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Introduction & Map

Codex Sinaiticus Discovered

A.D. 1859

Parts of the Codex Sinaiticus can be found in Russia, Great Britain, and as seen here, in Egypt.
Parts of the Codex Sinaiticus can be found in Russia, Great Britain, and as seen here, in Egypt.
Photograph by Kenneth Garrett/National Geographic

The Codex Sinaiticus is the oldest known Greek codex, a biblical manuscript believed to date back to the fourth century.

Scholars rate the Codex Sinaiticus as one of the most important of its time. It includes much of the Old Testament and an entire New Testament, as well as the Letter of Barnabas, an early treatise on how Christians should interpret the Old Testament, and an incomplete version of the Shepherd of Hermas, a second-century Christian writing focusing on the forgiveness of sins.

The codex was written down by three different scribes who were most likely early Christian monks.

The codex resided for many centuries in St. Catherine's monastery on Egypt's Mount Sinai (now called Gebel Mûsa). Since its 19th-century "discovery" it has proved irreplaceable to biblical scholars.

In 1844 German scholar Konstantin von Tischendorf found some of the world's oldest existing biblical parchments in the monastery's library—but they were tantalizingly incomplete.

He made two more trips to St. Catherine's, and on the second, in 1859, he brokered a deal to acquire the Codex Sinaiticus for Tsar Alexander II of Russia. In 1933 the Soviet government sold the codex to the British Museum, where much of it remains.