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Oldest Bible Reunited Online

All 800 surviving pages from Codex Sinaiticus, the earliest surviving Christian bible, are now freely available for viewing on the Internet. Bound copy of Codex Sinaiticus picture courtesy British Library “For the first time, people around the world will be able to explore high resolution digital images of all the extant pages of the fourth-century...

All 800 surviving pages from Codex Sinaiticus, the earliest surviving Christian bible, are now freely available for viewing on the Internet.


Bound copy of Codex Sinaiticus picture courtesy British Library

“For the first time, people around the world will be able to explore high resolution digital images of all the extant pages of the fourth-century book, which was written in Greek on parchment leaves by several scribes and had its text revised and corrected over the course of the following centuries,” the British Library said in a statement.

Codex Sinaiticus is the world’s oldest Bible and regarded as the most important Biblical manuscript. It was written by hand in the mid-fourth century around the time of Constantine the Great. Though it originally contained the whole of the Old and New Testaments and the Apocrypha in Greek, half of the Old Testament has since been lost, according to the British Library.


The surviving manuscript concludes with two early Christian texts, an epistle ascribed to the Apostle Barnabas and ‘The Shepherd’ by Hermas.

Codex Sinaiticus is named after the Monastery of St Catherine in Sinai, Egypt, where it was found in the 19th Century.

Built at the foot of Mount Moses, Sinai, on the traditional site of Moses’ Burning Bush, it is one of the oldest, continuously active, Christian monastic communities in the world and traces its origins back to the fourth century.

Codex Sinaiticus picture courtesy British Library

The Monastery was as constructed by order of the Emperor Justinian between 527 and 565 to house the bones of the Christian martyr St Catherine. It is a Greek Orthodox holy place connected with the Prophet Moses and the exodus of the Jews from Egypt, the British Library said.

The virtual reunification of Codex Sinaiticus is the culmination of a four-year collaboration between the British Library, Leipzig University Library, the Monastery of St Catherine (Mount Sinai, Egypt), and the National Library of Russia (St Petersburg), each of which hold different parts of the physical manuscript.


The world’s oldest surviving Christian Bible was found at St. Catherine’s Monastery, at the foot of Mount Sinai on the traditional site of Moses’s Burning Bush.

NGS photo of St Catherine’s Monastery by Robert Sisson

“By bringing together the digitised pages online, the project will enable scholars worldwide to research in depth the Greek text, which is fully transcribed and cross-referenced, including the transcription of numerous revisions and corrections,” the British Library said.


“It will also allow researchers into the history of the book as a physical object to examine in detail aspects of its fabric and manufacture: pages can be viewed either with standard light or with raking light which, by illuminating each page at an angle, highlights the physical texture and features of the parchment.”

NGS photo of St Catherine’s Monastery by Robert Sisson

“The Codex Sinaiticus is one of the world’s greatest written treasures,” said Scot McKendrick, head of Western Manuscripts at the British Library. “This 1600-year-old manuscript offers a window into the development of early Christianity and first-hand evidence of how the text of the bible was transmitted from generation to generation.

“The project has uncovered evidence that a fourth scribe–along with the three already recognised–worked on the text; the availability of the virtual manuscript for study by scholars around the world creates opportunities for collaborative research that would not have been possible just a few years ago.”

The Codex Sinaiticus is also a landmark in the history of the book, as it is arguably the oldest large bound book to have survived, McKendrick.


Codex Sinaiticus picture courtesy British Library

“For one volume to contain all the Christian scriptures book manufacture had to make a great technological leap forward–an advance comparable to the introduction of movable type or the availability of word processing,” McKendrick said.

“The Codex was huge in length–originally over 1,460 pages–and large in page size, with each page measuring 16 inches tall by 14 inches wide. Critically, it marks the definite triumph of bound codices over scrolls–a key watershed in how the Christian bible was regarded as a sacred text.”

The Codex Sinaiticus Project was launched in 2005, when a partnership agreement was signed by the four partner organisations that hold surviving pages and fragments, the British Library said.

“A central objective of the project is the publication of new research into the history of the Codex.

“Other key aims of the project were to undertake the preservation, digitisation and transcription of the Codex and thereby reunite the pages, which have been kept in separate locations for over 150 years.”


Professor David Parker from the University of Birmingham’s Department of Theology, who directed the team funded by the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council, which made the electronic transcription of the manuscript, said: “The process of deciphering and transcribing the fragile pages of an ancient text containing over 650,000 words is a huge challenge, which has taken nearly four years.

Codex Sinaiticus fragment picture courtesy British Library

“The transcription includes pages of the Codex which were found in a blocked-off room at the Monastery of St Catherine in 1975, some of which were in poor condition. This is the first time that they have been published.

“The digital images of the virtual manuscript show the beauty of the original and readers are even able to see the difference in handwriting between the different scribes who copied the text.

“We have even devised a unique alignment system which allows users to link the images with the transcription. This project has made a wonderful book accessible to a global audience.”

To mark the successful completion of the project, the British Library is hosting an academic conference on 6-7 July 2009 entitled ‘Codex Sinaiticus: text, Bible, book’. A number of leading experts will give presentations on the history, text, conservation, palaeography and codicology of the manuscript.

A new exhibition at the British Library tells the story of Codex Sinaiticus and reveals how cutting-edge technology reunited the pages of the 1600-year-old manuscript.

Additional information:

Codex Sinaiticus Web site

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