Lecture 22: Tischendorf and the Discovery of Sinaiticus (Part 1)
Course: Textual Criticism
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.