A long lunch examining ancient bible source documents

January 6, 2007 at 2:43 am (Religion)

I recently had the opportunity to see the ‘In the Beginning: Bibles before the year 1000’ exhibit at the Smithsonian. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it wasn’t what I had hoped to see. It had many very old documents as expected, and information on where, when, and by whom they were found. It also included some very basic info on what was unique or different about each document. I guess I was wanting more detail about who wrote them, and what part they played in our current texts – Oh well, not bad for a purely secular display. They did have some information – more than anywhere else – about a gospel writer called Q. Unfortunately they presented this information as factual instead of the pure speculation that it is.

As you know from some previous posts, I have some very definite views on bible source documents and translations. Nothing that I saw in this exhibit cast any doubt on that and I am actually more sure than ever. For example, one of the bookrolls from 2-300 AD was excavated from a garbage dump in Egypt along with many other documents not on display. What this tells me is that the Egyptian Christians probably did not hold the bible in as high regard as others, and that the difference that the Christians in that area made on their culture wasn’t significant – Bibles were burned in other areas when Christians began to influence the local culture.

Codex Sinaiticus


Sinaiticus page (left)


Leaf from Sinaiticus (right)

The Codex Sinaiticus (of which these 2 leaves were on display) is a truly artful manuscript, done on extremely high quality vellum. The ink is bright and clear, the lettering is uniform, the line spacing is uniform, and the line weight is consistent. It almost looks like a printed book and every appearance about it says ‘Quality’. Unfortunately there are several corrections on each page (barely visible in these pictures), which ruin the ‘pure’ look of it. It is my understanding that these corrections are not unique to these pages, but rather pages without corrections are rare. Much importance has been placed on the ‘oldest and best’ manuscripts, of which this is one. It was my opinion before, and still is, that this document was commissioned by a wealthy person, but because of its problems it was never used, and hence its preservation. As an example, the best preserved book on my shelf is one that I needed when I got it, but haven’t ever opened. (If anyone needs a perfectly preserved WFW 3.11 administration guide, let me know)

Gospelbook missing the last 12 verses of Mark

Another interesting document was this 9th century gospelbook that omitted the last 12 verses of Mark. The display says that the scribe that copied it knew that they were not supposed to be there for one reason or another. However, there was ample space left to include those verses, so verses 7 and 8 are spread out to fill the entire blank space. The impression that I got from that document was similar to what I’m sure some of my teachers had of my work – you know – when you enlarge the font, increase the line spacing, and adjust the margins so that your 4 page report ‘magically’ becomes the required 5 pages.

There were many other documents and bibles on display, but none that were important to this topic.

So, do you want your bible to come from documents found in the garbage, or that were rife with corrections and never used, or that knowingly omitted large passages?


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