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Home > Catholic Encyclopedia > C > Codex Sinaiticus

Codex Sinaiticus

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(The symbol is the Hebrew character Aleph, though Swete and a few other scholars use the letter S.)

A Greek manuscript of the Old and New Testaments, of the greatest antiquity and value; found on Mount Sinai, in St. Catherine's Monastery, by Constantine Tischendorf. He was visiting there in 1844, under the patronage of Frederick Augustus, King of Saxony, when he discovered in a rubbish basket forty-three leaves of the Septuagint, containing portions of I Par. (Chron.), Jer., Neh., and Esther; he was permitted to take them. He also saw the books of Isaias and I and IV Machabees, belonging to the same codex as the fragments, but could not obtain possession of them; warning the monks of their value, he left for Europe and two years later published the leaves he had brought with him under the name of Codex Friderico-Augustanus, after his patron. They are preserved at Leipzig. On a second visit, in 1853, he found only two short fragments of Genesis (which he printed on his return) and could learn nothing of the rest of the codex. In 1859 he made a third visit, this time under the patronage of the Czar, Alexander II. This visit seemed likewise fruitless when, on the eve of his departure, in a chance conversation with the steward, he learned of the existence of a manuscript there; when it was shown to him, he saw the very manuscript he had sought containing, beyond all his dreams, a great part of the Old Testament and the entire New Testament, besides the Epistle of Barnabas, and part of the "Shepherd" of Hermas, of which two works no copies in the original Greek were known to exist. Thinking it "a crime to sleep", Tischendorf spent the night copying Barnabas; he had to leave in the morning, after failing to persuade the monks to let him have the manuscript. At Cairo he stopped at a monastery belonging to the same monks (they were of the Orthodox Greek Church) and succeeded in having the manuscript sent to him there for transcription; and finally, in obtaining it from the monks as a present to the Czar, Tischendorf's patron and the protector of their Church. Years later, in 1869, the Czar rewarded the two monasteries with gifts of money (7000 and 2000 roubles each) and decorations. The manuscript is treasured in the Imperial Library at St. Petersburg. Tischendorf published an account of it in 1860; and, under the auspices of the czar, printed it in facsimile in 1862. Twenty-one lithographic plates made from photographs were included in this edition, which was issued in four volumes. The following year he published a critical edition of the New Testament. Finally, in 1867, he published additional fragments of Genesis and Numbers, which had been used to bind other volumes at St. Catherine's and had been discovered by the Archimandrite Porfirius. On four different occasions, then, portions of the original manuscript have been discovered; they have never been published together in a single edition.

The Codex Sinaiticus, which originally must have contained the whole Old Testament, has suffered severely from mutilation, especially in the historical books from Genesis to Esdras (inclusive); the rest of the Old Testament fared much better. The fragments and books extant are: several verses from Genesis 23 and 24, and from Numbers 5, 6, 7; 1 Chronicles 9:27-19:17; Ezra 9:9 to end; Nehemias, Esther, Tobias, Judith, Joel, Abdias, Jonas, Nahum, Habacuc, Sophonias, Aggeus, Zacharias, Malachias, Isaias, Jeremias, Lamentations 1:1-2:20; I Machabees, IV Machabees (apocryphal, while the canonical II Machabees and the apocryphal III Machabees were never contained in this codex). A curious occurrence is that Esdras, ix, 9 follows 1 Chronicles 19:17 without any break; the note of a corrector shows that seven leaves of I Par. were copied into the Book of Esdras, probably by a mistake in the binding of the manuscript from which Codex Sinaiticus was copied. Our Esdras is called in this codex, as in many others, Esdras B. This may indicate that it followed Esdras A, as the book called by Jerome III Esdras (see ESDRAS) is named in ancient codices; the proof is by no means sure, however, as IV Machabees is here designated Machabees D, as was usual, although the second and third books of Machabees were absent from the manuscript. The New Testament is complete, likewise the Epistle of Barnabas; six leaves following Barnabas are lost, which probably also contained uncanonical literature: the "Shepherd" of Hermas is incomplete, and we cannot tell whether other works followed. In all, there are 346 1/2 leaves. The order of the New Testament is to be noted, St. Paul's Epistles preceding Acts; Hebrews following II Thess. The manuscript is on good parchment; the pages measure about 15 inches by 13 1/2 inches; there are four columns to a page, except in the poetical books, which are written stichometrically in two columns of greater width; there are 48 lines to a column, but 47 in the Catholic Epistles. The four narrow columns give the page the appearance of an ancient roll; it is not impossible, as Kenyon says, that it was in fact copied from a papyrus roll. It is written in uncial characters, well formed, without accents or breathings, and with no punctuation except (at times) the apostrophe and the single point for a period. Tischendorf judged that there were four hands engaged in the writing of the manuscript; in this he has been generally followed. He has been less happy in obtaining acceptance of his conjecture that one of these scribes also wrote the New Testament of the Vatican Codex. He recognized seven correctors of the text, one of them contemporaneous with the writing of the manuscript. The Ammonian Sections and the Eusebian Canons are indicated in the margin, probably by a contemporary hand; they seem to have been unknown to the scribe, however, who followed another division. The clerical errors are relatively not numerous, in Gregory's judgment.

In age this manuscript ranks alongside the Codex Vaticanus. Its antiquity is shown by the writing, by the four columns to a page (an indication, probably, of the transition from the roll to the codex form of manuscript.), by the absence of the large initial letters and of ornaments, by the rarity of punctuation, by the short titles of the books, the presence of divisions of the text antedating Eusebius, the addition of Barnabas and Hermas, etc. Such indications have induced experts to place it in the fourth century, along with Codex Vaticanus and some time before Codex Alexandrinus and Codex Ephræmi Rescriptus; this conclusion is not seriously questioned, though the possibility of an early fifth-century date is conceded. Its origin has been assigned to Rome, Southern Italy, Egypt, and Caesarea, but cannot be determined (Kenyon, Handbook to the Textual Criticism of the New Testament, London, 1901, p. 56 sqq.). It seems to have been at one time at Caesarea; one of the correctors (probably of seventh century) adds this note at the end of Esdras: "This codex was compared with a very ancient exemplar which had been corrected by the hand of the holy martyr Pamphilus [d. 309]; which exemplar contained at the end of the subscription in his own hand: 'Taken and corrected according to the Hexapla of Origen: Antonius compared it: I, Pamphilus, corrected it'." Pamphilus was, with Eusebius, the founder of the library at Caesarea. Some are even inclined to regard Codex Sinaiticus as one of the fifty manuscripts which Constantine bade Eusebius of Caesarea to have prepared in 331 for the churches of Constantinople; but there is no sign of its having been at Constantinople. Nothing is known of its later history till its discovery by Tischendorf. The text of Codex Sinaiticus bears a very close resemblance to that of Codex Vaticanus, though it cannot be descended from the same immediate ancestor. In general, Codex Vaticanus is placed first in point of purity by contemporary scholars and Codex Sinaiticus next. This is especially true, for the New Testament, of the Gospels. The differences are more frequent in the Old Testament where the codices Sinaiticus and Alexandrinus often agree.


About this page

APA citation. Fenlon, J.F. (1908). Codex Sinaiticus. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04085a.htm

MLA citation. Fenlon, John Francis. "Codex Sinaiticus." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 4. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04085a.htm>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Sean Hyland.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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