International Partnership To Digitise World's Oldest Known Bible

By David Prudames | 15 March 2005
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Shows a photograph of the Greek script of the Codex Sinaiticus.

The Codex Sinaiticus dates back the the fourth century and is believed to be the world's oldest Bible. © The British Library.

An international project to create a digital copy of the oldest known Bible in the world was launched at the British Library on March 11 2005.

The Codex Sinaiticus, written in Greek by hand, dates back to the mid-fourth century and is considered to be the most important Biblical manuscript in existence.

Named after the Monastery of St Catherine’s in Sinai, Egypt the manuscript was split up during the 19th century and parts of it are now held at the British Library, the University of Leipzig in Germany and the National Library of Russia, as well as St Catherine’s itself.

Experts from the four institutions have now joined together to reunite this ancient treasure in virtual form, using innovative technology to make it accessible to a global audience.

Shows a photograph of four people with their hands together.

An international partnership has been brought together to unite the Codex Sinaiticus. © The British Library.

Above: left to right - Dr Ekkehard Henschke, Director, University of Leipzig Library; Lynne Brindley, Chief Executive, British Library; His Eminence Archbishop Damianos of Sinai; Dr Alexander Bukreyev, Deputy Director, National Library of Russia.

"This project brings together four of the world’s great institutions and draws upon the expertise of scholars around the globe," explained a spokesperson for the British Library.

"The Codex Sinaiticus was created using fourth century cutting edge technology and in the 21st century we are using the latest digital techniques and the world wide web to make the world’s oldest Bible available to all. This will be a blockbuster project in terms of access and the opportunities it offers for scholars to examine the manuscript in detail using the technology provided by the website."

Shows a photograph of the Greek script of the Codex Sinaiticus.

In digital form the ancient text will be reunited and made accessible to a global audience. © The British Library.

The Codex dates from the time when the Roman Empire split and Constantine the Great, who ruled the Eastern Empire, adopted Christianity. Greek heritage dominated the region and the Codex was produced to gather together Greek versions of the principal Jewish and Christian scriptures.

It is the earliest surviving book that encompasses the numerous texts recognised as forming the Christian Bible in one volume. It is also significant in that it marks a shift from the culture of text on scrolls to the bound book.

Despite being a major resource for scholars, due to its age and fragility none of the partners holding leaves of the Codex can allow access to it. However, the international partnership intends not only to make it available for all to explore, but to make sure it is preserved for the future.

Encompassing four strands - conservation, digitisation, transcription and scholarly commentary – plans for the project include a free to view website, a high quality digital copy and a CD Rom.

Shows a photograph of a bearded man wearing religious robes and signing a document, while a woman looks down at his writing.

His Eminence, Archbishop Damianos of Sinai signs the partnership agreement. © The British Library.

Translations will be made in English and plans will be developed for it to be translated into German, Spanish and modern Greek. The British Library’s award-winning ‘Turning the Pages’ technology will be used to make the new digital version an interactive experience.

A major campaign of scholarly research, led by the top specialists in Biblical studies, will also be launched by the project. It will see the Codex transcribed, translated and reinterpreted, as well as its history examined for both a specialist audience and the general public.

Expected to take four years to complete, the project will cost an estimated £680,000.

A challenge grant of £150,000 has already been pledged by the Stavros S Niarchos Foundation and match-funding needs to be raised by the partnership by December 1 2005.

More on the venues and organisations we've mentioned: