Codex Sinaiticus: The Story of the World’s Oldest Bible (pt. 1)

My first exposure to Codex Sinaiticus came during my first semester of intermediate Greek. I was an eager student who loved all things Greek. For a few weeks we focused on textual criticism, specifically as it relates to exegesis and interpretation. We were introduced to various manuscripts, one of which was Sinaiticus, and I remember being enamored with the story of it’s discovery in a monastery in the Sinai peninsula. Since that initial exposure to textual criticism, I have kept an elementary interest in text-critical studies.

So, when I first came across David Parker’s book my interest was piqued for a couple of reasons. The first, as mentioned above, was my continuing interest in text-critical studies. The second was my love of historical studies. I have always told myself that if I did not get my degree in biblical languages I would have majored in history, probably the history of the American and French Revolutions. But that’s a different post for another day.

Anyways, back to the subject on hand. Parker, who himself is a leading expert in the field of text-critical, has written a very helpful and informative introduction and history of the famous Codex Sinaiticus.

Every Book it’s Destiny
Parker’s first chapter is a quick overview of both the history as well as the future of Sinaiticus. Parker briefly discusses the process that went into the writing and copying of the codex. Likewise, Parker gives a concise synopsis on the the use of Sinaiticus in antiquity, explaining the number of corrections that have appeared since it’s original writing. Also included is a brief discussion on the transportation of the Codex from one place to another. A quick discussion of it’s discovery in St. Catherine’s Monestary and the dispersion of the codex to three different countries is included as well. Much of this will be show up in greater detail in subsequent chapters.

Next, Parker outlines the present project that is taking place to have the entire codex published online for all the world to see. This project also includes a conference (which took place in 2009), the present book under review, and a new print facsimile. Each of these projects are a welcomed addition for the Church and the academy.

Parker’s last section in chapter one is an outline of Sinaiticus as well as a quick reference to the pagination of the codex (this pagination key is very helpful when wanting to look up specific examples in Sinaiticus online). Included at the end of chapter one-and at the end of every chapter-are recommended resources for further study. If you are anything like me, then you will find these short summaries a gold mine of potential study.

The Christian Book in the Age of Constantine
Chapter two centers mainly around the time of Constantine. One fascinating topic was Parker’s discussion of the writing materials used in antiquity. At the time of Sinaiticus’ publication, two types of writing material were in use: papyrus and parchment. Papyrus was easier to come by and much quicker to produce than parchment. Because parchment was produced from the skins of sheep and calves, it was not as readily available for use. But unlike papyrus, which would deteriorate at a much faster rate, parchment was much more durable and withstood the elements far better than papyrus.

Another fascinating element is the theory that Sinaiticus was produced at the request of Constantine himself. While only a theory at best, there are similarities with some of the specifics for codices to be produced in Constantine’s letter to Eusebius and Sinaiticus.

What Parker does extremely well is bring the reader into the fourth-century at the time of Sinaiticus’ publication. He gives the reader a historical and theological framework by which he can understand the reasons for such a codex to have been produced. I am looing forward to the remaining chapters.


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