PostHeaderIcon Greek Bible Manuscript Online

The BBC recently reported the launch of a new website featuring digitized images of the oldest complete manuscript of the New Testament.  It’s the Codex Sinaiticus Project.  The Codex is a fourth-century manuscript that contains the entire New Testament, a couple of non-canonical early Christian writings and much of the Septuagint and Apocrypha.  (The Septuagint is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures; the Septuagint are Jewish writings now considered canonical by some Christian denominations, but non-canonical by others.)

The Codex is now divided among four different universities around the world.  The webpage project brings all the pieces together into the same virtual space.

I’ve been looking at some of the images on the website.  (Select a book from the drop-down menu at the top-right corner of the page.  This seems to work better than the “See the Manuscript” link.)  The images are crystal clear.  As is true of all ancient manuscripts, the text is written in all capitals with no spaces between the words and no accents or breathing marks.  To help the reader, there is a transcription of the Greek on each page, which divides the text into the traditional chapters and verses, along with an English translation.

So if you go to the Book of John, you’ll find at the top of the first page: ΚΑΤΑ ΙΩΑΝΝΗΝ (“According to John”), along with John’s famous first words: ΕΝΑΡΧΗΗΝΟΛΟΓΟΣ.  Adding spaces: ΕΝ ΑΡΧΗ ΗΝ Ο ΛΟΓΟΣ “In the beginning was the word.”  (The sigma in the manuscript actually looks like a C.  That’s a “lunate” sigma, the standard way sigmas are written in manuscripts.  But I can’t seem to get a lunate sigma into this post.)

Take some time to explore the Codex.  Notice how some words are abbreviated.  In some places, a scribe has written in a correction between lines.  Imagine trying to establish the definitive word of God when the scribes differed with regard to which was the correct reading of a sentence!

3 Responses to “Greek Bible Manuscript Online”

  • Derek Brown says:

    Dr. Given:

    Just wanted to thank you for this blog and Twitter feed. Both are helpful for me as I try to keep my Greek fresh. Do you have any other resources that may would be helpful in that?

    -Derek
    -They Indeed Bastards, And They Hate Us (But They Invented Western Culture)

    PS: I have two Greek tattoos now. One on each wrist. Hope the accents are right. :)

    • John Given says:

      Derek, It’s great to hear from you. I’m glad you’re still keeping your Greek fresh. You’re still in Greenville, right? You should certainly feel free to join the Ancient Greek Reading Group, which is directed by Prof. Tricia Wilson-Okamura and meets every other Wednesday. (If you want me to have her put you on the e-mail list, let me know.) Otherwise, the best way to stay fresh is lots of practice. I deal with Greek constantly, but I still try to set aside time for some “for fun” Greek reading. Some of the early Church fathers’ writings are readily available in the Loeb Classical Library and are quite accessible.

  • I don’t know if this is interesting to anyone, but apparently a particularly Christian practice that is shown in this manuscript (among others) is the nomen sacrum. Instead of writing θεος, the scribe would write ΘΣ with a line above it. The other three most common nomen sacrum in Christian texts are Κυριος (ΚΣ or ΚΥ), Χριστος (ΧΣ), and Ιησους (ΙΣ). Larry Hurtado, in his book, “The Earliest Christian Artifacts: Manuscripts and Christian Origins”, notes that the “nomina sacra are not really abbreviations, at least in the sense that they do not function to save space or writing effort.”(p. 100). What’s particular about the Christian practice is the placement of a horizontal line immediately above the nomen sacrum, or just above the last character. If one goes to Jn 1:1 in Sinaiticus, they can see this in use on the fourth line down, right above “ΘΣ”. Hurtado devotes an entire chapter in his book on this, if anyone’s interested.

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