Monday, March 30, 2009

Sisters of Sinai

I've just received a copy from Amazon of Sisters of Sinai: How Two Lady Adventurers Found the Hidden Gospels, by my colleague, Janet Soskice. It promises to be a fun holiday read, and to make Janet her fortune. Here's the blurb:

"Sisters of Sinai" tells an extraordinary tale of nineteenth century exploration; how two Scottish sisters made one of the most important ancient manuscript finds of the age. Hidden in a cupboard beneath the monastic library at St Catherine's in the Sinai desert the twins discovered what looked like a palimpsest: one text written over another. It was Agnes who recognized the obscured text for what it was - one of the earliest copies of the Gospels written in ancient Syriac. Once they had overcome the stubborn reluctance of Cambridge scholars to authenticate the find and had lead an expedition of quarrelsome academics back to Sinai to copy it, Agnes and Margaret - in middle years and neither with any university qualifications - embarked on a life of demanding scholarship and bold travel. In this enthralling book, Janet Soskice takes the reader on an astonishing journey from the Ayreshire of the sisters' childhood to the lost treasure trove of the Cairo genizah. We trace the footsteps of the intrepid pair as they voyage to Egypt, Sinai and beyond, Murray's guide book in hand coping with camels, unscrupulous dragomen, and unpredictable welcomes. We enter the excitement and mystery of the Gospel origins at a time when Christianity was under attack in Europe. Crucially this is the story of two remarkable women who, as widows, were undeterred in their spirit of adventure and who overcame insuperable odds to become world class scholars with a place in history.


  1. There is a brief review here:

  2. One should also take a look at the first-hand accounts:

    Agnes Smith Lewis, In the shadow of Sinai: A story of travel and research from 1895 to 1897 (Cambridge : Macmillan & Bowes, 1898).

    Margaret Dunlop Gibson, How the Codex was found : A narrative of two visits to Sinai from Mrs Lewis's journals, 1892-1893 (Piscataway NJ: Gorgias Press, 2001).

    And also another modern narrative account:

    Allan Whigham Price, The ladies of Castlebrae (London : Headline, 1987).

    One question regarding the current book's blurb: has the "stubborn reluctance of Cambridge scholars" yet been cured?

  3. Maurice - good question. Hopefully they retain the stubborn reluctance to verify the facts of the matter and the authenticity of the material before proceeding further. They also by tradition have a stubborn reluctance to shift from careful reading of texts as the basis of all good theological knowledge.
    Cambridge seems less reluctant to appreciate the scholarship of women than might have been the case in the past - two of the three senior professors are currently women.

  4. "Cambridge seems less reluctant to appreciate the scholarship of women than might have been the case in the past."

    Naturally, but what are the chances now of someone without any university credentials finding appreciation for his or her amateur scholarship in the halls of academia?

  5. I haven't read the book, but I think it is a misunderstanding to think of these women as basically uneducated. They were extremely learned and engaged in scholarly dialogue with a wide range of scholars around the world.

    New discoveries will always get noticed.