Hendrickson.com - Codex Sinaiticus

By: Hendrickson Publishers  09-12-2011
Keywords: Bibles

"It may seem strange, if not simply plain wrong, to be reviewing the oldest nearly complete bible manuscript in existence. Unsurprisingly, this review will avoid making any comments on the actual content of the text. Instead it will focus on the facsimile as an object in its own right. While some may think this to be an expensive book, if one considers the quality of production, the 822 colour plates, the accessibility to the text, and the scale of this tome, then probably this is actually one of the best value for money volumes that can be purchased. In fact when one compares the cost of the facsimile of Codex Vaticanus published in 2000, which is currently listed at US $6750, it can be seen that this facsimile is less than one-eighth of the price. Moreover, the 822 superb colour photographic quality plates provide the highest level of reproduction of the original. In terms of serving as a teaching aid, a reference manuscript, or even an item for display to illustrate the transmission of the biblical text, there can few more spectacular books available to the mass market.

"This print version supplements the online images of the text (http://www.codexsinaiticus.org). The website has many electronic features that are not available in the print version. For instance, the display window opens up three panes. The first has a photographic image of the selected page of the manuscript on the left-hand side, on the top right there is a transcription of the Greek text, and on the lower right there is a translation available in either Russian, Modern Greek, German, or English. The various panes can be removed to allow more space to display the photographic images, or whichever display option is chosen. Moreover, it is possible to zoom-in on the manuscript photographs. This is an excellent feature for teaching purposes. This may leave one wondering where the ‘value’ is to be had in purchasing the facsimile, given the superlative features of the online images. Firstly, the online images do not allow for a display of a full manuscript page at anything like its full size. Admittedly, even the images in the facsimile have been slightly reduced. The reference guide explains:

"The images, taken according to agreed technical standards, were processed to represent faithfully the actual appearance of the pages and were minimally reduced in size by approximately 5%. This reduction was essential to bring the pages down to the maximum size which could be bound by machine. The processing of the images required sensitive adjustments, since the appearance of the parchment and ink varied somewhat between the leaves at the four libraries, owing to many factors, including the difference of the absorption of ink on the ‘flesh side’ and the ‘hair side’ of the animal skin. (p. 4)

"Notwithstanding this slight reduction in size, the print version gives a real sense of the size of the parchment pages. The second advantage also relates to size. The reproduction of the entire surviving leaves of the Codex in a physical form also provides an unrivalled sense of the overall dimensions of the original, and the reason why so few complete bibles were prepared as single books prior to the advent of printing.

"The Reference Guide that accompanies the volume is a very handy introduction to the beautiful facsimile. As is observed, the significance of Codex Sinaiticus is not as an object of veneration, rather it reveals much about ‘the reconstruction of the Christian Bible's original text, the history of the Bible and the history of Western book-making’ (p. 3). Important introductory details are noted. In terms of the development of book technology, whereas rolls made from papyrus or animal skin were normative in the Graeco-Roman world, and the papyrus codex had become a distinctive feature of early Christian culture, Codex Sinaiticus marked a new departure.

"The pages of Codex Sinaiticus however are of prepared animal skin called parchment. This marks it out as standing at an important transition in book history. Before it we see many examples of Greek and Latin texts on papyrus roll or papyrus codex, but almost no traces of parchment codices. After it, the parchment codex becomes normative. (p. 3)

"Readers are told that the Codex is now housed in multiple locations: ‘347 leaves are held at the British Library, a further 43 leaves are kept at the University Library in Leipzig, parts of four leaves are kept at the National Library of Russia in Saint Petersburg and further portions remain at Saint Catherine's Monastery.’ Here then is another advantage of the facsimile, namely bringing the images of pages from these various locations together to be readily consulted in a single reference work."
—Expository Times

The information in this article was current at 06 Dec 2011

Keywords: Bibles

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