A Day at the Museum

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.)

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We’re in London this week to learn about the Codex Sinaiticus and other artifacts that point to the veracity of the text of the Bible.

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.

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Author, historian, and pastor Clive Anderson showing the Cyrus Cylinder to Marion. This clay record contains the order by which the Hebrew people were released from the Babylonian Exile and allowed to return to Judah.

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

About John Paine

This blog is topical and devotional--we post whatever interests us, whenever. If you want to follow in an orderly fashion, please see our Kaqexeß page. View all posts by John Paine

6 responses to “A Day at the Museum

  • Clarke Morledge

    Wow! Veracity goes to London! Excellent, John, just excellent!

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    • John Paine

      There’s so much biblical history here. You’ve got to come to London and check it out. The blogging possibilities for a theologian, church historian and biblical scholar such as yourself are unlimited. I wish I could do it justice. We’ve toured Westminster Abbey, St. Paul’s Cathedral (excellent tour–on a par with the Vatican), and the Chapel Royal of St. Peter ad Vincula at the Tower of London. We will attend services tomorrow at All Souls, Langham Place–John Stott’s former pulpit. Wish you were here!

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  • Jerry Dearmon

    John,
    The wife and I visited the British Museum a few years ago and there saw an exhibit called “The Sacred” and we were amazed at the collection of ancient manuscripts relative to the Faith’s of Christianty, Judaism and Islam. It included the Codex Sinaticus and even some of the Dead Sea scrolls among so many more. We have a book from the exhibit which details each of the manuscripts. I will share that with you if you are interested. We were and are still amazed at the opportunity we had without realizing the exhibit was there prior to going.

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    • John Paine

      Hello Jerry! I would love to catch up to you after this trip. It sounds like the same content (sans the Dead Sea Scrolls) as what you saw. It is amazing how common culture seeps into our understanding of history. Under “the earliest manuscript of the Nicene Creed” the placard noted that the Council of Nicea was called to resolve the role of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the Trinity, and…wait for it…the Canon of Scripture. Really?! Too much Dan Brown and not enough historical research. (I wonder if interns write the placards.) Let’s get together when I get home. Thanks for commenting!

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  • samuelehall

    Attracted to your blog some time ago, I don’t always have sufficient time to read the postings. This sounds like a wonderful trip; glad that you both could go. The chalice–handled by Nehemiah … simply incredible!
    Your knowledge of archaeology and history is compelling, and far surpasses my own. Nevertheless, we bloom where we’re planted and devote our efforts as God leads, but I’ll stop in again.
    Thank you for such an informative post. I’m forwarding this to others whom I believe will be interested.

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    • John Paine

      Thanks, Sam for the words of encouragement. I share your limitations–I wish there was more time to read and study. (And I wish I really did know a lot more about archaeology and history.) God bless!

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