Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Sisters of Sinai (II)

Simon previously noted the appearance of Janet Soskice's new book, Sisters of Sinai: How Two Lady Adventurers Found the Hidden Gospels (London: Chatto & Windus, 2009). I finally got around to reading it in the last week or so and enjoyed it. It is worth recommending here not only because of the presence of two ETC bloggers (Dirk and Pete) in the acknowledgements, but because it is great on the atmosphere in both the Sinai and in Cambridge during the lives of these two great and unusual women, and on the details of the discovery and transcription and publication of the Sinaitic Syriac palimpsest. I also enjoyed hearing something about their own faith and piety.
It is not a technical book - I read it on the exercise bike not in the study. And there are a few detail problems (e.g. the section on the ending of Mark on pp. 212-3 has a number of rather glaring inaccuracies; and the whole discussion of the date and significance of the Sinaitic Syriac Gospel text is not much up-dated from the rather excitable statements of the original finders), but they don't detract particularly from the inspiring tale of what these two ladies accomplished. Incredible inherited wealth, independence of mind, life-long learning, provision for good theological education in Cambridge, and a passion for manuscripts - what more could you want? Oh yes, sordid petty scholarly status squabbles in Cambridge and beyond. I'm giving it to my daughter to read next (it doesn't look as if she will inherit incredible wealth, but the other things may encourage her).

I found this sentence interesting: 'The twins devised a winch-basket improvised out of the rope-netting that normally protected their camel equipment.' (For 'camel' I'm pretty sure we should read 'camera'!)

10 Comments:

Ryan said...

"I found this sentence interesting: 'The twins devised a winch-basket improvised out of the rope-netting that normally protected their camel equipment.' (For 'camel' I'm pretty sure we should read 'camera'!) "

now now! No fancy-shmancy conjectural emendation allowed! Respect the integrity of the text! Surely, if you try hard enough, you will be able to find a perfectly sensible exegetical explanation for why camels in that time period needed protection, rather than resorting to such over-the-top guesses!

Peter M. Head said...

I would further conjecture that some automatic spell-checker is to blame for the shift from camera (originally mistyped as something like camer) to emerge as camel.

Wieland Willker said...

I agree with your assessment of the book, Peter. I enjoyed it, too. It gives a good impression of the atmmosphere of those times.

I am wondering though if not Burkitt comes out a bit too negative. Perhaps the books is a bit one-sided, I don't know.

The White Man said...

"Janet Soskice's new book, Sisters of Sinai: How Two Lady Adventurers Found the Hidden Gospels"

The actual subtitle on the cover is "How two lady adventurers unearthed the lost gospels."

I suspect the textual critic was quoting from memory, as the copy before him was an image too small to read clearly. Inasmuch as mss have been found written in incredibly fine print, this could be something to take into consideration when conjecturing reasons for out-of-family patristic citations.

"And there are a few detail problems (e.g. the section on the ending of Mark on pp. 212-3 has a number of rather glaring inaccuracies)"

For once, somebody besides James Snapp Jr. is pointing this out!

Ryan said...

"I would further conjecture that some automatic spell-checker is to blame for the shift from camera (originally mistyped as something like camer) to emerge as camel."

Are you saying the error occurred in the original autograph, and was thus able to permeate every subsequent copy?!?

Philosophically then, why would you even want to correct it? Why would we want to reconstruct an archetype that never actually existed?

A more responsible enterprise for interpreters would be just to wrestle honestly with the existing text - perhaps some allegorical interpretation of "camel" could allow for a coherent narrative? Rushing to conjectural theories like this really do amount to capitulations before the difficulties and are themselves violations of the text, and further tend to become what Kenyon has called “a process precarious in the extreme, and seldom allowing anyone but the guesser to feel confidence in the truth of its results.”

Mike Holmes said...

In an otherwise decent short review written by someone named Matthew Shaer (“'The Sisters of Sinai' have an excellent adventure”) and published in the Miami Herald (http://www.miamiherald.com/entertainment/story/1217862.html) (and reprinted in other newspapers), one reads the following:
‘As scholar Janet Soskice reveals in her luminous new study, Margaret and Agnes had nosed out nothing less than the earliest known copies of the Gospels -- an account written in Syriac, the language likely spoken by Jesus. At the time, Soskice writes, “the Bible remained an unquestioned compendium of truth, its immutable word conveyed supernaturally through the generations.''’
‘And yet this codex -- so different in content from the modern edition of the Gospels -- indicated that scripture was actually the product of years of careful revisions. The Bible, in other words, had evolved.’
A question for those who have seen the volume: is Soskice responsible for the factual errors in the first paragraph, or the characterizations in the second, or has the reviewer hashed things up?

Wieland Willker said...

My copy says:
"Found the Hidden Gospels"
Interesting.

:-)

The White Man said...

Yet a third reading of the title variant, in the Herald artice:
THE SISTERS OF SINAI: How Two Lady Adventurers Discovered the Hidden Gospels. Janet Soskice.

Peter M. Head said...

Re Mike's question: Soskice describes early Syriac as a 'language close to the original Aramaic spoken by Jesu' (p. 111); a few times Agnes seems to get pretty excited about the language being similar to the language of Jesus and/or that Syriac translators of the Greek gospels may have preserved or restored original idioms (e.g. p. 296f), so it is not difficult to see how a journalist could summarise things wrongly.

Peter M. Head said...

On the other part of the question there is some discussion in the book about scribal corruptions and such things; like the Sinaitic version of Matt 1.16f. Soskice also writes that because of the range of variant readings Agnes did not believe in verbal inspiration (p. 215 - which is correct)