Textual Criticism - Lesson 22

Tischendorf and the Discovery of Sinaiticus (Part 1)

In this lecture, Daniel Wallace describes the discovery of Sinaiaticus, and its importance to the field of textual criticism. He recounts fascinating details about his visits to St. Catherine’s, the oldest Christian monastery, at the base of Mount Sinai, Egypt.

Daniel Wallace
Textual Criticism
Lesson 22
Watching Now
Tischendorf and the Discovery of Sinaiticus (Part 1)

I. Anecdotal recounting of visit(s) by Dr. Wallace to St. Catherine’s Monastery

II. Built by Emperor Justinian sometime between AD 548 -565

III. Location of where God appeared to Moses in the Burning Bush

IV. The durability and integrity of the monastery

  • Since the original autographs of the Bible no longer exist, the primary goal of Biblical Textual Criticism is to determine the exact wording of the original inspired text dispatched from the author with as much accuracy as possible. As a secondary goal, we desire to trace changes to the text and get a window into ancient Christianity.

  • Contrary to popular textual critics, the wrong way to record textual variants is to count each unique variant and multiply by the number of existing manuscripts, rendering millions of variants. On the contrary, the correct method is to count the same variant that occurs across all manuscripts as one variant, rendering not millions but hundreds of thousands of predominantly minor variants.

  • Compared to other ancient literature, the field of Biblical textual criticism possesses “an embarrassment of riches.” New Testament TC absolutely dwarfs the resources of other ancient literature, not only in number of manuscripts and the recent time in which they were produced, but also confirming quotations by extra-biblical writings.

  • The vast majority of NT Variants are minor, easily explained scribal errors that don’t affect the meaning of the text. Among 400,000 textual variants of the NT, over 99% make no difference to the meaning, and less than 1% are both meaningful and viable.

  • Recent attempts to change the goals of NTTC such that critics no longer seek to obtain the original autographs in favor of understanding a writer’s historical contexts undermine the original goal of NTTC. However, faithful textual critics must not subscribe to the notion of a “multivalence” of the original text, but instead pursue the primary goal: to get as close as possible to the original autographs.

  • The vast majority of all copies of the New Testament were probably recorded on scrolls, but copied in codex format. This may lend to the theory that Christians used cutting-edge, easier-to-use media technologies to further the word-based faith.

  • Various materials were used in creating NT manuscripts. Wallace discusses papyrus, parchments, and paper, each with advantages and disadvantages for transmitting the text faithfully.

  • There are three fundamental issues that significantly affect the transmission of the NT Text: early copies and causes of corruption, the role of canon in shaping the text, and the emergence of localized text forms.

  • Because of the radical nature of Christianity, it took some time for OT-based Jews to accept the NT as canonical. But over time, coinciding with the progressive development of a certain “canon-consciousness,” scribes were compelled to modify texts in various ways, not for malicious reasons, but in efforts to clarify, preserve, and revere the sacred scriptures.

  • Although questioned by some critics, most TCs acknowledge four major localized forms of the NT text: Alexandrian, Western, Byzantine, and (questionably) Caesarian. These “cross-pollinated” text families have arisen from diverse historical, cultural and socio-political factors, but all serve to strengthen, and not weaken the integrity of the NT text.

  • While it is undeniable that NT scribes made mistakes of various types in copying the inspired text, understanding the often simple reason for these mistakes renders much reward in understanding the sacred text. The fundamental principle of textual criticism is this: select the reading that best explains the rise of the other readings.

  • Contrary to popular belief, intentional scribal changes were not malicious in nature, but rather displayed pious intentions and a high view of scripture. Scribal corruptions for the most part, did not reflect a desire to obfuscate, but to clarify the scripture.

  • This lecture introduces papyri, critically important as the earliest witnesses of New Testament text. Papyri are some of the most important documents of NT MSS.

  • Since papyri are the earliest records of NT text (containing 50% of NT) they are critical in revealing the original text shape of the NT text. Even Codex Sinaticus and Vaticanus, the two most important NT MSS in the world, are confirmed by Papyri.

  • This lecture describes the most important new Testament manuscripts: the Majuscules, formerly known as uncials. These documents contain the full text of the NT written many times over, on parchment, written in all caps.

  • This lecture continues the discussion about the most important New Testament manuscripts: the Majuscules, formerly known as uncials. This lecture describes Codex Alexandrinus - A, Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus - C, Codex Sinaiticus (Aleph), and Codex Washingtonianus - W - 1906.

  • Since the field of TC is so small, obtaining resources are very expensive. However the internet is still a great place to conduct free TC research. In this lecture, major internet resources for studying NT manuscripts are compared and contrasted.

  • Founded 2002 by Daniel Wallace, the mission of the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts (CSNTM) is to be a premiere resource in the great and noble task of determining the wording of the autographa of the New Testament. This is facilitated through high-resolution digital photography of extant Greek New Testament manuscripts so that such images can be preserved, duplicated without deterioration, and accessed by scholars doing textual research.

  • The KJV has been rightfully called “the single greatest monument to the English language,” but this is more from a literary rather than a translation standpoint. This is because the Greek MSS behind the KJV text is far inferior to that of modern translations in terms of textual basis, late MSS dates, and a less than perfect process of creation.

  • The arguments used to position the Textus Receptus as the sole textual basis for the true word of God range from questionable to downright irrational. Proponents of this position rely on view of the so-called “doctrine of preservation,” which illegitimately uses certain Bible texts to argue its dubious claims.

  • This lecture describes the major problems of TR-only people, who subscribe to an unbiblical Doctrine of Preservation, which as defined, effectively emerges as a Marcionite view of the Bible. Wallace claims that while there is no biblical, exegetical, or empirical basis to argue for the doctrine of preservation, God has overwhelmingly preserved Scripture in a way that is not true of any other ancient literature.

  • In this lecture, Daniel Wallace describes the discovery of Sinaiaticus, and its importance to the field of textual criticism. He recounts fascinating details about his visits to St. Catherine’s, the oldest Christian monastery, at the base of Mount Sinai, Egypt.

  • This lecture summarizes the life of Constantine von Tischendorf [1815-1874], and his very important discovery of Codex Sinaiticus.

  • This lecture describes highlights of the history of NT TC since the TR. Describing the formation of the textus receptus, Wallace also characterizes major players in the process of arriving at the modern text.

  • This lecture describes Westcott and Hort, and how they dethroned the Textus Receptus by proving that the Textus Receptus was late, inferior, and secondary.

  • This lecture is 1 of 3 lectures on reasoned eclecticism. Eclecticism is the process of compiling a text from multiple sources, while reasoned eclecticism consists of rectifying the differences and evaluating variants based on both their attestation and intrinsic merit.

  • This lecture is 2 of 3 lectures on reasoned eclecticism.

  • This lecture illustrates the principles of reasoned eclecticism.

  • Was Jesus "moved with compassion" or "indignant" when he saw that his disciples could not heal the man with leprosy?

  • Why was the man waiting for so many years at the pool of Bethesda? Was there really an angel stirring up the waters and healing the first one in?

  • Do these two passages call Jesus “God”? Thankfully, the Bible affirms the divinity of Christ many other ways and in many other passages than these two.

  • This lecture presents some very technical arguments for why Daniel Wallace believes that the phrase “ουδεουιός” (nor the Son) is not an authentic part of Matthew 24:36.

  • This lesson teaches you to appreciate the rigorous historical research required in biblical studies and the importance of respecting dual authorship. It sharpens your understanding of external and internal textual evidence and their implications for a passage's authenticity.
  • The text of Mark 16:9-20 is most likely not part of the original inspired text of scripture, and v 8 is Mark's intended ending.

  • This lecture evaluates popular translations of the Bible in terms of their textual basis. The bottom line is that while all translations are interpretations, The Spirit of God has ensured that the truth of the scriptures can be found in any one of them, and reading widely among different versions is good to promote understanding about different concerns of TC.

  • As time progresses in the field of Textual Criticism, we continue to get razor-thin closer to the original manuscripts. The good news is that with all the known variants, no essential doctrine of the Christian faith is jeopardized by any viable variant, so we can have great confidence in the text of our Bibles to provide us all we need for life and godliness.

Dr. Daniel Wallace is one of the world's leading textual critics. His ministry, the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts (CSNTM.org) is currently the most prolific organization for discovering, photographing, and cataloging ancient Greek manuscripts of the New Testament. In this class, he discusses the issues of textual variants, how ancient manuscripts were made, the types of errors that we can see in the manuscripts, the issue of the Textus Receptus and its role in the King James translation of the Bible, the historic work of Westcott and Hort, and ends with discussions of the most famous textual problems.

Dr. Wallace gives a three hour summary of this class in our Academy program. The first of the lectures is here.

Please visit Dr. Wallace's ministry, Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts and support them financially. 

Thank you to our friends at Credo House for sharing this class with us. You can purchase their workbook or the DVDs for the class from them.



I. Methods of Doing NTTC

A. Tischendorf and the Discovery of Sinaiticus – Part 1

In the next two lectures, we are going to talk about Tischendorf and the Discovery of Codes Sinaiticus. There is a well-known story of the discovery of this codex. Monks were in a Middle Eastern Monastery and they were burning leaves of this manuscript, ripping them out and throwing them in the fire and this German Scholar by the name of Constantine von Tischendorf rescued the manuscript from total destruction. That is how the story is normally told. But there’s new evidence that seriously question this story. I need to give you some background and tell you about this famous monastery and then give you some background on Tischendorf and then compare what he says happened and what I think may have happened.

Location and History of St. Catherine’s: The monastery is Saint Catherine’s Monastery at the base of Mount Sinai in Egypt. It is the most famous monastery in the world. Yet, when Tischendorf went there, he didn’t tell anybody what the name of the monastery was. So in Western Europe, they weren’t sure about which monastery he went; they didn’t even know about it. It is the most famous monastery in the world today, thanks in part to Tischendorf. In Arabic, Mount Sinai is called Jabal Musa or Gabal Musa, Moses’ Mountain or Mount Moses. This goes back to a very old tradition. This monastery was built by Emperor Justinian sometimes between the year 548 and 565. We can pinpoint it down to a seventeen-year period. It is an imposing fortress; the original walls are still there. In the front of the monastery the walls are about thirty feet high but in the back, they are about sixty feet high. There has been some repair work on parts of that wall, done by Napoleon when he visited the monastery. Napoleon escapades in Egypt is what started modern archaeology. So where is Mount Sinai? Google maps © shows it to be in the middle of the Sinai built on the traditional site of the burn bush. The monks believe this to be the burning bush that Moses encountered and it is inside the compound of this four-acre monastery area. The monks never trim this bush as they have a thousand tourists daily come through the monastery who trim the bush for them. They keep a fire extinguisher near the bush. Is this the actual site of the burning bush? I am not so sure. The walls and the sanctuary are the only original parts left of the monastery. The inside of the sanctuary is all brass; there is some gold but not much. There is a smaller chapel of the burning bush; the exact place where Moses met God. I actually ask Father Justine whether or not it was the exact place. His replay, ‘whether it is the exact place or not, the fact is that this site has been venerated for nearly two thousand years as the exact place. And consequently, think of the Christian pilgrims that have come here, many of whom are extremely well known and pious people, even Constantine’s mother came here, for example. You have a lot of people for hundreds of years that have come here. So, in that respect, it is a holy site in a very real respect. Normally, Protestants were not allowed in, but we were polite and they let us into this chapel. Inside the monastery, there are many icons, more than any other monastery in the world.

St. Catharine’s Icons: St. Catharine’s has the largest collection of icons in the world; more than 2,000 of them are at this monastery. This is because of its remote location; it escaped the ionic class movement of the 8th and 9th centuries. You can see in a number of churches in Eastern or Western Europe a lot of icons and statues have been defaced because of this movement of thinking that icons were idols and thus we shouldn’t worship them. So it was Christians who destroyed these things; to me, it is heartbreaking in visiting some of these great Cathedrals, icons defaced by pious zealot Christians who thought that they were dangerous to have. St Catharine’s Monastery ironically was protected from all this, being in a Muslim country. The Muslim conquerors protected this monastery from Christian zealots. Included in those icons is the oldest icon of Christ. It is a 6th-century icon of Jesus Christ and most paintings of the Byzantine imagery are based on this particular icon. There may be one older than this in a place called Ephesus. I was there just after I was in Istanbul. We spent three days there with a tour guide. This was the first time that I had ever hired a tour guide. We had taken the longest to go through and see everything in Ephesus and our tour guide congratulated us on that. It was on the northern slope of Nightingale Mountain which is on the southern side of Ephesus. This was in an amphitheater which can still seat almost twenty thousand people looking straight out to the Aegean Sea. Ephesus was on a man-made canal which eventually filled in. We met the chief archaeologist of Ephesus whose name was Genghis; He took us to a site that had not yet been made public; known as St Paul’s grotto or cave. It was recently discovered and still not made public. It took us forty-five minutes from the amphitheater to get there. It is a place that you can’t even see until you are there. There is a small entry into it and it’s all locked up. The forty-five minute hike was littered with ancient artifacts. There were remains of houses all along the path also. It has been cleared and excavated properly so that tourists can visit it. Before we started, we were met by attack dogs and guns. We entered the cave which went back about thirty feet. It has icons and Greek texts from the 2nd to the 17th century. There were layers upon layers where some had been chipped away.

A statue of Paul and the woman Thackla which is the oldest in the world; they were worshipping Jesus Christ. In the back of the cave, you have the twelve apostles very poorly preserved. The icon of Paul is the best preserved and then an icon of Jesus. But when the cave was first discovered, it was painted
white by shepherds. This cave may be dated to the 4th century, this icon of Jesus and Paul and Thackla which would make it older than the one in the Sinai.

Christianity’s Most Vivid Link With the Past: St. Catharine’s Monastery has been called Christianity’s most vivid link with the past. There are many things that have been there since the 6th century as time simply moves slowly at a place like that. One of the things that they have in these Greek Orthodox
monasteries is a skull room; a room of just skulls on shelves of the former inhabitants of the monastery. In certain seasons of the year, they will put an Easter egg in it. This was to remind them of the resurrection and often these monks parade in front of this skull room to remind them of their own mortality. It is a reminder that we have a lifetime that goes too fast and we live a day at a time and remember that we wait for Christ; this is to make everything in our life count. These are aesthetics who follow the old traditions of the desert fathers and they have seven hours of divine services a day that they are required to be at. These services start at 3:30 in the morning where the first service ends at 7 am. They read Scripture and liturgies along with the sprinkling of incense. The more aesthetic monasteries, other than St Catharine’s, the monk sleep from midnight until three o’clock. After breakfast they get one more hour of sleep; so, they sleep four hours a day, year in and year out. It is a life of denial. The way they live now is the way they lived then, the century before and the century before that. The way they do things now is the way they did things then. At meals, you have a monk reading. This is the only monastery in the world that has its own archbishop. Other monasteries have an abbot. The archbishop would chime his glass with his spoon every time the monk would mispronounce something form the reading of Saint Christenson. Time has stood still in some respects in that they do everything the way it was done before. St. Catharine’s Monastery is not as off-limits as other monasteries where sometimes I wasn’t allowed to talk to the monks or eat with them in the dining room until after they departed. I was in one monastery where the guest rooms had very tiny cells with bathrooms with no mirrors. But at St. Catharine’s you can eat with the priests and fellowship with them and talk to them about things. This monastery is an oasis in a Muslim world and it is holy to three of the world’s great religions. It is a place where you get all these people wanting to visit it.

The Patent of Mohammed: Now, one of the most unorthodox incidents in this orthodox monastery’s history; this is about the patent of Mohammed. The actual patent now is in Istanbul but they have a copy of it at St. Catharine’s. In the year 628, monks from St. Catharine’s apparently visited Mohammed seeking his protection. They were complaining about Muslims who were coming against them. So, Muslims were told by Mohammed to leave these Christians alone. Was this an authentic thing from Mohammed? Most scholars would say no to this, but Muslims on the other hand normally accept it as authentic. The reason they do; if they reject it and it turns out to be authentic, they have hell to pay, literally. Some of the key points in this patent includes first: this is a message from Mohammed Abdulla as a covenant to those who adopt Christianity near and far; we are with them. Verily, I along with my servants, the helpers and my followers defend them because Christians are my citizens and by Allah, I hold out against anything that displeases them. No compulsion is to be on them. Neither are their judges to be removed from their jobs, nor their monks from their monasteries. No one is to destroy a house of their religion, to damage it or to carry anything from it to the Muslim’s houses. That is a pretty strong statement; remember whether this is authentic or not; it probably is not; Muslims have accepted it for the most part. This patent presumably came in handy in the year 1009, a bazaar incident in the Monastery’s history and it relates somewhat to Tischendorf. That year the psychotic Caliph Hakim destroyed the church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem in AD 1009. And then he set out to destroy St. Catharine’s Monastery. One account says that Monks met him in route between Jerusalem and St. Catharine’s imploring him not to destroy the monastery and showed him the patent of Mohammed just before he got there. Meanwhile the monks were capping off a tower with a minaret turning that tower into a mosque. This is part of the story. So even today, there is a mosque inside the monastery of St. Catharine. It was of inferior construction, suggesting that it was built in haste. But there is also evidence that it was built a hundred years after this incident. But most likely the monks showed Hakim the patent of Mohammed and the mosque was later ordered to be built to allow Muslims to come into this holy site as well. Showing that patent probably saved their saves and the manuscripts and especially the Codex Sinaiticus. Whatever was the truth, the monks showed great ingenuity in defusing this situation.