Studies in the Scribal Habits of Codex Sinaiticus -- By: Dirk Jongkind

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 56:1 (NA 2005)
Article: Studies in the Scribal Habits of Codex Sinaiticus
Author: Dirk Jongkind


Studies in the Scribal Habits of Codex Sinaiticus1

Dirk Jongkind

Those who have visited the British Library and its magnificent treasure gallery will undoubtedly have taken a look at one of the most famous Biblical codices, the Codex Sinaiticus. Written in the fourth century on large parchment sheets, it must have contained in a single volume both the Greek Old and New Testament. The New Testament part of the manuscript is complete, whilst a large part of the Old Testament is missing. Constantin Tischendorf brought the first part of the manuscript from St. Catherine’s monastery to Leipzig in 1846, and these 43 leaves of the Old Testament – still in the University Library of Leipzig – were originally published under the name Codex Friderico-Augustanus. In 1859, returning from his third visit to Mt. Sinai, Tischendorf carried the bulk of the manuscript with him to St. Petersburg and published its contents in 1862. The cash-stripped Russian government sold the manuscript to the British Museum in 1934, and since 1999 the manuscript has been at its present location. After the acquisition it was decided to make a thorough study of the manuscript, and this study resulted in the 1938 monograph Scribes and Correctors of the Codex Sinaiticus by H. J. M. Milne and T. C. Skeat. The two authors demonstrated that the whole manuscript was copied by three different scribes, who were also responsible for the earliest corrections to the text, the running titles, and other supplementary material. Besides the general appearance of the script, Milne and Skeat used two further arguments for the identification of the three hands: a) the shape of the coronis at the end of each book – each scribe displays a distinct pattern, and b) the characteristic spelling that each scribe uses. The letter pairs αι - ε and ει - ι were freely interchanged and it is possible to recognise a scribe solely on the basis of the pattern and frequency of these changes. On the basis of this fluidity in spelling,

Milne and Skeat argued that it was most likely that Sinaiticus was written by dictation: one person reads out the text, which is simultaneously written down by a number of scribes, thus creating several copies at the same time. My thesis considers a couple of phenomena which argue against such dictation. At several places, for example, a deliberate attempt is made to squeeze the text of Sinaiticus in, so as to ensure that a book would not flow over onto the next gathering of leaves. Apparently, the scribes made calculations as to how much text they needed for a particular work and adjusted the density of the text ...

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