The Forging of Codex Sinaiticus

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KJV only people, for the most part I guess, will be aware of all the hype concerning codices Aleph and B, also called Sinaiticus and Vaticanus respectively. Modern bible footnote references to 'the oldest and best manuscripts' are usually a reference to Aleph and B. 

Since the early 1800s these two manuscripts have been asserted to date from the mid to late 4th century AD. The argument has then followed that, because of their age, they must be superior and more reliable than the manuscripts used by Erasmus, Stephanus, Beza or the AV translators in the 16th and 17th centuries.

For anyone not familiar with the claims, I will give a couple of links at the bottom of this blog.

On a visit on 16th October this year to Colonel Underwood's excellent Christian bookstore in London, I picked up a copy of The Forging of Codex Sinaiticus by Bill Cooper, published in 2016. 

Mr. Cooper makes a quite compelling case that Codex Sinaiticus (Aleph) was not in fact written in the 4th century but in the 19th. For those unfamiliar with this information, and KJVO believers in particular, this book is a must.

I will try here to give, briefly, some of the principal arguments that Bill Cooper produces.

1. After Tischendorf made his claim to have discovered such an ancient MS, a man named Constantine Simonides wrote to the Guardian newspaper on 3rd September 1862 to say that he, himself, Simonides, had written the Codex. He had been asked to do so by a high ranking individual from the monastery of Mt. Athos. Simonides was led to believe that he was making a copy as a gift for the Russian Tsar who had been very supportive of the monastery. Several of the persons with whom Simonides had to do at the monastery, he named in that correspondence to the Guardian. Cambridge University in 1895, after Simonides death, published a catalogue of the MSS at Mt. Athos In which not only is Simonides named but also the names of those whom Simonides had claimed to have worked with.

2. On examination of the MS, Bill Cooper says that the text often is written around the worm-holes, rather than the worm-holes eating into the text. Text around the worm-holes is what one would expect to find if the MS had already aged before it was written upon.

3. The MS contains apocryphal books, which the Roman Catholic Church recieves as canonical, while protestants, on the whole, do not. One such apocryphal book is called the Shepherd of Hermas. Bill Cooper begins his chapter on the Shepherd of Hermas thus, "If ever evidence were needed for the 19th century composition of Codex Sinaiticus, it is surely this, that the Greek of the apocryphal Shepherd of Hermas - that is bound in with the Codex - and is the same age and provenance as the Codex - and is even written on the same vellum and in the same ink as the rest of the Codex - is written in what is essentilly modern (i.e. medieval to 19th century) Greek."

Tischendorf saw a Greek copy of The Shepherd of Hermas at Leipzig in 1856 (three years before he saw the same portion of Sinaiticus) and rightly pronounced it a late work. At least, if I understand Dr. Cooper, 14th century. He came to the conclusion that it had been translated into Greek from Latin because of the Latinisms in the text. The same conclusion was reached by James Donaldson in 1874. Donaldson also said that the Greek text itself contained many Greek words that were unknown in classical Greek.. This is what Donaldson had to say, "the Greek is not the Greek of the at least first five centuries of the Christian era." 

Now here's the rub. When Tischendorf first saw the Sinaitiucus text of the Shepherd in 1859, it was practically identical to the one he had called at least 14th century in 1856. The same Latinisms and late Greek words were also found in it. Oops! 

Tischendorf was now forced to back-pedal. He was now forced to claim, against his former judgement, that because Sinaiticus was fourth century, the Leipzig text must also be of equal antiquity. Perish the thought that the opposite should be the case, i.e. his former judgement was correct and Sinaiticus was as 'new' as the Leipzig document. 

4. Sinaiticus does not appear to be a fourth century document from a forensic point of view. In other words, the stains appear to have been deliberately made to produce the appearance of age. The condition of the vellum is not consistent with a fourth century origin. The fading of the text also is not consistent with the ageing process but points rather to deliberate attempts to make the document look old. Bill Cooper gives a very telling quote from the conservation team from the British Library who have examined the document up close. "Much of the visual parchment evidence cannot answer many of the questions asked by those seeking proof about the origins of the Codex and the story of its survival."

I have only here sought to whet your appetite, Dr. Cooper gives a great deal more information and I heartily recommend his book. The Lord willing, I hope to have some in the bookshop before Christmas, but they are currently available on line.


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