Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Sinaiticus in the News: Error spotting

It seems like Sinaiticus is everywhere these days. I've even managed to get some time with the photos on the web site. But many journalists struggle to provide accurate information. For example, here are three paragraphs from Ruth Gledhill of the Times: Codex Sinaiticus vital for New Testament Study. I reckon there are at least ten clear errors in this brief report, but I thought I would share the error spotting with others. So: justify your accusations and don't get greedy, there are plenty for everyone.

Codex Sinaiticus, meaning the Sinai Book, is one of the two earliest Bibles written. The other is Codex Vaticanus in Rome.
Written mostly in Greek on parchment, it is treasured by scholars as an unparalleled resource for textual criticism of the New Testament. It is named after the ancient monastery at Sinai where the book was kept for many generations. Some of the Bible is lost but much survives, making up the Christian New Testament and half of the Hebrew Bible known as the Septuagint. There are also two other texts from the 1st century, the Epistle of the Apostle Barnabas and “Shepherd by Hermas”.
The pages are not all in one place; the British Library has the biggest chunk, bought from Stalin in 1933 for £100,000. There are still some fragments in Russia and at St Catherine’s monastery in Egypt. It is important historically because its publication coincided with the conversion of Constantine the Great to Christianity and his decision to make it the Roman Empire’s official religion. He may even have commissioned the Bible personally. The Bible was also the first attempt to create a unified canon of both Greek and Jewish Scriptures, and one of the first books produced, if not the first, in a culture still largely reliant on traditional scrolls.


10 Comments:

Anonymous said...

Changes appear in (parenthesis)

Codex ('Codex') Sinaiticus, meaning the Sinai Book (means: ‘belonging to’ Sinai), is one of the two earliest Bibles written (no telling how many earlier Bibles were written). The other is Codex Vaticanus in Rome.

Written mostly in Greek on parchment, it is treasured by scholars (CT scholars) as an unparalleled resource for textual criticism of the New Testament. It is named after the ancient monastery (the mountain) at Sinai where the book (parchment sheets) was kept for many generations. Some of the Bible (originally in this 'Codex') is lost but much survives, making up the Christian New Testament and half (about all) of the Hebrew Bible known as the Septuagint (Septuagint known as a 'translation of' the Hebrew Bible). There are also two other texts from the 1st century (within a generation of the end of the first century), the Epistle of the Apostle (omit Apostle) Barnabas and “Shepherd by (of) Hermas”.

The pages are not all in one place; the British Library has the biggest chunk, (the British gov't) bought from Stalin in 1933 for £100,000. There are still some fragments in Russia and at St Catherine’s monastery in Egypt. It is important historically because its publication (date it was written, roughly) coincided with the conversion of Constantine the Great to Christianity and his decision to make it (Christianity) the Roman Empire’s official religion. He may even have commissioned the (this) Bible personally (speculative). The Bible was also the first attempt (wild speculation) to create (better: to reflect) a unified canon (there were lists before this) of both Greek (Christian) and Jewish Scriptures, and one of the first books produced (speculation), if not the first, in a culture still largely reliant on traditional scrolls (change to: in possession of some ancient scrolls, both Christian and Jewish).

Mitch

James Snapp, Jr. said...

Okay; let's see here . . . After numbering the sentences:

1. "Codex Sinaiticus, meaning the Sinai Book, is one of the two earliest Bibles written."

It's one of the two earliest extant Bibles, but there is no way to tell how many Bibles were written before it.

2. "The other is Codex Vaticanus in Rome."

In the sense that B is one of the two earliest *extant* Bibles.

3. "Written mostly in Greek on parchment, it is treasured by scholars as an unparalleled resource for textual criticism of the New Testament."

The original content of the manuscript is entirely in Greek. And B supercedes it in importance.

4. "It is named after the ancient monastery at Sinai where the book was kept for many generations."

The monastery is St. Catherine's; Sinai is the name given to the mountain where the monastery is.

5. "Some of the Bible is lost but much survives, making up the Christian New Testament and half of the Hebrew Bible known as the Septuagint."

The Septuagint contains the apocryphal/deutero-canonical books and is thus not congruent to the Hebrew Bible.

6. "There are also two other texts from the 1st century, the Epistle of the Apostle Barnabas and “Shepherd by Hermas”."

Neither one is a first-century text, and the title is "Shepherd *of* Hermas."

9. "It is important historically because its publication coincided with the conversion of Constantine the Great to Christianity and his decision to make it the Roman Empire’s official religion."

Unfounded speculation. The Eusebian Canons/Sections apparatus in Codex Sinaiticus is not supplied in an orderly fashion, and while Eusebius' text contained Mk. 15:28, Aleph omits it. So it seems unlikely that Sinaiticus is directly connected to Eusebius, let alone Constantine. Codex Sinaiticus belongs to the immediately-following generation of scribes at Caesarea.

10. "He may even have commissioned the Bible personally."

Extremely unlikely, for the reasons mentioned for #9.

11. "The Bible was also the first attempt to create a unified canon of both Greek and Jewish Scriptures, and one of the first books produced, if not the first, in a culture still largely reliant on traditional scrolls."

Vaticanus does the same thing. Plus, codices were being produced as early as the late first century. Sinaiticus is not remotely one of the first books produced, by any stretch of the imagination.

Btw, has anyone found a way to view the last snippet of Tobit, with the subscription and deorative line, at the new Codex Sinaiticus website?

Yours in Christ,

James Snapp, Jr.
Curtisville Christian Church
Tipton, Indiana (USA)

Philip said...

Did Constantine make Christianity "the Roman Empire's official religion"? I thought that was Theodosius in AD 380.

Anonymous said...

Philip:

How long has this been debated!! Most discussions I've encountered center on nit picky technical questions of legality. I.e., what is meant by "official" religion.

Peter M. Head said...

Yes, well, I think that mostly covers it. The web site is helpfully much more careful on these matters. Incidentally I don't blame Ruth Gledhill. I blame her New Testament teachers.

DopefishJustin said...

It does make me wonder, it seems like just about every time I see a news article on a topic I'm already familiar with, it's full of mistakes. I can only assume that the same is true of all the other articles and I simply don't notice.

Peter M. Head said...

Justin the dopey fish doper,
I often have the same question. On the positive side it could be argued that for all its technical errors the article basically conveys the truth: "Sinaiticus is a really old and important big Greek Bible manuscript book."

Hugh Houghton said...

While the nit-picking is fascinating, I'm disappointed that no-one has yet indulged in any source criticism. Surely textual critics are interested in the documents available to the scribe identified as 'Gledhill', and any evidence of deliberate alteration.

I'd like to propose that this is a recension of the text found at the following address:
http://www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/themes/asianafricanman/codex.html

I see no reason why the teachers of Gledhill are more likely to blame than Gledhill herself - unless, indeed, she prepared her text from a copy which had previously been marked up by someone else: perhaps a version deliberately targetted at a particular audience of 'Times readers', for whom the statements of the Vorlage were simplified and distorted...

Peter M. Head said...

Thanks Hugh,

I would say that your theory starts well (explaining the opening sentences), but ends poorly (perhaps one could invoke editorial fatigue?).

I did say "I don't blame Ruth Gledhill. I blame her New Testament teachers." This was a little clumsy. In fact I taught (with a colleague) a NT evening class for Birkbeck College many years ago which included Ms Gledhill among the students.

The White Man said...

There is something to be said for the assumption that Aleph and B are two of the oldest full-size bound books. Given that just amassing the raw material for such a volume required the hides of an entire flock of sheep, the final cost of production must have been prohibitive for anyone without the unlimited power to tax. Given that taxpayers' money was spent on such a project, it is highly likely that it coincided with the launch of official, state-sponsored Christianity.