Danke Sehr, Tischendorf!

Today, February the 4th, marks a very important moment in history.  It is the 160th anniversary of the discovery of the Codex Sinaiticus by Tischendorf!

Well, find that noteworthy, anyway.

“The literary treasures which I have sought to explore have been drawn in most cases from the convents of the East, where, for ages, the pens of industrious monks have copied the sacred writings, and collected manuscripts of all kinds. It therefore occurred to me whether it was not probable that in some recess of Greek or Coptic, Syrian or Armenian monasteries, there might be some precious manuscripts slumbering for ages in dust and darkness? And would not every sheet of parchment so found, covered with writings of the fifth, sixth, and seventh centuries, be a kind of literary treasure, and a valuable addition to our Christian literature?”

I must admit, I didn’t know who Tischendorf even was before this year.  Now, he holds a high position among my historical heroes.  For one thing, he is a scholar extraordinaire ( I tend to favour my fellow nerds).  It is incredible enough that he was the only one able to study an ancient document that had been scraped and written over.  I also applaud his aim to prove the authenticity of the Christian Scriptures.  But what really catches my attention is the fact that he discovered the oldest complete New Testament manuscript.

“The desire which I felt to discover some precious remains of any manuscripts, more especially Biblical, of a date which would carry us back to the early times of Christianity, was realized beyond my expectations. It was at the foot of Mount Sinai, in the convent of St. Catherine, that I discovered the pearl of all my researches.” 

On his first visit, Tischendorf managed to acquire a few mouldering sheets of the Old Testament.  He himself describes his reaction to finding these manuscripts as ‘lively satisfaction’.  Since that time, had longed to return to the monastery and find the rest of the collection.  For fifteen years he thought about ‘his treasure’.  Then, on a later visit to St. Catherine’s, the steward of the convent handed him a volume wrapped in red cloth.  Recognising what it  was, Tischendorf asked if he could take the volume to his chamber.

“There by myself, I could give way to the transport of joy which I felt. I knew that I held in my hand the most precious Biblical treasure in existence—a document whose age and importance exceeded that of all the manuscripts which I had ever examined during twenty years’ study of the subject. I cannot now, I confess, recall all the emotions which I felt in that exciting moment, with such a diamond in my possession.” 

I had seen the Codex Sinaiticus when I visited the British Library, and excitedly noted it in my travel journal.  However, at that point I hadn’t heard its story.  This gives me greater incentive to have another visit to that great library, and see the Codex through wider eyes.  And, if anyone bothers to pay attention to the crazy lady fluttering about the display, I’d be more than happy to share the story of Tischendorf and the discovery of the Codex Sinaiticus.

“But that which I think more highly of than all these flattering distinctions is, the conviction that Providence has given to our age, in which attacks on Christianity are so common, the Sinaitic Bible, to be to us a full and clear light as to what is the word written by God, and to assist us in defending the truth by establishing its authentic form.”

Here is his own account (from which all quotes are taken): http://www.ccel.org/ccel/tischendorf/gospels.ii.iii.html

and here is an interesting lecture on the topic: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LVSzBGXXL1Y


(Today also marks Bonhoeffer’s Birthday, by the way.  But that’s another topic for next time.)

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