Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Codex Sinaiticus Highlights


Tommy Wasserman has committed to writing more exhaustively on the conference highlights. I offer here some preliminary highlights. Almost every paper at the conference was excellent. My highlights ignore the many excellent overviews (e.g. by Gamble, Trobisch, Tov, Clarkson, Shenton, Parker, Epp, et al.) as well as the parallel sessions which I did not attend. This felt like a historic event.

Father Justin announced that a new fragment from Judges may have been located in the monastic library. He also described plans for the construction of a new library at St Catherine’s which will include conservation facilities. These new facilities take two or more years to complete.

Tim Brown explained the potential discovery of a new scribal hand in Sinaiticus. If he is correct, hand B will now need to be split into B1 and B2. Perhaps, (per Brown) one scribe was training the other. The hands differ in how they render Alpha and Lambda, among other characters.

The Danish scholar, René Larsen, who works with IDAP, described how one can determine the animals used to create a particular sheet of parchment. I may blog more on this in weeks to come. Additionally, he also described the potential to localize the provenance based on spectrographic analysis; impurities in the water and the type of substances used in preparation may suggest specific regions. If I remember correctly, Sinaiticus is mostly cow with a few sheep thrown in.

If you have the opportunity to visit the display at the British Library, you will be fully mortified by the video documenting the reception of the manuscript in 1934. One can watch the “conservators” take the manuscript out of the tin and accost it in every way possible. I also enjoyed the letter from a seven year old who sent in his 2/6’s for the £100,000 subscription. Apparently, the public contributed substantially to the purchase and received the manuscript with much fanfare.

Klaus Wachtel will henceforth be known as “Dr. Byz” thanks to a statement by David Parker. His presentation on the corrections demonstrated that the primary corrector was not as Byzantine as some have suggested. Wachtel offered two savory tidbits in the Q&A. First, he challenged the misconception that א and B had similar texts; in comparison to the agreement of the Byzantine tradition, this is far from true. Second, he stated that the closest text to the corrector under question was, in fact, the main text of Sinaiticus.

Ulrich Schmid analyzed a fascinating variant from Psalm 14:1–3 / Rom 3:10–18, questioning the presumption that deviant Septuagint references in the New Testament should be assumed as interpolations based upon (e.g.) christological agenda. Schmid noted in particular that Sinaiticus had the longer version passage (=Rom 3:13–18) in the Psalms, but a (Christian!) corrector marked it for deletion.

If you have not yet seen the digital edition, do so here.


  1. Looking forward to more details about Larsen's discussion!

  2. Larsen found that 21 of the 347 folios he examined (which means he only examined that British Library ones) had visible remains of hair follicles. Since calf, goat and sheep have very distinctive follicle patterns it could be determined with certainty based on 17 of those folios that 15 were calf and 2 were sheep (the other four were most likely calf).
    He argued that the quality of production was very high, presuming both substantial resources of domestic animals, and mature maufacturing skills (which he argued requires continuous production of a large number of sheets). This aspect has implications for the provenance of the codex.

  3. Christian, you forgot Peter Head's excellent observation after Juan Hernandez' presentation on the textual variant in Revelation somewhere. In the passage in question the scribe apparently substituted "priest" for "rainbow." In an earlier presentation father Justin had pointed out that it rained only three times a year at St Catherine's so maybe the scribe did not know the word for rainbow Peter suggested.

  4. Ha! Hopefully the scribe wasn't that sheltered! Then again, it may lend to accuracy! :)

  5. After I made that (light-hearted) comment Walter Cockle turned to me and said that the last time he had been to St Catherine's there had been six inches of snow.

  6. Walter Cockle never stops amazing me. After your presentation on codex D he made a remark on a much earlier source for word division in Greek than Kenyon (and his rules), citing the exact title, publication year, etc, etc. A similar thing after Daniel Batovici's presentation on Hermas. This man is really a living dictionary. I remember how amuzing it was to sit next to him at a dinner some years ago in Birmingham listening to all his anecdotes, not least on Oxyrhynchus excavations. An extremely learned man with extremely rich experiences.

  7. I would point out that none of the monks at St. Catherine's were born there at the monastery. So it's a little less likely that any of them would lack 'rainbow' in their vocabulary.

    Furthermore, it's fairly sure that none of the English Bible translators had seen a circular emerald rainbow, but that didn't stop them from using the term.

    Let's face it. The text of 01 in Revelation is just plain wild.

  8. BTW, the only variant I could find on LaParola for IRIS in Aleph was Rev. 10:3, in which the angel had H QRIX on his head.

  9. DB: "I would point out that none of the monks at St. Catherine's were born there at the monastery. So it's a little less likely that any of them would lack 'rainbow' in their vocabulary."

    Daniel, Peter made the statement with his tounge in cheak.

    In fact there were two examples involving priests you have found the other example in Rev 10:3.