Monday, July 06, 2009

Codex Sinaiticus, the World's Oldest Bible, now online

The NPR radio program All Things Considered has an interview with Scot McKendrick, curator at the British Library, about the international project to create an online edition of the Codex Sinaiticus, the world's oldest known Christian Bible

The Codex Sinaiticus, or Sinai Book, was at the Monastery of St. Catherine in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula until 1859, when the book was divided. Part of it remained there, while other parts were taken to Britain, Germany and Russia.

Now, scholars from those four countries have virtually reassembled the 1,600-year-old work and made it available to anyone who wants to look at it for free.

"The whole project rests on an agreement between the four institutions. Each one committed themselves to ... the greater good of the whole to present this virtual codex," Scot McKendrick, chairman of the multinational group that worked on the project, tells Robert Siegel.

McKendrick, the British Library's head of Western manuscripts, says the codex offers an insight into what was happening in the fourth century.

"This is the point at which Christianity is becoming authorized, accepted by authority, and this book very much reflects that," he says. "It also reflects a point where there is still a discussion going on about which texts are in the Bible and which order they should be presented in."

The Codex Sinaiticus Web site is a veritable treasure trove for researchers and others. The site grants access not only to images of the pages, but also to the new transcription of the text, McKendrick says, which allows scholars to search for word patterns, among other uses. The digitized version offers breathtaking detail of the codex, which is written by hand in Greek on animal skin.

"The Web site is wonderful in that it allows you to see that physicality, see a thumbprint of a 1,600-year-old scribe, an insect that bit the animal that the page has come from," he says. "It's like a window in that ... critical era."