - 3:5; London) - the Leipzig sheet is greyer with much less colour and definition, I can’t say whether this is a preservation issue or has some other cause).
Some things I have been a little frustrated with so far (perhaps some of you can work out whether/how these things can be done):
  1. I wish there was an option to see larger pictures without all the other stuff - at the lowest magnification I somehow can’t even get a whole page at once (on either of my two large screens - perhaps I need a giant screen?). I would like to have a whole screen option for the pictures (the fullscreen button on the left helps only a little).

  2. You can’t seem to get whole openings, i.e. eight columns, to get the (intended?) perspective of the codex. Well you can by having two windows at once, but they won’t sync.

  3. The only way to get front and back of a page up at the same time is to open two windows, but they (obviously) also don’t stay in sync. I wanted to do this to check bleed-through options in some of the less clear pages (e.g. Mark 16). That is probably pretty hard to programme.

  4. It would be nice to be able to get access to the raw photos for some playing around in Photoshop - that would help with some readings, with bleed through, etc. At this stage the images are all protected and packaged - you get access on their terms. Fair enough for the BL et al at this stage, but hopefully there might be ways to get access to the photographs at some point in the future.

  5. The print option doesn’t work at all for me, and doesn’t give you much control over what part of the image or at what magnification you want.

  6. I can’t seem to find out any details about the digital photography. The web-site says: “To make sure that the images produced were consistent, common standards and imaging practices were established across all venues by the Technical Standards Working Party. The recommendations included equipment (cameras, camera software, lighting, lenses, etc.) and processes (setup, colour profiling, etc.).” So you can find out who was on the TSWP, but you can’t find out what the technical standards actually are. Seems curious.

  7. Something similar could be said about the “Conservation” aspect. The web-site seems to say that although one of the aims of the project was “to devise a strategy that protected the leaves from any possible harm and preserved them for the future” this has not actually happened as yet, since “Conservation treatment of leaves was strictly limited to what was required to stabilise them for imaging.” Meanwhile the team produced an “internationally-agreed terminology for describing and analysing the physical features of a manuscript and, together with the images made available by the project, has produced a model for conservators and scholars around the world” - but again, as yet I can’t see that anyone can get access to this “terminology”.
Hopefully some of these are slated for later iterations of the web-site.


  1. Actually, Peter, programming a auto-sync between two windowses is relatively easy. Only a few lines of Javascript is needed for that. It is likely they just did not think it necessary to create such an option. I'm sure it will come as time goes on.

  2. Thanks Timo,

    I hope we may be able to gather up some suggestions and send them on.

    One thing I have only just noticed is the linking between the transcription and the image: if you click on a word in the transcription that word in the image is highlighted with a red box. I was mostly working in the other direction, where there doesn't seem to be a corresponding link.

  3. I just wasn't all that impressed with the site. I guess I'm rather spoiled by the University of Chicago's presentation of the Goodspeed Collection.

    Btw, has anybody been able to access the closing lines of Tobit at the Codex Sinaiticus site???

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

  4. The closing lines of Tobit are here (mind the wrap, it's a long URL):

    Alternatively, choose Quire 38, folio 2r from the drop-down page menu (and then press the arrow button to the right of the 'r' box.

  5. Regarding the bleed through issue on the manuscript - Timothy Arthur Brown (one of the Birmingham group) gave an interesting presentation at the Washington SBL on exactly this problem. Having had access to high res images, he developed what he calls 'reverse image overlay,' where by he superimposes a 'reversed' image in an attempt to determine if ink has come through the parchment or from the facing page. Overall, I think he has a few interesting examples.

  6. Thanks Michael,
    You are right. But his technique requires getting access to the images and manipulating them in Photoshop. You can't do that with these images.
    Of course, quite probably if you asked Scot McKendrick you might well be able to get access to the raw images. Maybe they will sell some DVDs with all the images.

  7. I agree that it is frustrating that one cannot download the images.
    I am currently preparing a collection of palaeographically difficult problems in the Gospels and deferred the cases from Codex 01, awaiting the new images.
    Now they are not there. That's a pity.
    This project is financed by public money. I think protection is not in order here.

    I still have hope though ...

  8. It may be old news, but I too was hoping to be able to download the images as I do not always have a connection to the net. It is tedious, but you can get hi-res images from the website.

    Once you choose the folio you want, choose print on the left hand side of the page.

    Then in the window that pops up, right-click and "copy the image location."

    In a new window/tab paste the URL and change the last number (e.g. "=700") to the desired resolution (e.g. "=2000").

    It seems the highest resolution available is "=4900" but I found "=2000" is readable.

    The image sizes are as follows:

    700 = 75kb
    2000 = 500kb
    4900 = 1,900kb

    I hope you find this helpful. And if there is someway to download all (esp. the OT) or buy on DVD please pass it on.

  9. > Peter
    > "the preservation of the Leipzig pages has long been talked about as a problem."

    Wow. Even though we are nine years later, I would really like to know about those problems.

    The 43 leaves are in excellent conservation, the ms. is flexible, the pages are pristine white parchment, as they were when seen in 1845 by Uspensky and 1910 by Dobschutz.

    It is true that Leipzig does not really have much of a history of the leaves being examined by scholars (would there be a register?), mostly the printed facsimile is used.

    However, if there has been back-channel discussion of a problem with Leipzig conservation, perhaps it could be shared here.

    Thanks for the image talk! We used the 3500 pixel size in our research at .