In search of the Codex Sinaiticus (English)


By Bishop John of Amorion *

The main reasons for my visiting Germany recently were, on the one hand, to view the remaining 43 manuscript leaves (pages) of the 4th century original Greek Codex Sinaiticus (containing the entire New Testament and several Old Testament Books) at the University of Leipzig Library, and on the other hand, to visit the Cologne Cathedral (Dom) where the remains of the Three Magi are housed. I have already written an article on the Magi Shrine, which I will release in November in time for Christmas.

Upon arriving at Leipzig by plane, as is my custom I took a bus tour of the city. I became aware that whereas Cologne is a Roman Catholic city of churches, Leipzig is a Protestant city with not that many churches. Cologne was part of West Germany, whereas, Leipzig was part of East Germany. However, I found Leipzig, with a population of some 500,000 to be a more modern, beautiful city with wide roads and many floral gardens. Cologne with a population of over 1,200,000, located on the Rhine, is the 4th largest city of Germany, and as such a very important trade centre with buildings taking every available space of land. During World War II, 90% of the city was destroyed due to 262 bombing raids, with the exception of the Cathedral, which suffered collateral damage. Nevertheless, the German Government, proportionally speaking appropriated more financial assistance to Leipzig and that is why it looks more modern. In a way, the Cathedral (dom) is the Heart and soul of Cologne which was elevated by the Emperor Charlesmagne from a Diocese, to an Archdiocese in 805 A.D. Charlesmagne was crowned Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire by Pope Leo III on Christmas 800 A.D. at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The University of Cologne, which was founded in 1388, is the largest University of Germany and has an enrollment of about 65,000 students.

Whereas, the University is the heart and soul of Leipzig, established in 1409. Leipzig is a historic, cultural and literary city, which boasts that Johann Sebastian Bach is buried in the Chancel area in the Church of St. Thomas, where he was the Choirmaster of the St. Thomas Boys Choir for 27 years. It is also known as a literary city, because the first printed book was published here in 1481, and the first newspaper was printed in 1650, with the first learned journal published in 1682.

Historically speaking, Leipzig has a memorable past, including the battle of Leipzig, when the allied forces defeated Napoleon, in October 1813. In honour of the 100.000 casualties, Germany’s largest monument, (the Battles of the Nations), was erected in 1913.  And the edifying, cone-shaped St. Alexy Russian Orthodox Church of Moscow, with it’s 7-row Iconostasion (87 icons in all and reaching the very tip of the edifice), was constructed in 1913, in commemoration of the 22,000 Russian soldiers who died in battle. Both these monuments are most impressive and are included in all the bus tours. The university's oldest building, its Chapel, which was originally a Roman Catholic Church prior to the Protestant Reformation, was demolished by the Communist regime in 1986. So it is, that initially my search for the Codex Sinaiticus took me from St. Catherine’s Greek Orthodox Monastery at Mt. Sinai, Egypt, to the British Museum and the British Library in London, England, and finally to Leipzig, Germany. Upon my arrival in Leipzig, I called the University Library to make arrangements for my viewing the 43 pages of the Codex Sinaiticus housed there. I was told that due to technical reasons it is not on display as it is at the British Library. Nevertheless, I informed them to expect me the next day. Dr Steffen Hoffman, who is in charge of the Manuscript department of the University library, made himself available and most helpful. He explained that this priceless and historic manuscript, which requires special lightning and temperature controls for public viewing, was not available at the Library, so it was kept in a special vault. However, the Library did have a bound copy of these 43 pages in addition to those of Codex Sinaiticus at the British Library, which he would be glad to bring to me for my study. Naturally, I accepted. The last time the Leipzig University Library had publicly displayed it’s 43 manuscript Codex Sinaiticus leaves, was in 1994 upon the 250th anniversary of the University’s Founding. Dr. Hoffman then brought me the huge volumes (15x20 inches) of the Codex Sinaiticus. I immediately began studying the Codex Sinaiticus volumes located at the British Library, initially making notes of the cover pages, ( prolegomena), commentarius and tabulae -all in Latin, dated MDCCCLXII – 1862, followed by the actual copy pages of the Codex Sinaiticus in Greek, which is the most valuable and precious Codex, because it contains the entire New Testament, whereas neither the Codex Vaticanus nor the Codex Alexandrinus contain. The first part contains Old Testament Scripture, beginning with Psalm 1, referred to as “Psalmos of David ”. I copied part of Psalm 23, which was followed by proverbs, Ecclesiasticus, Song of Songs, Solomon, Job, Maccabees, Jeremiah, and Joel. The second volume contained the entire New Testament in Greek and the Epistle of Barnabas. I copied the first 2 lines of Mathew, Mark, Luke and John, as well as, Romans, Corinthians and James. After 3 hours, I took a lunch break for a bowl of chicken soup (of course, not like my mother’s), at the Library cafeteria. Dr. Hoffman was not able to join me, for he had an appointment elsewhere.

The Leipzig University Library is huge, like the main Boston Public Library at Copley Square. By the way, the cover pages, (Prolegomena), commentary, etc. caused me some confusion as to why they were there, but I decided to say nothing for the moment.

After lunch, I had some time with Dr. Hoffman, during which he informed me that there was an article on Dr. Tischendorf by an American who had moved to Leipzig and eventually died there. Since it was in English, I asked to see it, for I was eager to learn more than the few sentences I had read about him in conjunction with the Codex Sinaiticus and then, not in a favorable light. Likewise, he mentioned some good news, which I will share with my readers at the end of this article. In examining the 43 manuscript leaves of the C.S. that this University possesses in addition to the Prolegomena and it’s dedication to “Codex Friderico- Augustanus” in honor of Saxon King, it contains passages from 1 Chronicles, 2 Esther, Nehemiah and Esther and parts of Tobit, Jeremiah and Lamentations.

However, to better understand the ‘mystery’ of the Codex Sinaiticus, and, its ‘transfer’ from one place to another, the reprinted article on Dr. C. Tischendorf by Casper Rene Gregory in the January 1876 issue of “Bibliotheca” will prove to be helpful. The author divides the article into 2 parts, the first dealing with Tischendorf’s preparation (1815-1844) and the second part dealing with its work (1844-1873). He was born in January 1815 in Lengenfeld (55 miles south of Leipzig) and was the 9th child of a rather poor woman, who named him Lobegott Friedrich Constantin Tischendorf. Lobegott, meaning ‘praise God’, because during her pregnancy, his mother continually prayed that he would not be born blind as her 8th child.

After his education in his hometown, Tischendorf entered the University of Leipzig in 1834, where he was greatly influenced by 2 professors: Dr. Gotfriend Herman, a classicist and Dr. George Benedict Winer, who issued his first edition of the New Testament Grammar in 1822. Tischendorf in 1836 received a prize medal for his essay “The Doctrine of the Apostle Paul as to the Value of Christ’s Death as a Satisfaction.” In 1841, he began his travels to the Netherlands, England (Oxford and Cambridge Universities), etc. In 1842, he became involved with the Codex Ephraim, which contained New Testament fragments. He then went on to Rome (1843) to view the Codex Vaticanus, but he was denied. At some point, he had an audience with the Pope, who was an Old Testament Scholar, and who arranged for Tischendorf to view the Codex Vaticanus for 3 hours, for 2 days only. In 1866, he was allowed to work on the C.V. for 42 hours. Eventually, Tischendorf went to Alexandria where the Greek Orthodox Patriarch told him that they had no manuscripts.

Finally, on May 24, 1844, he reached the Greek Orthodox Monastery of St. Catherine’s at Mt. Sinai, by camel. Casper writes in his article: “Tischendorf withheld the details of how he got the 43 pages of the Codex Sinaiticus out of Egypt to Germany. Except to say, that initially a monk, or monks showed him some manuscript pieces thrown in a basket and told him that he could have them.” Let us bear in mind, that Casper R. Gregory was an enthusiastic, devoted, proponent of Tischendorf and seeks in this article to present him in the best of light. Even if the monk or monks were so naïve not to recognize the significance of the manuscript leaves, what about the abbot of the monastery, who was the person responsible for such matters, should he not have been consulted? Furthermore, the author does not mention that Tischendorf sold these 43 manuscript leaves of the Codex Sinaiticus to the University of Leipzig Library where they are still housed. Whatever the case, credit must be given to whom credit is due. It is the New Testament German Scholar Constantin Tischendorf who made this famous discovery of the Codex Sinaiticus and to whom Christianity is most grateful.

On January 5, 1859, Tischendorf departed from Vienna, Austria, and landed in Alexandria, Egypt, on January 16th. On January 31st, by camel he arrived at St, Catherine’s Monastery at Mt. Sinai. He was made welcome by some of the monks he had met during his previous visit. This monastery contained 3 Libraries: 1) On the ground floor, which was the smallest, containing 100 printed books on shelves. 2) On the second floor was the Library proper, where there were some 1,500 catalogued books, of which 500 were manuscripts in Greek, Arabic, Syrian, Armenian, Georgian and Slavonic, and 3) On the third floor were clergy vestments, lectionaries, Liturgies, patristic and biblical manuscripts. There was a precious Liturgical Gospel Book from either the 7th or 8th century, written in Golden Greek Letters on white parchment. On February 4th, a monk invited Tischendorf to his cell for refreshments. While there, the monk brought him, wrapped in red cloth, what he thought was the Septuagint. However, to the joy of Tischendorf, it was the fragments he had saved from a previous fire and additional manuscript leaves of the Old Testament, plus the entire New Testament and the Epistle of Barnabas. The monks who were present noticed the excitement and joy of Tischendorf. He was allowed to take all of these manuscript pages to his room, where he discovered that a portion of the Shepherd of Hermes was included.

Examining this manuscript, containing 346 leaves, he found there to be 22 of the Old Testament prophetic, poetic and apocrypha books, the entire New Testament, the Epistle of Barnabas and the first part of the Shepherd of Hermes.

Now, the question that confronted Tischendorf was how to acquire this precious, historic manuscript. We realized that the monks would not sell it to him, so he told the monks that he would like to copy it at Cairo, since it was not convenient to undertake this type of work at St. Catherine’s Monastery. The Librarian, Vitalios, was apposed, but the other monks were not. The abbot, who alone could decide, had gone to Cairo for the election of an archbishop and thereafter was to leave for Constantinople. Casper Gregory says in his article that eventually, Tischendorf met with the abbot, Archbishop-elect Kyrillos III, on February 14th, in Cairo and in consultation with a vicar and a professor at the Russian Consulate. It was agreed that Tischendorf could have sets of 8 leaves at a time to copy in Cairo. It took 2 months to accomplish this at the hotel of the Pyramids in Cairo with the assistance of 2 Germans. However, the Patriarch of Jerusalem refused to recognize the election of the new abbot, Archbishop-elect Kyrillos and to ordain and consecrate him to the episcopacy.

So, Tischendorf took off and visited the Holy Land, Smyrna, Patmos and Constantinople where he discussed the Sinaitic manuscript, and the Archbishop-elect of Mt. Sinai, but to no avail. It is reported that someone came up with the idea to take the Sinaitic manuscript to St. Petersburg and publish it. In case however, the newly- constituted authorities should not be willing to let the Russian emperor have it, and if he refused, to return it to St. Catherine’s Monastery at Mt. Sinai. So it is, that on September 22nd, 1859, Tischendorf left Constantinople and arrived in Cairo on September 27th. The next morning, the assembled Abbot Kyrillos, and the monks gave him the Codex Sinaiticus and on November 19th, 1859, he placed it before the Emperor of Russia at Tsarskoe-Selo, and before the end of the year Tischendorf had begun a typographical imitation of it. The Codex Sinaiticus appeared published in 1862, on the 1000th anniversary of the Russian Empire.

Thus, the Codex Sinaiticus appeared in 4-folio volume of the largest size (which is what I viewed). Each contained a (prolegomena), a critical paleographical commentary, etc. and the manuscript itself type printed and specially prepared as much as possible to look like the original. The Russian Emperor Nicholas Alexander II presented copies to scholars and institutions of learning all over Europe. The original Codex Sinaiticus manuscript (written in continuous Capital Greek letters with no separation between words), remained in the Imperial Library of St. Petersburg until 1933, when the Soviet Government sold it to the British Museum in London for 100,000 pounds. Here it was displayed until 1998, and then transferred to the new British Library.

Such was the life and role of Dr. Constantine Tischendorf in search of the Codex Sinaiticus and his remarkable discovery of it at St. Catherine’s Greek Orthodox Monastery at Mt. Sinai, Egypt. He transferred 43 pages of this manuscript to the University of Leipzig Library in 1844, and 346 manuscript leaves to the Czar of Russia in 1859, and was responsible for it’s publication in 1862. He was acknowledged by his peers as a New Testament Scholar and as an ambitious theologian, who left his mark in history, which came to an end on May 5th, 1873, when he died of apoplexy in Leipzig.

So it is, that my search of the Codex Sinaiticus is over, by having gone to the St. Catherine’s Monastery at Mt. Sinai, the British Library in London, and to the University of Leipzig Library in Germany. Even more so, with the good news which Dr. Hoffman shared with me, and now I wish to share with you. In a couple of years, a joint project is to be undertaken by the above-mentioned institutions, which possess portions of the Codex Sinaiticus. What is it? A computer disc will be made from these sources available for all. This project will be undertaken at the British Library because it has all the required facilities available. Isn’t that good news?

* His previous article “Where is the Codex Sinaiticus?” was printed in the issue dated January 29th, 2003, of “The Hellenic voice”.