Codex Sinaiticus - Description


The codex consists of parchment, originally in double sheets, which may have measured about 40 by 70 cm. The whole codex consists, with a few exceptions, of quires of eight leaves, a format popular throughout the Middle Ages. Each line of the text has some twelve to fourteen Greek uncial letters, arranged in four columns (48 lines in column) with carefully chosen line breaks and slightly ragged right edges. When opened, the eight columns thus presented to the reader have much of the appearance of the succession of columns in a papyrus roll. The poetical books of the Old Testament are written stichometrically, in only two columns per page. The codex has almost 4 000 000 uncial letters.

The work was written in scriptio continua with neither breathings nor polytonic accents. Occasional points and few ligatures are used, though nomina sacra with overlines are employed throughout. Some words usually abbreviated in other manuscripts (such as πατηρ and δαυειδ), are in this codex both written in full and abbreviated forms. The following nomina sacra are written in abbreviated forms: ΘΣ ΚΣ ΙΣ ΧΣ ΠΝΑ ΠΝΙΚΟΣ ΥΣ ΑΝΟΣ ΟΥΟΣ ΔΑΔ ΙΛΗΜ ΙΣΡΛ ΜΗΡ ΠΗΡ ΣΩΡ.

Almost regularly, a plain iota is replaced by the epsilon-iota diphthong (commonly if imprecisely known as itacism), e.g. ΔΑΥΕΙΔ instead οf ΔΑΥΙΔ, ΠΕΙΛΑΤΟΣ instead of ΠΙΛΑΤΟΣ, ΦΑΡΕΙΣΑΙΟΙ instead of ΦΑΡΙΣΑΙΟΙ, etc.

Each rectangular page has the proportions 1.1 to 1, while the block of text has the reciprocal proportions, 0.91 (the same proportions, rotated 90°). If the gutters between the columns were removed, the text block would mirror the page's proportions. Typographer Robert Bringhurst referred to the codex as a "subtle piece of craftsmanship".

The folios are made of vellum parchment primarily from calf skins, secondarily from sheep skins. (Tischendorf himself thought that the parchment had been made from antelope skins, but modern microscopic examination has shown otherwise.) Most of the quires or signatures contain four leaves save two containing five. It is estimated that about 360 animals were slaughtered for making the folios of this codex, assuming all animals yielded a good enough skin. As for the cost of the material, time of scribes and binding, it equals the lifetime wages of one individual at the time.

The portion of the codex held by the British Library consists of 346½ folios, 694 pages (38.1 cm x 34.5 cm), constituting over half of the original work. Of these folios, 199 belong to the Old Testament, including the apocrypha (deuterocanonical), and 147½ belong to the New Testament, along with two other books, the Epistle of Barnabas and part of The Shepherd of Hermas. The apocryphal books present in the surviving part of the Septuagint are 2 Esdras, Tobit, Judith, 1 & 4 Maccabees, Wisdom and Sirach. The books of the New Testament are arranged in this order: the four Gospels, the epistles of Paul (Hebrews follows 2 Thess.), the Acts of the Apostles, the General Epistles, and the Book of Revelation. The fact that some parts of the codex are preserved in good condition, while others are in very poor condition, implies they were separated and stored in several places.

The codex has been corrected many thousands of times, making it one of the most corrected manuscripts in existence; see below.

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