The Sinaiticus Manuscript: Brief Account of Its Discovery and of Its Character

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In May, 1844, Professor Tischendorf, when traveling in quest of ancient manuscripts, saw a basket of waste paper devoted to lighting the stove in the convent of S. Catherine on Mount Sinai. From these be picked out and was allowed to take forty-three vellum leaves, fragments of an ancient MS. of the Septuagint, parts of 1 Chronicles and Jeremiah, with the whole of Nehemiah and Esther. He did not disguise the extreme antiquity of these remains from the monks, who let him know of more, containing Isaiah and part of the Apocrypha; but he was not allowed more than to copy two pages, consisting of the end of Isaiah and the beginning of Jeremiah. But he published two years after what he had thus rescued under the title of the Codex Friderico-Augustanus (in honor of his sovereign the King of Saxony).
In 1853 Tischendorf visited the convent again, but learned no more of the MS.: so that he could add nothing to the two copied pages, which he published in the first vol. of his Monumenta Sacra Inedita.
Early in 1859 a third visit was paid; and on Feb. 4 he was preparing to leave the convent when, after walking with the steward and conversing on the interpretation of the LXX., they entered the steward's cell, who produced a book in a red cloth, which Tischendorf on uncovering immediately recognized as the very document for which he had long been so eagerly on the watch. He did not fail to give God thanks: but spent the night in transcribing the Pseudo-Barnabas which was here for the first time found in Greek, and a considerable part of Hermas' Shepherd too written in the same volume. The MS. contained not only more of the Septuagint, but the entire New Testament, written with four columns on each page, and confirming very fully his judgment of its age, founded on the rescued fragments of the so-called Frid.-Aug. MS. Leave was procured to copy the manuscript at Cairo, whither it was brought before the end of February, and Tischendorf spent a couple of months with two natives, but not competent assistants. He did not copy it, as I understood from the discoverer, but collated it on the pages of the seventh edition of his own Greek Testament. No one need wonder that there were not a few oversights in so vast a work done in such a hurry and with such inefficient help.
But this was not all. Tischendorf urged on the monks the desirableness of their presenting such a manuscript as a worthy gift to the champion of the Greek church, Alexander II., Emperor of Russia. Because of the death of the archbishop it was not possible for the brethren at Sinai to do so yet, though done since I believe. Meanwhile Tischendorf was allowed to carry off the MS. and show it to the emperor, who entrusted him with the task of preparing an edition of 300 copies, in four volumes folio, to be defrayed by himself and appear in 1862, on the thousandth anniversary of the Russian Empire. In 1863 appeared at Leipsic the text in a single 4to. vol. (as also in 8vo.) for more ordinary use.
It appears that during the interval between the rescue of the leaves in 1844 and the delivery of the rest to Tischendorf for collation in 1859 two persons are known to have examined the manuscript. About 1845 or 1846 Porphyrius,2 a Russian Archimandrite, saw it but to no great purpose, judging by the remarks Tischendorf quotes; as did also a Major Macdonald, whose description points to it alone.
The Sinai MS. (à,) stands alone in presenting the entire new Testament, All others of nearly equal antiquity are more or less defective. Thus the Alexandrian (A) wants the first twenty-four chapters of Matthew, a portion of John's Gospel, and the central parts of 2 Corinthians: and the Vatican (B) has only to Heb. 9:1414How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (Hebrews 9:14) (save that the Catholic epistles precede) and hence has neither the four pastoral Epistles nor the Revelation. The Ephraim Palimpsest of Paris (C) is a mere collection of fragments; and the Cambridge MS. of Beza (D of the Gospel and Acts) has only the first half of the New Testament in Greek and Latin. Others are as deficient or more so; many contain only some few leaves.
The faults of the Sinai MS. on the other hand are better known than those of any other MS. For it alone was thoroughly exposed to view as soon as possible after the date of its discovery. All the other great MSS. were renowned for years before they were accurately collated. Indeed it is only since the publication of the Sinai manuscript that we can be said to have a trustworthy knowledge of the Vatican, though its existence has been known since Sepulveda's correspondence with Erasmus. Again, on no MSS. whatever have the same minute pains been bestowed, though the same diligent Editor did beyond all his predecessors for the Codex Ephraem Rescriptus and many other MSS. of very great importance.
Hence we know what are called clerical errors to an enormous extent in the Sinai MS., partly because, though beautifully written, it abounds in slips ocular and orthographic. Not only is there the very frequent fault of confounding ο, ου, υ, and ω, ει, η, αι, and ι, but in repetition of letters, words, and whole sentences, sometimes left, often canceled. Mr. Scrivener mentions that the blunder technically known as Homeoteleuton, whereby a clause is omitted because it happens to end in the same words as the clause preceding, occurs not less than 115 times in the New Testament, though the defect is often supplied by a more recent hand.
But there remains the other cause already named why these errors are in the minds of all students. The MS. from the first has been scrutinized to a degree beyond all previous example. So microscopically close is the attention Professor Tischendorf has paid that be gives it as his judgment that at least four hands were employed in writing it; that a scribe whom he distinguishes as A wrote the whole of the New Testament with a slight exception, with part of the Septuagint and Pseudo-Barnabas; that another (B) wrote the Prophets and Hermes; that a third (C) wrote the poetical books of the Old Testament in verses clause by clause according to the sense; and in two columns (just as in the Codex Vat. which has elsewhere three but there also only two columns); that the fourth scribe (D) wrote the rest of the Apocrypha and some the leaves here and there from Matthew to Revelation. But this is the more precarious as A and B are allowed to resemble each other closely, and C and D. But very competent judges of this do not draw such a conclusion, which is not unusual with collators and not always correct. I mention all this, not because it much affects the value of the MS. (for no one doubts that, written by one or two, or more, it was all done about the same time and from the same copy), but to show why we must not wonder at a vast number of faults in transcription coming to light when a manuscript was subjected to such an investigation as this.
Again, like most of the remains of high antiquity, there were not only several correctors of the manuscript but correctors of the corrections. At least ten such revisers3 have been deciphered, some everywhere, some only occasionally, and this from the time of the earliest scribe, but most two or three centuries after, and a few comparatively late. It is needless here to go into the minute details which prove the distinctness of the services of these numerous revisers from the scribe himself to the last corrector in probably the twelfth century.
But these marks varying in character as well as in shades of ink serve to confirm the remote age in which the manuscript was originally written; as its own chastely neat forms of letters, its punctuation, its simplicity in titles, and subscriptions, and other marks, akin to the Herculanean Papyri, point to quite as early a date as the famous Vat. MS.—about the middle of the fourth century. Thus the absence of larger letters at the beginning of sentences or paragraphs is peculiar, among New Testament documents, to Codd. Sinait. and Vatic. unless we add Evan. Nh. a fragment of John written in the same fourth century. The Sarravian Octateuch of the LXX. attributed to the fourth century confirms this; and some other witnesses quite as early. Then the four columns in each page is a strong indication of an age at least as great as Codd. Vat. 1290, the oldest rival known; for if Palaeologists have ever argued on the three columns in each page of it as a sign of its antiquity as compared with MSS. of two columns or only one, one may yet more confidently reason from the four columns Of the Sinai MS., not to speak of the fineness of the skins. Nor is the accompaniment of Pseudo-Barnabas and Hernias a just ground of prejudice against the antiquity of N, for in the fourth century such an arrangement was probable, just as we know that A. (or God. Alex.) contains the famous letter of Clement to the Corinthians. Other external points of correspondence have been remarked between the Vat. and the Sinai MSS., but I only state the fact without descending to particulars.
As to peculiarity of internal character Tischendorf long pointed out the sameness of Codd. Sin. and Vat. as to Mark 16:9-209Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils. 10And she went and told them that had been with him, as they mourned and wept. 11And they, when they had heard that he was alive, and had been seen of her, believed not. 12After that he appeared in another form unto two of them, as they walked, and went into the country. 13And they went and told it unto the residue: neither believed they them. 14Afterward he appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen. 15And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. 16He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. 17And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; 18They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover. 19So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God. 20And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen. (Mark 16:9‑20), and Eph. 1:22Grace be to you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 1:2); and Mr. S. adds Matt. 10:2525It is enough for the disciple that he be as his master, and the servant as his lord. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more shall they call them of his household? (Matthew 10:25) Cor. 13:3; James 1:1717Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. (James 1:17) where this coincidence can scarcely be deemed accidental. The same blunder in the last text, found only in N and B, is very notable. In other instances it agrees with no other single ancient copy (as A, C, or D) against the rest. Sometimes also it stands supported by one ancient version only, or the express statement of an early ecclesiastical writer. These facts I mention as proofs, not of its accuracy in these cases, but of its independence and antiquity.
Enough has been said to expose the falseness of Dr. C. Simonides' claim to have written the Sinai MS. thirty years ago, and this not with a view to impose on any one, but simply as an honest present from his uncle Benedict to the late Emperor Nicholas! It is true that he was already notorious for his efforts to palm off certain MSS. as of the highest antiquity, which can scarcely be imputed to any other source than his own admirable skill in calligraphy. His statement is that the Moscow Greek Bible, published at the cost of the brothers Zosimas, in 1821, and collated with three ancient manuscripts and the printed edition of God. Alex., was what he had to transcribe; and that, his uncle being meanwhile dead, he gave the work, in 1841, to Constantius, that very Archbishop of Sinai whose death early in 1859 or before it caused a delay, when Tischendorf saw the MS. as a whole and sought to have it presented to the Emperor of Russia. He added that he found it at Sinai, when visiting the convent in 1844 and 1852. This last has been formally denied by one of the monks for all, who declares that no such person had ever been there. The rest of the tale is equally suspicious. Certainly it could not be the God. Sin. that he wrote for his uncle. The Moscow Bible is simply a copy of the Textus Receptus. Why the clerical errors? How the singular and most ancient readings not there, nor even in God. A., not to speak of the heaps of corrections over a work of such vast extent? Even the specimens of Simonides, designed to impose on the credulous (the history of Uranius, and the Mayer papyrus fragments of S. Matthew, James and Jude), though proofs of unscrupulous ingenuity, were curt compared with the task of producing, when a mere lad and in a few months, a volume containing near 4,000,000 of uncial letters with the other striking peculiarities named before, and this without fraudulent intent.
It may be interesting to some to know that in the judgment of Tischendorf the Vatican MS. was written by one of his supposed four writers of the Sinai MS., namely D, the fourth. The reasons would hardly be suitable here. At the same time he does not think, as indeed is certain, that they were copied from the same manuscript, older than themselves. On the other hand, he gives ingenious reasons for the opinion that, not the Vatican, but the Sinai MS. was one of the fifty copies of scripture written “on skins in ternions and quarternions” (Vit. Conat. iv, 37), which Eusebius prepared, A.D. 331, by the emperor's direction for his new Rome in the East—Constantinople.