Clarke referenced the Codex Sinaiticus and the Septuagint in a couple of posts last week, so Marion and I decided to hop a plane to London and have a look at the original. (That’s not exactly how things progressed, but isn’t far from the truth.)
Codex Sinaiticus is one of the most important books in the world. It contains the oldest complete New Testament in existence, and dates to around 350 A.D. The Old Testament portion is a copy of the Septuagint. Codex Sinaiticus is used by scholars today to create the most accurate translations of the biblical text. The manuscript is served in high definition on the Internet, and it doesn’t take long to see how scribes painstakingly corrected the original writing. There are corrections plastered in the margins everywhere. It was obviously important for the scribes to make sure the work was as accurate as possible and up to par with the best copies of the Bible in existence at the time.
The British Library’s portion of Sinaiticus is currently on display in a special exhibit at the British Museum. We asked Clive Anderson, co-author of Through the British Museum with the Bible, if he could guide us through the exhibits. Although Clive wasn’t scheduled to conduct a tour while we were in town, he graciously agreed.
Some days are better than others. Today was the day for our tour.
The British Museum is the best attended tourist attraction in London (partly because there is no admission charge), and houses the greatest collection of Bible-related artifacts outside of Israel. Clive spent over five hours showing us the highlights, which included the Rosetta Stone, the Cyrus Cylinder, the Lacish Room, Egyptian mummies, a facade from a Greek Temple (that would have been seen by Paul and Timothy), massive Babylonian reliefs depicting events recorded in the Bible, carved busts of Roman emperors, Roman solider uniforms, the Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III, several massive lamassu (the winged bulls that stood guard at the gates of Babylonian cities), many carved idols, the Royal Game of Ur, and a silver bowl with the inscription of Artaxerxes 1. Nehemiah, the cup bearer to the king, would likely have handled this bowl.
Because we are partial to early Chi Rho symbols, I was particularly impressed with the oldest known mosaic depicting Jesus (the Image of Christ from Hinton St. Mary, unearthed in England in 1963) and a Chi Rho fresco from Lullingstone Roman Villa, which is believed to be the earliest known Christian house church in Europe.
I hope that this post helps whet your appetite for biblical history, and that maybe one day soon you will be able to tour the British Museum with Clive Anderson. He was incredibly knowledgeable, well prepared, energetic, enthusiastic, and completely entertaining. Clive also leads tours to Israel, Egypt, Turkey, Greece, and (believe it or not) Iran. If you are looking for well-researched history on the Bible, read his books.
So how was the Codex Sinaiticus? My main impression was that even the high-definition photographs on the Internet don’t do it justice. Not even close. The Codex was opened to Luke’s genealogy of Jesus. The vellum was extremely clean and shiny, even in the dimly lit room. The smooth, bright finish of the pages and the still dark, bold ink belie its 1,600-year provenance. The text was very small and beautifully penned. It would have taken a very steady and skilled hand to produce those quires, even under the best of conditions. I couldn’t help lingering over the display case. It was truly spectacular to appreciate what was under that glass.
We often remark on Veracity that we don’t do enough reporting on biblical Archaeology. But it is important to appreciate that the Bible is constantly being dug out of the ground. I hope that everyone who reads this post will have the opportunity to see and experience these artifacts and to weigh the evidence. The truth is out there waiting to be discovered.
HT: Clive Anderson