First of all, this report is somewhat different from the usual News Briefings as I have to declare a personal interest in the story. For the last 5 months, I have been working with the British Library writing content for various resources for the Codex Sinaiticus Project. Whilst being immensely exciting and rewarding, it has meant that I have had little time for updating this site. Regular visitors may have noticed that recent content (particularly journal trawls and the lack of the next podcast - which is still being edited) has been rather sparse this year. I do apologise to you all.
On July the 6th, the disparate parts of Codex Sinaiticus were electronically re-united and published online. This means that all the existing pages (including the most recently found fragments) are now available online in high quality digitised images, and which can be viewed under both normal and raking light. Each page has also been transcribed and some carry an English translation of the text. Over the next few months, more content will be added to make this incredible resource. Explanatory articles and notes on the different textual and codicalogical features are also scheduled to be published on the site. Alongside the launch, a conference was also held and some of the papers that were read will also be added to the site, which will make it one of the best resources for an ancient manuscript currently online.
The amount of national and international interest in Codex Sinaiticus has taken everyone involved in the project by surprise. Early on Monday (06/07/09), I was in the usually hushed environment of the British Library and, even though the press release had been launched only a couple of hours earlier, the website was being swamped by hits and frantic phone calls were being to create a 'round robin' system to deal with the online traffic. On Monday, alone, the site had received 44.1 million hits. Throughout the next two days, there was a constant stream of requests for media interviews and information. By the end of Tuesday (07/07/09), the site had received 96.4 million hits.
One of the more dispiriting aspects to have come from the launch has been the amount of misconceptions that are still being authoritatively quoted as fact - some of which would be more at home in a Dan Brown novel. These include assertions that the Codex Sinaiticus does not contain ANY account of the resurrection of Jesus or that it has been suppressed by the church because its content shows that the Biblical tradition has been radically altered. Neither of these assertions are true. Codex Sinaiticus has been heavily corrected and presents a number of very interesting textual changes and readings, however these must be understood within the context of textual scholarship. Articles which will lead the reader through the types of corrections and editing will appear on the site soon.
Restoration work being conducted by Vatican archaeologists at the catacomb of St Thekla have uncovered a 4th century fresco which, they claim, contains our earliest image of Saint Paul. The fresco had experienced significant accretion of dirt and was covered by a layer of lime. Fortunately, this has helped to preserve the images and once these had been cleaned away, using fine-beam lasers, the fresco has been revealed to be of "very good quality".
The director of the restoration, Barbara Mazzei, explains that the 1,600 year old image closely accords to early iconography of St. Paul. He is depicted as narrow face, with dark beard, deep-set eyes and with a receding hairline. One unusual feature about this fresco is that Paul appears to be depicted alone. Usually he is shown alongside Peter.
Archaeologists led by Yosef Garfinkel from Hebrew University (Jerusalem) claims to have found the oldest piece of Hebrew text. Carbon-14 dating of material found on the same level as the pottery shard containing the text suggests that it can be dated to around 975 BCE. The pottery shard, or ostracon, is inscribed with five lines of proto-Canaanite script; a form of writing which is a predecessor of Hebrew. Although the ancient Israelites were not the only peoples to use proto-Canaanite characters, Yosef Garfinkel claims to have identified a form of the verb 'to do' which he argues is only associated with Hebrew. Although the text remains untranslated, a number of words have been have been tentatively deciphered: 'king', 'judge' and 'slave'. It has been hypothesised that the text was written by a scribe of the court. However, a number of scholars remain sceptical as to whether the script really is Hebrew.
The shard itself was found at the excavation site of the Elah fortress at Khirbet Qeiyafa, which lies in the Judean foothills to the south of Jerusalem, and is traditionally viewed as being the place where David confronted Goliath (1 Samuel 17:19). It is perhaps the attempt to link the find with the Biblical figure of King David which is the most controversial. There is, as yet, little archaeological evidence for his existence. However the site does indicate a large fortified settlement which is approximately dated to the time of the Davidic kingdom. Yosef Garfinkel claims that this is our first evidence that a powerful Israelite presence existed in the Jerusalem area at the time of King David. Whether Yosef's claim can be supported is largely based upon whether the writing on the ostracon can be conclusively identified as being proto-Hebrew.
Although we have some older manuscripts, the beautifully written Codex Sinaiticus is the earliest complete copy of the Bible known to have survived. Handwriting analysis has dated the manuscript to the mid 4th Century. The manuscript is written in Greek, the Old Testament taking the form of the Septuagint (Greek version of the Hebrew Scriptures) and the New Testament retaining its early Koine (vernacular) style of Greek. What is of particular interest is the way it has been extensively corrected over the years, ranging from those made by the original scribe in the 4th to ones made as late as the 12th century.
The modern reader will immediately notice some differences. The Septuagint includes a number of books that are classed within the Protestant tradition as apocryphal (for example; 2 Esdras, Tobit, Judith, 1 & 4 Maccabees, Wisdom and Sirach). The New Testament also might appear a little unusual. Firstly, the order of some of the books is a little different. The Acts is placed between the Pastoral and Catholic Epistles, whilst Hebrews appears after 2 Thessalonians. The modern reader of Mark's Gospel might be a little surprised at its apparent abrupt ending before Christ's resurrection at Mark 16:8. Most modern English translations now include both the short and longer endings. A further surprise might be the inclusion of two 'extra' books to the New Testament; the Epistle of Barnabas and The Shepherd of Hermas. Both these works were extremely popular within the early church.
An international project is currently producing a digitised copy of the codex and the first books have now been published online by the British Library. It should prove to be an informative and fascinating resource for anyone interested in the Bible and its history.
An 87 line apocalyptic Hebrew text written in ink on rock and dating to the first century BCE is being claimed to 'predict' the resurrection on the third day of the messiah. Professor Israel Knohl (Hebrew University of Jerusalem) claims that the text, known as Gabriel's Vision of Revelations or Hazon Gabriel, describes the angel Gabriel telling the "Prince of Princes" that "[i]n three days you shall live, I Gabriel, command you." Like most apocalyptic writings, the text is set against the background of unrest and violence and it has been suggested that it refers to the Jewish revolt against the Roman Occupation.
The tablet, found ten years ago and is part of a collection held by David Jeselsohn in Zurich. Although it is unclear where it was discovered, it has been argued that it could have been found near Jordan.
Professor Knohl claims that, "this text could be the missing link between Judaism and Christianity in so far as it roots the Christian belief in the resurrection of the Messiah in Jewish tradition." If he is correct, this provides a clear link between Jewish messianic figures and the Christian presentation of Jesus Christ. One of the problems which has perplexed Biblical scholars has been the apparent dissimilarity between the Christian depiction of Jesus as a suffering servant and who died (and was subsequently raised) and the representations of messiahs in Jewish literature.
However, not all scholars are convinced by Prof Knohl's assertions. Textual questions have been raised following this press release. Last year a detailed study of the tablet by two Israeli scholars, Ada Yardeni and Binyamin Elitzur, concluded that the word following "three days" was illegible.
Prompted by the BBC dramatisation of the Passion of Christ, the method of Roman crucifixion has once more been examined. The method depicted in the dramatisation is based upon archaeological evidence uncovered in the late 1960s where a crucifixion was performed on a T-shaped cross with the arms tied or nailed to the cross-piece and the victim placed in the foetal position. For a number of years it has been understood that the Romans used a number of ways to crucify their victims and, it should be noted that, scholarly opinion is not as divided as some reports suggest.
A scrap of parchment, measuring roughly the size of a credit card, which was rescued from the floor of a burnt synagogue in Aleppo sixty years ago is thought to be part of the influential Aleppo Codex. The codex is viewed as one of the most important and authoritative manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible. The early Masoretic text was produced (and edited) by Aaron ben Asher, a prominent grammarian, in the 10th century CE. Although, at one time, it was thought to have been the oldest complete copy of the Hebrew Bible, approximately a third of it has been missing since 1947.
However, a small scrap found in 1947 by Sam Sabbagh and kept as a lucky memento is thought to be a part of this important codex. The fragment, which contains a couple of verses from the Book of Exodus and includes the words of Moses to the Pharaoh, "Let my people go", is now set to return to its counterparts in the Shrine of the Book at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.
The enormous Devil's Bible (Codex Gigas) measuring 90cm by 50.5cm and weighing 75 kilograms is to go on display in Prague. Thought to have been produced in the late 12th century by monks from the Benedictine monastery at Podlazice in, what is now, Czechoslovakia, it was rumoured that it was written in a single night by a repentant monk with the help of the devil.
The richly illuminated manuscript contains the Old and New Testament following the Vulgate text, with the exception of the Acts of the Apostles and Book of Revelation which copies an earlier Latin translation, known as 'Vetus Latina', which dates to around the 4th century. The sequencing of the books also follows older conventions: for example, the major and minor prophets come after the Pentateuch and the Catholic Epistles (James, Peter, John and Jude) immediately precede the Book of Acts.
Sandwiched between the Old and New Testaments are a number of other texts. Listed in their order these are: 2 works by the Jewish historian Josephus (The Antiquities and The Jewish War), an encyclopaedia of the middle ages by the 6th century Isidore (20 books), a Chronicle of Bohemia by Cosmas (c1045-1125) and 8 medical writings.
A digitised version of the codex and a wealth of information can be found at the Library of Stockholm's website which can be accessed by clicking here.
Scientists from the University of Cardiff will use laser technology to examine previously unread fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Although most of the scrolls found at the Qumran site in 1948 have been read, translated and published, work still remains to be completed on a mass of fragments. Until now, examination has been hampered by their extremely fragile nature and that moisture has resulted in some sections of the scrolls becoming stuck together.
The Diamond Synchrotron laser, based at Didcot in Oxfordshire, is totally non-invasive and will allow researchers to access successive layers of the document without the need to physically separate the adhered material. Not only will this technique enable us to read the text, but it will also present valuable data relating to inks and other materials used by the scribes which, in turn, will help to further our understanding of the scribal community associated with these texts.