One of history’s oldest copies of the Bible will be accessible to millions of people around the world soon – 1,600 years after it was first penned on calfskin parchment by early Christians in Egypt.
The University of Leipzig announced more than 100 pages of the Codex Sinaiticus, the 4th century manuscript of the Greek Bible containing the oldest complete New Testament, will be available online for the first time Thursday.
According to a Reuters report, high resolution photographs of the Gospel of Mark, Old Testament books and original comments on the text will be available on the project website.
Director Ulrich Johannes Schneider of Leipzig University Library said online availability if the Codex Bible will give anyone who has access to Internet services the ability to review an entire manuscript of “fundamental” significance to Christianity by next July.
“A manuscript is going onto the net which is like nothing else online to date,” Schneider told the news agency. “It’s also an enrichment of the virtual world – and a bit of a change from YouTube.”
English and German translations will be offered to people who are not able to read Greek.
Schneider said the Codex Sinaiticus and the Codex Vaticanus are thought to be the oldest manuscripts of the Bible. Saint Catherine’s Monastery at the foot of Mount Sinai in Egypt, one of the oldest Christian monasteries in the world, sent the calfskin text to Europe after German biblical scholar Konstantin von Tischendorf found it there in 1844.
Tischendorf was granted permission to take some of the manuscripts to Leipzig, Germany, but he went back to Saint Catherine’s Monastery in 1859 and kept the largest section of the 1,460-page Bible for St. Petersburg, Russia. According to the report, it was stored there until Josef Stalin sold 694 pages to the British Museum.
“The first section was clearly a gift to Tischendorf, but that’s not so clear in the case of the second portion,” Schneider said. “The monks all signed a contract at the time, but the rumor persists that they were given a raw deal. And there is probably some truth to this.”
Though reportedly missing nearly half the Old Testament, the first Codex can now be found in four places across Europe and the Middle East.
Leipzig University Library, the Russian National Library, the British Library and Saint Catherine’s Monastery plan to begin the task of making the Codex Sinaiticus available on the Internet and providing specific details on its condition.
“I think it’s just fantastic that thanks to technology we can now make the oldest cultural artifacts – ones that were once so precious you couldn’t show them to anyone – accessible to everyone, in really high quality,” Schneider said.