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The Sinai Bible

The Sinai Bible image
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Just at tliis time, when the whole English-speaking world is criticising the revisión of the New Testament, we look with new interest, and alinost reverence upon the three oldest Bible inanuscripts in existence, the tource from whjch we derive our own divinely inspired book. It is an interesting fact, whicli by some miglit be .regarded as a l'rovidence, tbat eacb of the three great divisions of the Christian ohurch possesses one of these most ancicnt and invaluable Bibles. The leading Protestant nation, theEnglislipeople, treasure in the British museum tlie Alexandrian manuscript; the Roinan Catholios guard the Vatican Bible In the grand Vatican library at Rome; and the Greek church has secured the Sinai manuscript, now in St. Petersburg. The Alexandrian Bible was sent as a present in the year 16ü8 to (Jharles i, King 01 England, by the patriarch of Constantinople, by whom it was brought from Alexandria in Egypt, Henee the name, Alexandrian. Egypt is generally regarded as the country where it was written and its date is commonly Rssigned to the flfth century. In that "magnificent mausoleum of dead books."the Vatican library at Rome.forfour centuries, has been held in the closest sechiMon, what is considered by many, the oldest and most precious copy of the Christian Scriptures. From many internat evidences scholars conclude that the Vatican Bible must have been written about the first quarter of the fourth century. But lts external history, previuus to a. d. 1475, when it was first ehrolled in the Vatican library, has entirely perlshcd. Under what auspices itoriginated; whosccareful hands traced faded Unes; how it was thus miraculously preserved as it lay obscurely hidden away in many a castle, palace, and crumbling monastery; how it escaped the perils of vandal wars and eonflagrations in different countries, as the nges have rolled by; along what shilling currents it drifted down the ernturies are quedes most exciting to the historie imagination, but tlie facts, in answer to them, are shrouded in the oblivion of the forgetful past. The Sinai Bible, regarded by some critics as being even older than the Vatican, and of the highest authorlty in biblical criticism is distinguished by the peculiar place and romantic story of its discovery. While the Vatican Bible bas had its home for hundreds of years at the center of human civilization, in a splendid palace encircled and filled witli monuments of human art, withf ii sound of the iucessnnt tread of thousands of devoted worshippers and curious visitors, the air tremulous with the chanting of religious services, this newly discovered manuscript has for ages been entombed in a lonely convent under the awful crags of Mt. Sinai where the perpetual silence of the desert is almost never disturbed by the footfall of the traveler. This utterly isolated fortress monasterj', built in honor of St. Catherine, at least thirteen centuries ago, stands in a narrow valley, its battlemented walls on one side touching the very bed of the torrent, that for a few weeks of the year rushes down the wady. The side walls mount up the precipitous cliffs of the mountaiu 250 feet. The buildings are rude -and irregular, constructed in different ages, many of them now unused and in ruins. The scenery of this convent is wild, wierd and fantasticin its coloring. The mountain peaks are glowing with gorgeous tints, purple, pink, lilac, green, and crimson; varying from the dark red of granite, or the dull, dead black of basalt to the dazzling white of liniestone. It is toward the library of this decayed iiml almost deserted monastery, that the eyes of biblical scholars have been lately directed with such marked interest. It isa large plain apartment rarely visited by the inonka and generally iunccessible to all strangers; but, through the persisten efforts of a young Germán scholar, one book ofpriceless value was discovered amongits ancient folios and at last glven to the world. In 1844, Constantino Tischendorf journeycd through the east, visiting remóte and dilapidated monasteries in searchof iinclent Scriptures. In the course of lus explorations he carne to this covent, was hospitably received by the monks, and as a s]ecial favor was permitted to inspect tlie old library. His attention was attractol by a large waste basket in the middle of the room full of torn papers, fragmente of old parchments, which, lic was told, were worthless and to be luimt. On looking them over lic discovered one hundred and twenty beatitlful parchment leaves of tlie most ancient Greek Bible, his eyes ever beheld, a Septuagint manuscript not before known to lical schol ars. But the snspicions of the ignorant monks werearousei) on beholcUag hiscuriosity and intense interest. Althougl they let him keep forty-three leaves, they would not allow him to eopy my of the remaining ones nor cari-y his investigations any farther. Nine years later Tischendorf revisited the convent, in hopes of finding the rest of the preeious leaves; but was imsuccessfu], ex oeot tliat he BacUentally canie across a f rag ment of eleven lines of the book of Genesis. He canie away disappointcd, and uadergbe Impression that the main part of the volume had been destroyed. The last days of January 1859, however tha peaks of Sinai once more witnessed the appioarh of this indefatigable explorer, this time onder the powerful 'patronage of the head of the üreek chureh, the Emperor oi liusslii. As tlie caravan drew near the walls, a cord was let down from the wall for letters of introduction. The steward qulckly appeared and eonducted the Russian commissioner through a gate by way of the garden ; while the rest of the party were hoisted through the air and kbnitted by means of the high door at the top of the wall, as are all ordiuary visitors. In the eourse of the vislt the steward conducto! Tiaclieadoif to his cell aod placed in his hands a pareel done upina redeloth. With ntrpilM and delight he raoognlud the leaves lic bad rescued years beforefrom the waste basket, and, with them, nearly the whoie bible. The monks suspecting the rare wortli of the fragment and using them :i sample;, had diseovered tneii ,,,,„. panion leaves. Tischendorf begged theprivilege of takinjr the raanauript to his room, wherehe pent the night in transcribing, fearful thnt the opportunity might never recur. On the return of Tisehcndorf to Russia the Emperor Alexander was so rmich mpressed with the iniportaiice of securing possession of this remarkable manuscript, md havlflg it printed for the benefit of scholars, that tlirough the imperial influence lt was taken in JSU2 from its obscure and neglected depository and brought to St. Petersburg. i'he Sinai Bible contains the entire New Testament, the cpistle of Barnabas, a portion of Hermas anti twenty-two books of the Old Testament. The whole is written in large plain uncial or capital letters on very iine vellum madefrom antelope skins nto thelargest pages knmvn inouiancient manuscript. Thereare 34Ü leaves, 132,000 ines, with four colmns to a page. The leters are somewhat larger than those of tlie .'.Uii :m mul niiicli mnrp u; L'here are a good ma 113' bluiulc-rs and sonie willful omissions. Says a dlstinguislied Bible acholar; "lts remote age is attested by its coltims of quare precisely written letters, continuous vriting without breaks into words and senences; absence of capitals, accents, breathng and punctuation marks; retouclnng of lie original hand wrítlnjj, now much faded 3" the lapse of ages," As is usnally the case there have been a great many revisions and corrections by at east ten different hands, and at different periods of its history ; but these afford the est evidenee of the antiquity of the orignal. In a. d. 331, onder the order of the Emeror Constiintine, there were fifty Bibles ssued by Eusebius; and it is thought by ome, that this is one of that number, being lie solé venerable survivor. Tlie extreme ostliness of the work, its largc sizc, its f orm f writing, the presence of tlie Eusebius anons, and the probable date of its appearnce favor this supposition. In the j-ear 1862, the one tliousandth anniversar3r of Eussia was celcbr alcd by pnbishing this iïlble under imperial auspiees. t was issued in four large folio volumes, ach leaf of the sizc and form of the orignal, the color of the ink, the slze of t lic ypc. tlie spsOM and üncs all elosely imitalng the appearance of the ancient Scripture. Only three hundred copies were allowed to e printed, two hundicd of which have aleady lcen distributed among the chief ibrartee of tlie world.


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