August 7, 2009

How did the Codex Sinaiticus end up leaving Saint Catherine’s Monastery on Mount Sinai?

Posted at 1:04 pm in Similar cases

It is often stated that the Codex Sinaiticus was removed illegally from St Catherine’s Monastery in the Sinai desert. Christfried Boettrich, a University of Greifswald theologian suggests that this is not the case though.

Whether or not the Codex was looted however, few could argue that the pages of a book split between different countries makes any real sense. Efforts should be made to reunifiy it because it is the sensible thing to do – the story in one place makes far more sense than the story spread between different locations.

Deutsche Presse Agentur

Scholar rejects Egypt claim to oldest Bible – Feature
Posted : Tue, 04 Aug 2009 02:08:37 GMT
Author : DPA

Greifswald, Germany – The extraordinary tale of how a German pastor discovered the world’s oldest book and arranged its removal from Egypt has been told in full for the first time in a new book. It was published in time for the completion in July of an online reconstruction of the 4th century Christian bible, known as the Codex Sinaiticus.

The actual pages of the Codex which are scattered between London, Leipzig, St Petersburg and the Sinai. A codex means a bound book, as distinct from a scroll.

Many Egyptians believe the Codex, penned in Greek, was stolen, but a close study of the blurred story by Christfried Boettrich, a University of Greifswald theologian in Germany, suggests this is not so.

He scoured Russian, British and German archives for evidence of how most of the treasure was removed from St Catherine’s Monastery on Mount Sinai in the 19th century.

Just 12 leaves and 40 fragments, found by the Greek Orthodox monks in 1975, remain at the monastery.

Boettrich has undertaken research on how the Codex came to be dispersed.

The website which displays the whole Codex says the newly disclosed documents will be used as the basis for a new, jointly agreed account of the latter-day history of the book.

What is certain is that a Christian pastor from the German city of Leipzig, Constantin Tischendorf, saw 129 pages of the bible for the first time in 1844 at the Orthodox monastery.

Some accounts claim the monks were only barely aware that they even had the earliest bound book to survive from western Antiquity. The book is thought to be slightly older than a similar bible in Rome, the Codex Vaticanus.

St Catherine’s agreed to him taking 43 pages home with him to the German city of Leipzig for more study.

Tischendorf returned to the Sinai 15 years later in the name of the Czar of Russia. Scouring the library during 1859, he turned up 260 more pages which had been separated from the book.

He took that second bundle, as well as the 86 pages he had left behind the first time, to Moscow in 1859.

Soviet dictator Josef Stalin commanded the sale of that treasure in 1933 to the British Museum in London, now the British Library, for 100,000 pounds.

Parts of five leaves remained behind at the National Library of Russia in St. Petersburg.

In 1975, building work at St. Catherine’s revealed the existence of a partly collapsed room where the remaining fragments were discovered. All the leaves are made of parchment, that is, animal skin used as we now use paper.

Critics have always had it in for Tischendorf, according to Boettrich.

The Greek monks’ website charges that Tischendorf slandered them with a claim that they had been on the verge of burning the Codex, and adds that the monastery still “laments the loss of this manuscript.”

The monastery says Tischendorf “promised to return the manuscript to the monastery” but never did.

Many people have concluded Tischendorf was a thief.

“That claim is demonstrable false,” said Boettrich.

It is true that the 347 leaves were only on loan when Tischendorf took them away in 1859. But in November 1869, the monastery gifted them to Czar Alexander II of Russia.

The documents of gift, duly sealed and signed by the monks, have been retained by the Russian State Historical Archives in Moscow and were published in facsimile in 2007.

The international project to creat a digital version of the Codex turned up a great many related documents too, allowing a precise reconstruction of how the communists, who regarded it as worthless, sold it in 1933 to London.

Boettrich is an expert on Tischendorf’s private papers, which are conserved in Leipzig.

Boettrich’s university says he had drawn up the fullest account ever written of the Codex’s rediscovery, removal and sale to the British Museum and hopes its publication will end decades of mistrust and squabbling about it.

“I hope this leads to a new, shared perspective as to how this unique manuscript was discovered and transferred to Leipzig, St. Petersburg and London,” he said.

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