Codex Sinaiticus: The Story of the World’s Oldest Bible (pt. 3)

Setting to Work

In chapter-four Parker discusses in some detail the various aspects that go into producing a manuscript in the fourth-century. Topics discussed in this chapter are focus on the materials, techniques, people, place, budget, and binding of Sinaiticus. Also included is a brief section on palaeography (the study of ancient writing). Because of the amount of detailed information contained in this chapter I will on focus on a few interesting points.


Parker’s detailed discussion on the production of parchment in antiquity was quite fascinating. Maybe it’s me, but I found the whole process that goes into making sheets of paper suitable for writing amazing and quite remarkable really. What we have discovered from manuscripts that we have found written on parchment is that they tended to be made from the skins of sheep of calves. The process that went into skinning the animal all the way to the finished product of paper contained many time-consuming steps.

The skins had to be soaked in some form of acidic or alkaline bath. Next, the hair had to be scraped off. Once the hair was removed, it was returned to a bath for further soaking. It was then removed from its bath and stretched out and scraped thinner. Finally, after drying out and scraped for its determined thickness, it was cut to its predetermined size and rubbed with pumice stone.

What we know of Sinaiticus and the parchment used for it is that it is one of the highest quality codices from antiquity ever discovered. The amount of care, detail, and expense that was put into Sinaiticus is without compare. According to Parker

“What is certain is that the makers [of Sinaiticus] were exceptionally skilled, and that they worked with excellent materials. It is clear that no expense was spared” (45).

Usually in parchment manuscripts we would find many places of defect scattered throughout the manuscript. This is not so with Sinaiticus. While we do find defects, they are few and far between, usually found in the margins of the pages (45). Further, the difficulty finding veins on the pages is probably due to a very thorough job in draining the blood. Another aspect which indicates a more professional job in producing Sinaiticus is the thinness of the pages. Parker indicates that the thickness of the pages of Sinaiticus range from 100-150 micrometres, with the average page size somewhere in the neighborhood of 116.2. when compared to the thickness of Parker’s own book (125 micrometres) we see just how amazing this really is.

In case you may be interested in the production process of parchment, I have included this brief video illustrating for us just went into making parchment paper

The Scribes

Another informative section was on the scribes of Sinaiticus. Parker indicates that Tischendorf (the discoverer of the codex) identified four different scribes, which he labeled A, B, C, D. Each of these scribes were responsible for the writing of particular sections of Sinaiticus. Imagine the amount of hours that Tischendorf must have spent analyzing the pages of Sinaiticus and cataloguing the differences he found, and then placing these differences into four different groups. The even more astonishing thing is that he was able to accomplish this without the technology of computer readily available to us today. That alone speaks to the genius and dedication of Tischendorf. Since Tischendorf’s work there has been some changes to the number of scribes identified responsible for Sinaiticus, but nothing too radical. What can be said regarding Sinaiticus is that there were a number of scribes working on this manuscript. Both in the writings and correcting stages, scribes would assist each other in the writing of Sinaiticus.


Although misplaced in my opinion, the section on palaeography is an important one. No doubt a page-and-a-half summary of palaeography will not cover every aspect of the subject, nevertheless it is a vital part of a book like this. Parker briefly outlines some examples of differences in the writing style of Sinaiticus, things such as differences in letter formation, compression of the text as the scribe reached the end of a margin, spelling errors consistent with one particular scribe, etc. All of these idiosyncrasies are discovered by studying the writing style and observing changes and patterns in the text.

Another job of the palaeographer is to determine the approximate date of a manuscript. Because a scribe would not date his manuscript once he finished, it is up to the palaeographer to determine the dating of a particular manuscript. According to Parker, he is aided in such a task by means of external and internal clues. Externally, things like paper type, elaborate artwork, and historical circumstances may help shed light on a date for a manuscript. Internally, things like writing style (was the script in capital or lowercase letters?) may give clues for dating. It’s safe to assume that the job of a palaeographer is one of great detail. He must be a master of the language written on the manuscript, and he must be one of great patience and discipline.

There is much more that can be covered in chapter-four, but I will leave it here. One thing I have noticed is that Parker references Sinaiticus a number of times in his examples. It would benefit the reader greatly to access Sinaiticus online and follow along with Parker as he describes aspects of Sinaiticus in detail.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s