World's oldest Bible goes online

Posted by Emma Woollacott

London, UK - All 800 surviving pages from the earliest surviving Christian bible, Codex Sinaiticus, have been reunited on the internet.


Visitors to the British Library's website can see high resolution digital images of the pages of the 1,600-year-old manuscript, following collaboration between institutions in the UK, Germany, Egypt, and Russia which hold parts of the original. Some of the pages, found in a blocked-off room at the Monastery of St Catherine in 1975, are being published for the first time.


The book was written in Greek on parchment leaves by several scribes, and shows that the Bible as we know it today is very different from the earliest versions.


The manuscript shows thousands of alterations, and includes two New Testament books that have since been dropped, the Shepherd of Hermas and the Epistle of Barnabas. The latter is particularly controversial, as it clearly states that it was the Jews, not the Romans, who killed Jesus - indeed, it quotes the Jews as crying "His blood be upon us."


Like other early Bibles, the Codex also omits references to the Resurrection and to Jesus' ascension into heaven. Nor does it contain Jesus' words from the cross: "Father forgive them for they know not what they do."


“This 1600-year-old manuscript offers a window into the development of early Christianity and first-hand evidence of how the text of the bible was transmitted from generation to generation," said Dr Scot McKendrick, Head of Western Manuscripts at the British Library. "The project has uncovered evidence that a fourth scribe – along with the three already recognised – worked on the text; the availability of the virtual manuscript for study by scholars around the world creates opportunities for collaborative research that would not have been possible just a few years ago.”