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!