For me this item is big news. Most other people won’t really be interested — unfortunately. Hopefully you will be. It seems a Bible from classical times, the Codex Sinaiticus, will soon be made available online. This codex is a nearly-complete Bible of the 4th century. It has a lot to tell us about early Christianity, if we take the time to listen.

It contains most of the Old Testament in Greek, known as the Septuagint, and almost all of the modern New Testament, along with two additional books, the Epistle of Barnabas and the Shepherd of Hermas. It is very likely that whoever penned this codex considered these two additional books to be “canon” (even though, at that time, no decisive canon existed). Among the many other differences between modern Bibles and the Codex, in this ancient collection the gospel of Mark ends abruptly with the three women who found Jesus’ empty tomb running off in fear. (As it turns out, all the earliest copies of Mark end at this point, so in this the Codex is not unique.)

What’s remarkable is that it is being assembled and placed online at all. The Codex is actually no longer a single book; it’s in pieces around the world as a result of its strange history. The German scholar Constantin von Tischendorf found some loose vellum pages, in Greek, which had once been part of a larger codex, in the monastery of St Catherine in the Sinai region in the 19th century.

The full story of how the monks found the rest of it, and it ended up in pieces, scattered around, is a convoluted one and not a tale I can tell very well here; see the Answers.Com entry on the Codex for more information.

I had never thought the pieces could ever be assembled in one place — even if only online and not physically — but apparently it’s being done. But the British Museum is doing it, and the world will be a better place for it, if only to shed light on the textual history of the Bible books. If nothing else this will debunk the common myth among Christians that the Bible books have been unchanged since they were first written … this is, of course, quite untrue.

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