By Chris Pinto
ANSWERING DR. DANIEL WALLACE
“The history of this manuscript is wrought with mystery, politics, and perhaps even some deception …”
Source: The Friends of CSNTM (Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts) website, featuring Dr. Daniel Wallace
This is our second and more detailed response to a video that was posted concerning our film, Tares Among the Wheat. The video in question features a presentation given by Dr. Daniel Wallace, who is a professor of New Testament studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, speaking on the subject of Constantine Simonides and his claim to have authored the Codex Sinaiticus in 1840 (a manuscript ordinarily dated to the fourth century). Our film presents evidence from the 19th century that strongly suggests Simonides may very well have been the true author of the codex, and indeed, he went to his grave defending this claim. However, Dr. Wallace supports the predominantly held view that his story was false, and presents a number of reasons for this belief.
Perhaps the most important part of Dr. Wallace’s argument is his assertion that the Codex Sinaiticus was actually seen by an Italian explorer in the year 1761 – long before Constantine Simonides was even born. But was this the case? Or has the good doctor overlooked important details?
The purpose of this article is to demonstrate the flaws in Dr. Wallace’s conclusions by examining the historic information he presents point by point. We generally believe most scholars today are largely unaware of the specifics surrounding the discovery of the Codex Sinaiticus, and the story of Simonides in general. Our desire is that a more perfect history be established concerning this controversy, for the benefit of the Biblical record and the understanding of the Church.
The first 43 leaves of the Codex Sinaiticus were found by the German scholar, Constantine von Tischendorf in 1844, at St. Catherine’s Monastery at the base of what is called Mt. Sinai in Egypt. While he was very secretive about his original discovery, Tischendorf later claimed that the pages he found had been jettisoned by the Greek monks in a rubbish basket, and were destined to be burned in the fire. The monks to this day claim that he stole them. Tischendorf visited the monastery a second time in 1853, where he discovered a fragment of Genesis; but his next major discovery of the codex was in 1859, when he found the New Testament portion and part of the Old, along with the Epistle of Barnabas and a partial copy of the Shepherd of Hermas. At this point, the manuscript was named Codex Sinaiticus, and declared to be the oldest Bible ever found.
Yet in 1860, when the Greek paleographer Constantine Simonides saw the first facsimiles in Liverpool, England, he said, “I at once recognized my own work.” He claimed that he had created the manuscript twenty years earlier, and that it was intended to be a gift for the Czar of Russia, something planned by his uncle, (a Greek monk named Benedict) and carried out by Simonides as a young calligrapher. The story was astonishing, and a debate concerning the issue raged back and forth from 1860 to 1864, much of it in the newspapers of England. In short, the critics of the 19th century rejected his claims. Simonides published a final work in 1864, in which he reaffirmed all that he had said, and then left London, never to return.
TREGELLES & BRADSHAW
Dr. Wallace mentions the opinions of the 19th century scholars, Samuel P. Tregelles and Henry Bradshaw, both of whom opposed the claims of Simonides. But could it be said that these men in any way settled the issue? Tregelles had a comment published in the newspapers in which he said that: “the story of Simonides is as false and absurd as possible.”
Yet in response to this comment, a publication called The Literary Churchman, December 16, 1862, wrote the following:
“… we are not prepared, at this moment, to say, with Dr. Tregelles, that the statements of Simonides are ‘as false and absurd as possible.’ Tischendorf applies these terms ‘false and absurd’ just now to Tregelles himself: and indeed the proverbially furious way in which critics abuse one another, and the pettiness of their jealousies have had much illustration of late.”
In contrast, Henry Bradshaw actually met with Simonides and a friend of his at the Cambridge University Library. Simonides had written Bradshaw a letter, and provided examples of his own handwriting in ancient Greek characters to prove that he was the true author. He said:
“… the penmanship of the Sinaitic Codex is my more usual style … I wrote letters not long since in the same style with a common pen and upon ordinary paper to … Mr. Henry Bradshaw, the keeper of MSS. in the university library of Cambridge; and to others … To Mr. H. Bradshaw I wrote as follows: — ‘Dear Sir – They who believe the Sinaitic Codex to be ancient are deceived, for I am the worker of the miracle, and many of the witnesses are still alive. Farewell. – Christ’s College, Oct. 7, 1862.’
(Letter of C. Simonides, The Journal of Sacred Literature, April 1863)
It is strange that Bradshaw never commented on the handwriting of Simonides, to say whether or not it might have matched with the writing in Codex Sinaiticus. It is also strange that Bradshaw showed no interest in learning more about the witnesses that were named either. Instead, they had a debate about how to determine the genuineness of a manuscript. Bradshaw wrote:
“But the great question was, ‘How do you satisfy yourselves of the genuineness of any manuscript?’ I first replied that it was really difficult to define; that it seemed to be more of a kind of instinct than anything else. Dr. Simonides and his friend readily caught at this as too much like vague assertion, and they naturally ridiculed any such idea …”
Bradshaw then goes on to describe their conversation further, telling us that Simonides refused to accept his scholarly instincts in favor of the codex as a fourth century manuscript. After repeated objections, Bradshaw said:
“I told him as politely as I could that I was not to be convinced against the evidence of my senses.”
(Henry Bradshaw, Letter to the Guardian, January 28, 1863)
Notice that Bradshaw’s conclusion (much like that of Tregelles) was not particularly scientific or based on some in-depth textual analysis. It does not appear that either of them examined the codex from the perspective that it might be a forgery.
AN UNSOLVED MYSTERY
While Dr. Wallace finds the assertions of Bradshaw and Tregelles to be authoritative, it is important to consider that their opinions were dismissed by renowned scholar James A. Farrer in his classic work, Literary Forgeries(1907). After examining the Simonides controversy, he wrote:
“It is to be regretted that this matter was never cleared up at the time the claim was made. It cannot be said to have been settled by the mere opinions of Tregelles or Bradshaw, or by the more critical and palaeographical objections urged by Mr. Scrivener…. The two former examined the Codex two months before Simonides had made his claim to it as his work, so that they had no reason to examine it with suspicion…. The question therefore, pending the acquisition of further evidence, must remain among the interesting but unsolved mysteries of literature.” (Farrer, pp. 64-65)
Note that in the year 1907 (decades after the smoke had cleared, so to speak) Farrer refers to the subject of Simonides as an unsolved mystery. We believe this is the only conclusion that one could come to at that point in history, after having examined the many writings and newspaper articles on the subject. The reason the matter was never resolved is because the textual critics of the 19th century simply refused to investigate Simonides’ claims. They relied on little more than their own academic credentials for proof, and found it more convenient to search for ways to discredit him, rather than discover whether or not he was actually telling the truth.
THE MYSTERY OF CODEX SINAITICUS TODAY
For a more modern reference concerning the mysterious nature of the manuscript’s history, we present this quote from the British Library’s official website for the Codex Sinaiticus, in which they declare that:
“… events concerning the history of the Codex Sinaiticus, from 1844 to this very day, are not fully known; hence, they are susceptible to widely divergent interpretations and recountings that are evaluated differently as to their form and essence.”
When compared to the unverifiable fantasies concocted by the critics who have invented countless historic details for the codex that are often filled with incredible contradictions, the story of Simonides can be rightly called a “divergent interpretation” of the history of Codex Sinaiticus. The difference is that there is much more documentation to support the assertions of Simonides than a vast majority of what is claimed by textual critics today.
GREAT WEALTH NEEDED TO PRODUCE THE CODEX?
Dr. Wallace says of Simonides that:
“His wealth would have had to have been vast in order to produce this manuscript … the cost of production would be worth the equivalent of a lifetime of work.”
It is worth noting that during the debates in the 19th century, we find no record of anyone making this argument. In London, Simonides had more than 2,000 manuscripts in his possession, and these were seen by many witnesses (as recorded by Mr. Charles Stewart, his biographer). As such, he obviously had access to lots and lots of vellum parchment.
More importantly, Simonides openly declared that he obtained the vellum used for Sinaiticus from a Greek monastery on Mount Athos in the year 1839, and that it was already of ancient character when he found it. In the account he published in the Guardian on September 3, 1862 Simonides wrote:
“… being short of parchment, I selected from the library of the monastery, with Benedict’s permission, a very bulky volume, antiquely bound, and almost entirely blank, the parchment of which was remarkably clean, and beautifully finished. This had been prepared apparently many centuries ago – probably by the writer or by the principle of the monastery, as it bore the inscription (a Collection of Panegyrics), and also a short discourse, much injured by time.”
So, he tells us the parchment had been prepared centuries earlier for a Collection of Panegyrics (i.e. works ofelaborate praise or laudation), but the work was begun and never finished, leaving a healthy amount of blank vellum pages. Simonides would have gained the permission to use the parchment from his uncle, Benedict, who was a leader in the Greek Orthodox Church at that time. It was he (along with other leaders) who wanted the manuscript created as a gift for the Czar of Russia. So, the vellum was simply acquired through the resources of the monks on Mt. Athos, and it would not have been at all necessary to purchase it.
A BRIEF NOTE ON PALEOGRAPHY
It was also in his first letter to the Guardian in Sept. 1862, that Simonides described how the work was “written according to the ancient form, in capital letters, and on parchment.”
This detail, along with the fact that the vellum he used was already ancient, becomes very significant once a person understands the principles of paleography – the science of dating ancient manuscripts. The short definition for paleography is “handwriting analysis.” The chief considerations of paleography have to do with analyzing of the style of a scribe’s handwriting, and comparing it with the handwriting of known documents from a particular century. This analysis is combined with identifying the character of the papyrus or parchment used for a particular codex. Papyrus was typically used in the first three centuries of Church history, while vellum parchment (made from animal skins) came into regular usage about the fourth century.
Depending on how letters are shaped and words are spelled (i.e. whether ancient or modern) determines the core of how paleographers date a codex. Hence, if Simonides wrote in ancient Greek characters, and on vellum that was already ancient, it becomes very possible that he could have created a work that would have deceived Western scholars, because of the methods they use for dating manuscripts.
THE ITALIAN EXPLORER OF 1761
Perhaps the most significant point made by Dr. Wallace is the assertion that an Italian explorer mentioned seeing Codex Sinaiticus in the year 1761, after a visit St. Catherine’s Monastery. Dr. Wallace tells us:
“In 1761 an Italian scholar, Vitaliano Donati visited St. Catherine and described a manuscript he saw there that matches Sinaiticus to a tee. This was 79 years before Simonides forged it, and 59 years before Simonides was born.”
If this were true, it would shatter the story of Simonides with a single stroke. But did the Italian explorer describe Sinaiticus “to a tee” as Dr. Wallace asserts? An examination of Donati’s journal entry reveals the contrary. Thankfully, the specific words he wrote are recorded by the British Library on their website under the history section for the codex. They tell us that:
“The first written record of the Codex Sinaiticus may be identifiable in the journal of an Italian visitor to the Monastery of Saint Catherine in 1761. In it the naturalist Vitaliano Donati reported having seen at the Monastery ‘a Bible comprising leaves of handsome, large, delicate, and square-shaped parchment, written in a round and handsome script’.”
Notice that the scholars at the British Library tell us this may be a reference to Sinaiticus. They are not quite as confident as Dr. Wallace. This is because Donati’s description is relatively vague, and can scarcely be called precise, or “to a tee” as Dr. Wallace said.
Donati writes about the Bible he saw in terms that might also apply to a thousand other works, depending how a person defines what it means to be “handsome” in the world of manuscripts. We also consider that there are currently more than 3,000 manuscripts at St. Catherine’s Monastery, and there may have been many more back in 1761.
If a man claimed to see a beautiful painting in a room filled with 3,000 paintings, would you know which one he meant?
THE UNIQUE FEATURES OF SINAITICUS
Despite Dr. Wallace’s claim, none of the very unique features of Codex Sinaiticus were mentioned by Donati in 1761. If he had truly seen it, his description would most likely have included at least one of the following prominent details:
1) Codex Sinaiticus is written in a four-column format (a rare feature: while Dr. Wallace says it is the only one of this type, the British Library says it is one of very few)
2) The manuscript has 23,000 corrections, an average of 30 corrections per page (it is the most corrected Biblical manuscript in history)
3) It is one of only two Greek manuscripts that deliberately omits the last twelve verses of the Gospel of Mark.
The other manuscript that contains the shorter ending of Mark is the Codex Vaticanus, which, prior to the 19thcentury, had been hidden away in the Vatican Library, unavailable to most scholars. Most all the other Greek manuscripts that include the Gospel of Mark also include the longer ending. As such, if there had been a manuscript at St. Catherine’s with this very unique feature, it would have surely been mentioned by someone in the thousand years that came before.
It is worth noting that in 1907, James Farrer wrote that:
“… no visitor to the monastery at Mount Sinai before 1844 had ever seen or heard of such a work as belonging to the monks …”
THE NEW FINDS IN 1975
The “new finds” have to do with additional parts of the manuscript that were discovered at St. Catherine’s Monastery in the year 1975, when a hidden room was uncovered in the tower on the north wall of the monastery. The website for the monastery tells us that “twelve pages and twenty-four fragments of the fourth century Codex Sinaiticus” were discovered. But how did these pages come to be detached? And why would they be hidden in this secret room?
Dr. Wallace says:
“The new finds of 1975 revealed that more leaves of the manuscript were still at Sinai. How did they get there, if Simonides penned the manuscript somewhere else?”
Simonides publicly stated that he created the manuscript on Mt. Athos in 1839-1840, but how did it then arrive at St. Catherine’s Monastery by 1844? The answer is provided by Simonides himself, in his letter to The Guardiannewspaper, on September 3, 1862. He said that after his uncle died he ceased to work on the manuscript:
“… the supply of parchment ran short, and the severe loss which I sustained in the death of Benedict induced me to hand the work over at once to the bookbinders of the monastery, for the purpose of replacing the original covers, made of wood and covered with leather, which I had removed for convenience – and when he had done so, I took it into my possession.” (Simonides, Letter to the Guardian, Sept. 3, 1862)
In the same letter, Simonides then proceeds to tell us how the work arrived at the monastery at Mt. Sinai. He wrote:
“Some time after this, having removed to Constantinople, I showed the work to the patriarchs Anthimus and Constantius, and communicated to them the reason of the transcription. Constantius took it, and, having thoroughly examined it, urged me to present it to the library of Sinai, which I accordingly promised to do. Constantius had previously been Bishop of Sinai, and since his resignation of that office had again become Perpetual Bishop of that place.”
So, we learn that the Patriarch Constantius was in charge of St. Catherine’s Monastery and he is the person who would ultimately send the manuscript there some time later. Simonides continued:
“Shortly after this … I went, over to the island of Antigonus to visit Constantius, and to perform my promise of giving up the manuscript to the library of Mount Sinai. The patriarch was, however, absent from home, and I, consequently, left the packet for him with a letter.”
He goes on to say that after he left the package containing the manuscript, he later received a letter from Constantius confirming the receipt of it. The patriarch’s letter was dated August 13, 1841.
All of this happens approximately three years before the first pages of the manuscript were discovered by Tischendorf in 1844. As such, it is reasonable to conclude that Constantius would have delivered the manuscript to Mt. Sinai within a short time after he received it. In his letter to The Guardian, Simonides even gave the name of the monk who brought the manuscript to the monastery:
“… the name of the monk who was sent by the Patriarch Constantius to convey the volume from the island of Antigonus to Sinai was Germanus.”
At this point, Simonides had provided the names of at least three men – Anthimus, Constantius and Germanus – who were all somehow eyewitnesses to this work. Typically, when someone is lying, they do not provide the kind of specific details that he did, and would be reluctant to name prominent people who could be sought out for fear that they would expose him. A dishonest person who makes a story up from nothing is more likely to be vague and short on specifics, but this was not the case with Simonides.
MYSTERY BEHIND THE WALL
Dr. Wallace tells us:
“Archbishop Damianos had suspected for some time that there might be treasures hidden in the northern wall of the monastery. This was where the sacristy had been previously.”
Why would Damianos suspect that there might be treasures there? Did he imagine this from nothing? Or was this idea given to him by a predecessor? Think about it. How could a room in a monastery that had been continuously inhabited be covered up without anyone knowing about it? Surely, someone knew about it when it happened. It stands to reason that stories about this hidden room (a room filled with many manuscripts, no less) would have been handed down from one generation to the next.
Dr. Wallace also says:
“… the latest manuscripts stored in the geniza (storage area) was from the 18th century. This is significant because it shows that the practices of the monks, close to the time that Tischendorf came there, was to store manuscripts …”
Notice that Dr. Wallace acknowledged that the latest manuscripts found were from the 18th century, which means that this room could not have been covered up for hundreds of years. Hence, the pages from Codex Sinaiticus must have been hidden there “close to the time that Tischendorf came there” as he said. But how close? Is it possible to tell?
We have already shown that the manuscript described by Simonides was transferred to St. Catherine’s Monastery about the year 1841, at the hands of a monk named Germanus, several years before Tischendorf arrived. With this in mind, we next turn to a witness who was present when the discovery of 1975 was first revealed.
WITNESS AT MT. SINAI
In the year 1968, a man named Moshe Altbauer began working at the library at Mount Sinai. Dr. Altbauer was the Professor Emeritus of Slavonic Studies at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and he published an essay on the “new finds” in 1987, his own interest being in the Slavic manuscripts discovered along with the pages of Codex Sinaiticus. Dr. Altbauer died in 1998, but we had a brief correspondence with one of his former students (Prof. Moshe Taube), who confirmed that it was indeed the Sinai Library at St. Catherine’s that he refers to in his essay. However, having corresponded with his son (Dr. Dan Altbauer), we are unable to confirm whether or not he was present in 1975 when the find was made.
Yet most importantly, in his essay, Dr. Altbauer tells us the following about the source of his information on the 1975 discovery:
“The only information I got was from Father Sophronius, who discovered the manuscripts while digging foundations for a new building after a fire in the Monastery.”
Source: “Identification of Newly Discovered Slavic Manuscripts in St. Catherine’s Monastery in Sinai,” by Dr. Moshe Altbauer (1987)
This is why Altbauer’s testimony is so significant, because he was working at the Sinai Library while all of this was happening, and he was in direct communication with the person who actually made the discovery. In contrast, the information presented by Dr. Daniel Wallace, by his own admission, was published some 23 years after all of these things happened. One can only wonder how the information may have changed over the course of time, which often happens in the aftermath of historic events. As we shall see, there are important details that Dr. Wallace does not include in his presentation.
THE SECRECY OF THE FIND
While Dr. Altbauer’s essay is short, and concerned mainly with things that have nothing to do with Codex Sinaiticus, he reveals a number of interesting details. First, that the monks at Sinai were very secretive about this hidden room and what was in it:
“The Sinaitic monks kept the discovery as a great secret, but a scholar from Athens … was less cautious. American scholars, who had good relationships with the scholar from Athens, got information on the manuscript finds made in Sinai, and even pictures of some of them. The reaction of the Sinaitic monks to this information was rage and wrath.”
Notice that they were not merely upset, as one might expect. He says they were filled with rage and wrath? Why were they so angry? In his book, Secrets of Mount Sinai: the Story of the World’s Oldest Bible – Codex Sinaiticus, author James Bentley says “their resentment at the treachery of Constantin von Tischendorf prompted their decision to keep the new discoveries secret.” (Bentley, p. 200)
Undoubtedly, the most curious part of his essay is the opening statement made by Professor Altbauer, where he describes the find itself. He wrote:
“Since the year 1975 many rumors spread of the sensational discovery of more than 220 old manuscripts, among them some in Slavic, set aside in a chest and burrowed in the ground of an ancient Sinai Monastery (about 150 years ago).”
Set aside in a chest and burrowed in the ground? Now, when compared to the testimony of Dr. Wallace, there seems to be some inconsistency. Dr. Wallace describes about two tons worth of manuscripts that were eventually uncovered. It seems highly unlikely that these could have all fit into a single chest. Was there a chest buried, with many other manuscripts beside it, or surrounding it? Admittedly, there are a variety of possibilities.
Also notice that Dr. Altbauer says this happened “about 150 years ago.” Since his essay was published in 1987, a century and a half would take us back to about the same time frame that Simonides is said to have delivered the manuscript to Mount Sinai and the activity with Tischendorf took place. It is difficult to press this issue too far without knowing exactly when the room was hidden. Yet even knowing that date would not be conclusive, since it is possible that even after the room was covered up, it could have been accessed by someone who knew about it, if they wanted to hide something there.
In any case, the fact that pages of Sinaiticus were discovered in this secret room in 1975 neither confirms the ancient character of the codex, nor prevents the possibility that it could have been created by Constantine Simonides.
While there is no question that mystery surrounds the issue, and speculation seems unavoidable, the real question is: Why would anyone have removed certain pages from the Codex Sinaiticus, buried them in a chest and hidden it away in a secret room at St. Catherine’s?
Dr. Wallace argues that the monks may have been in the habit of burying certain manuscripts, perhaps in the same way this practice is known among the Jews; that they bury copies of the Torah once they are too old, or if they contain too many flaws. But if the monks wanted to bury Sinaiticus, why didn’t they bury the whole thing? Why just certain pages?
If we believe Dr. Wallace, the impression he gives is that some of the pages of the front and back of the manuscript simply fell off to the ground, and went apparently unnoticed by a careless monk. This is certainly possible, but if anything, it only feeds the idea that the monks were absent minded in their care of sacred works, something Wallace was trying to dispel in his presentation. Yet if we look to the writings of witnesses from the 19th century, we may find clues to help solve the mystery.
THE MARKINGS OF SIMONIDES
In the story he published in The Guardian newspaper on Sept. 3, 1862, Simonides shared the following:
“In various places I marked in the margin the initials of the different MSS. from which I had taken certain passages and readings. These initials appear to have greatly bewildered Professor Tischendorf, who has invented several highly ingenious methods of accounting for them. Lastly, I declare my ability to point to two distinct pages in the MS., though I have not seen it for years, in which is contained the most unquestionable proof of its being my writing.”
Simonides repeatedly challenged Tischendorf to a public debate, so that he might point out these markings in the presence of others to settle the issue. It seems that Tischendorf at one point agreed to it, but then backed out. Simonides called attention to this in a letter published in The Literary Churchman, June 16, 1863:
“The public were assured that in May, Tischendorf was to be in London, armed with a portion at least of his great Codex. I have waited in England hoping to have the opportunity of meeting him, face to face, to prove him in error; but May has come and gone, and the discoverer has not appeared. Let the favourers of the antiquity of the MS. persuade him to come at once, and brave the ordeal, or else for ever hold his peace.”
Unfortunately, Simonides never had the opportunity to expose the markings he wrote about in a public debate with Tischendorf, but he was not the only person who acknowledged that such markings existed.
TESTIMONY OF KALLINIKOS
During the debates in the newspapers, a series of letters arrived from a friend of Simonides, a Greek monk named Kallinikos Hieromonachos. Kallinikos provided interesting details about the codex, and confirmed that there were markings or “acrostics” that pertained to his friend.
After Kallinikos’ letters were published, a man named W. A. Wright, in an apparent attempt to draw attention from the fact that Tischendorf had backed out of the public debate, began declaring that Kallinikos was a fictional person created by Simonides.
It was revealed that the letters were clearly post-marked from Alexandria, Egypt, which is where Kallinikos resided at the time. The postal markings were real and not forged. In spite of this, Wright went so far as to suggest that Simonides had left London and traveled to Alexandria, where he mailed the letters himself so that they would have an Alexandrian postmark on them. In order for Simonides to have done this, he would have needed to travel back and forth to Alexandria on at least four separate occasions. This would be like suggesting that someone was in the habit of flying back and forth from the U.S. to China in order to mail letters so that they would have a Chinese postmark on them – all as part of a grand deception. When one considers that Simonides stood to gain virtually nothing from all of this, the idea that he went to such lengths becomes ridiculous.
The absurdity of Wright’s arguments were later exposed by James Farrer, who showed that, indeed, Kallinikos was a real person whose relationship with Simonides was well documented (see Farrer, pp. 61-62).
It was Kallinikos who first declared that Tischendorf had not discovered the pages of the manuscript in 1844 in a basket as he claimed, but had rather stolen them. In a letter written to Simonides in August 17, 1858, Kallinikos wrote:
“I understood from Gabriel, the keeper of the treasures, that his predecessor had given the manuscript to a German, who visited the monastery in 1844 in the month of May, and who having had the MS. in his hands several days, secretly removed part of it, and went away during the time that the librarian lay ill …”
Notice that yet another eyewitness to the manuscript is revealed – Gabriel, the keeper of the treasures. He is just one of many people who were openly named, and could have been sought out to confirm or refute the claims of Simonides; but the critics avoided this at all costs. It is of no less importance that Dr. Wallace tells us no one ever went to corroborate the story of Tischendorf either.
Kallinikos also made mention of the special markings that Simonides placed inside the Codex Sinaiticus. In a letter published Nov. 2, 1863 in The Literary Churchman he said that:
“A portion of [the codex] was secretly removed from Mt. Sinai, by Professor Tischendorf, in 1844. The rest, with inconceivable recklessness, he mutilated and tampered with, according to his liking, in the year 1859. Some leaves he destroyed, especially such as contained the Acrostics of Simonides; but four of them escaped him, viz.,one in the Old Testament, and three in Hermas, as I long since informed Simonides …”
At one point, Simonides made the claim that some of the markings he made in the manuscript were to be found in Genesis, but this was exploited by W.A. Wright, who accused Simonides of duplicity. In The Guardian, Jan. 28, 1863, he wrote:
“Simonides now points to an acrostic in Gen. xxiv. as proof that he wrote the Codex Sinaiticus. He knows perfectly well that no part of Genesis has been recovered, and therefore makes his assertion with full assurance that it cannot be put to the test.”
Mr. Wright provided another important detail in The Guardian, on Feb. 4, 1863:
“As proof that the manuscript is his own writing, he now exhibits tracings of four pages, in one at least of which is an acrostic containing his name. This one is from Genesis, which he knows perfectly well has not been recovered. These tracings he says he took when at Mount Sinai in 1852 …”
In spite of Wright’s claim, Tischendorf did recover a fragment from Genesis in 1853, during his second visit to the monastery, and the fragment includes part of chapter twenty-four as we shall see.
The fact that Simonides claimed to see the manuscript at Mt. Sinai in the year 1852 is well documented in his first published letter on the subject. According to Wright’s testimony, Simonides presented tracings of four pages of the codex that he made after he saw it at that point. To our knowledge, no one has ever taken those traced pages and compared them with the rest of the manuscript. We wonder where, if anywhere, these pages might be found. Do they still exist? Assuming that one of the traced pages contained the acrostic of Genesis 24, what was on the other three pages? Could these pages contain clues that would determine once and for all if Simonides were telling the truth?
With all of this in mind, now let us go back and consider what was discovered among the “new finds” at St. Catherine’s in 1975.
WHAT WAS FOUND IN 1975?
According to the official website for Codex Sinaiticus we read the following about those parts of the manuscript that were discovered in 1975:
“The careful study of all the new fragments reveals that there are nineteen leaves wholly or partially extant, along with a few tiny fragments in which the text cannot be identified. They contain portions of Genesis … a sequence of complete leaves from Numbers … a mutilated leaf which has parts of Deuteronomy … a tiny fragment with Judges … Finally in the Old Testament … fragments of a leaf containing parts of Hermas …”
So, notice that we have pages from the Old Testament, including (among other things) portions of Genesis, and then we have a part of the Shepherd of Hermas. Is it possible that some of these pages contain clues that might support the story of Simonides? Could they have been deliberately removed by Tischendorf, and hidden away to keep others from learning the truth? If Tischendorf had seen the acrostics of Simonides, is it possible that he destroyed those pages (as Kallinikos testified) and then removed any others he thought might have had similar markings?
It is also worth noting that the Shepherd of Hermas was a central point of controversy between Tischendorf and Simonides in 1856, at the University of Leipzig, years before the Sinai codex was discovered. No one had ever seen a copy of the Shepherd in Greek, and the first known copy was presented by Simonides in 1855. It was embraced by most scholars as genuine, and was published openly, but then Tischendorf declared it to be a forgery. Bentley records it this way:
“When [Simonides] had tried to sell the forged copy of the Shepherd of Hermas in Germany, Tischendorf had exposed him.” (Bentley, p. 101)
Despite the impression given by Bentley, Tischendorf did not believe that Simonides himself had forged the copy of the Shepherd, but rather, that it was a forgery created by someone else during the Middle Ages, having been translated into Greek from a Medieval form of Latin. The problem with Bentley’s argument is that, in 1859, another copy of the Shepherd was discovered as part of the Codex Sinaiticus, and it matched the one presented by Simonides years earlier. As a result, Tischendorf was forced to change his position and admit that the manuscript presented by Simonides was genuine. Philip Schaff records this little known detail:
“The Greek text (brought from Mt. Athos by Constantine Simonides, and called Cod. Lipsiensis) … in … 1863 …Tischendorf, in consequence of the intervening discovery of the Cod. Sinaiticus retracted his former objections to the originality of the Greek Hermas from Mt. Athos, which he had pronounced a mediaeval retranslation from the Latin …”
(History of the Christian Church, Vol. II, Eighth Edition, 1901, by Philip Schaff, David Schley Schaff, pp. 678-679)
Chances are, this is why scholars like James Farrer believed that Simonides exceeded Tischendorf in both knowledge and experience of paleographical science (see Farrer, p. 50). This issue may also have something to do with why certain pages of the Shepherd of Hermas were removed from the Codex Sinaiticus, and hidden away in the sacristy, possibly even buried in a chest. Could Tischendorf have suspected that those pages might have vindicated Simonides? Could he have seen markings on them, as mentioned by Kallinikos? Admittedly, we can only speculate.
Yet since the discovery of Codex Sinaiticus proved that Simonides had been correct about the Shepherd of Hermas, where then is his motivation for revenge, as claimed by Bentley and others? Perhaps this is why James Farrer wrote:
“That Simonides was a good enough calligrapher, even at an early age, to have written the Codex, is hardly open to doubt, and it is in his favour that the world was first indebted to him in 1856 for the opening chapters in Greek of the Shepherd of Hermas, with a portion of which Codex Sinaiticus actually terminates. The coincidence seems almost more singular than can be accounted for by chance.”
(Farrer, pp. 59-60)
The portions of Genesis recovered in 1975 only include chapters 21 through 23, while Simonides claimed he placed an acrostic somewhere in Genesis chapter 24. On the Codex Sinaiticus website, the British Library includes the information on the “new finds” under a section about the reconstruction of the manuscript, where they bring all the different parts together. It is here that they tell us about additional fragments in Russia:
“There are other fragments found in the nineteenth century and now in St. Petersburg. The ones which concern us here consist of a part of a leaf now preserving Genesis 23.19-24.19 and 24.20-24.46 …”
In other words, part of Genesis chapter 24 was recovered. Not the whole thing, apparently, but part of it. In his book, Secrets of Mount Sinai, author James Bentley tells us that this fragment was found by Tischendorf in 1853, during his second visit to St. Catherine’s Monastery. We are told it was being used as a bookmark when he found it (Bentley, pp. 90-92). This account fits in perfectly with the story told by Simonides, that he made a tracing of Genesis 24 in 1852, the year before Tischendorf arrived.
Of course, we cannot help but wonder how W.A. Wright could have so forcefully asserted, that “no part of Genesis has been recovered” as he said in 1863. Why is it that he failed to realize this fragment had been found a decade earlier? If nothing else, it might have served to cool his fanaticism.
Is it possible that this portion of Genesis 24 contains the acrostic of Simonides? All one would need to do is compare the tracing that was presented by him in 1863 to find out. Of course, the portion of Genesis 24 in St. Petersburg would have to show the same part that Simonides captured in his tracing. Assuming they match up, if his acrostic turns out to be missing in the St. Petersburg fragment, this would be clear proof that he was lying. Yet if it were there, it would prove he was telling the truth.
EVIDENCE OF TAMPERING
In an earlier quote, we read that Kallinikos accused Tischendorf of “mutilating” and “tampering” with the manuscript, according to his liking.
There was also this assertion made by Simonides himself in The Guardian, Jan. 28, 1863, where he answered a question posed by Henry Bradshaw:
“Mr. Bradshaw’s very proper and natural query – ‘How is it possible that a MS. written beautifully, and with no intention to deceive, in 1840, should in 1862 present so ancient an appearance?’ I answer simply thus: The MS. had been systematically tampered with, in order to give it an ancient appearance, as early as 1852, when, as I have already stated, it had an older appearance than it ought to have had …”
In other letters, Kallinikos claimed that the manuscript had been “cleaned, with a solution of herbs … that the writing might be changed, as it was, to a sort of yellow color.” (The Literary Churchman, Dec. 16, 1862)
The Christian Remembrancer, in commenting on this, interprets it to mean that the manuscript “had also been cleaned with lemon-juice, professedly for the purpose of washing the vellum, but, in reality, to weaken the freshness of the letters.” (See “Codex Sinaiticus & the Simonides Affair” by J.K. Elliott, p. 78)
Were Kallinikos and Simonides both lying? To reject their statements, we have to conclude that they were; but what they are describing appears to be somebody’s effort to doctor up the codex and make it appear more ancient than it was. Given the dates involved, and considering that the discovery was spread out over a fifteen-year time frame, the implication is that the manuscript was being prepared over an extended period of time. We must also consider that Tischendorf made at least three trips to St. Catherine’s from 1844 to 1859. Was there more involved in these trips than he led others to believe?
The real question with this whole episode is why these things were not properly investigated at the time these statements were made.
QUESTIONS & SPECULATION
Is it possible that during his visits to the monastery, Constantine von Tischendorf was working to tamper with this manuscript, just as Kallinikos claimed? Is it further possible that he deliberately removed certain pages and hid them away in a chest, or somewhere else in the sacristy? Kallinikos, who claimed to know Tischendorf said that he was of a “master and pupil of all guile, and all wickedness” and that he deliberately manipulated the manuscript for his own purposes. Others claim that Tischendorf was a sincere Christian, who only desired to defend the truth of the Gospel by presenting a more accurate Biblical record. Who should we believe?
At this point in history, it must be recognized that speculation is what we are unavoidably brought to. But to assume that Simonides and his friend were lying, and that all that was said by Tischendorf was the truth, lacks objectivity and balance. In fact, it’s not very logical when the very critics who rely upon Tischendorf’s research, also believe he dealt in a dishonestly. James Bentley, after describing the apparent contempt Tischendorf had for the monks at St. Catherine’s Monastery, wrote:
“It was perhaps this hatred of these despised monks that enabled Tischendorf to steal from them their greatest treasure.” (Bentley, p. 85)
As to the issue of Tischendorf’s dishonesty, this has been debated from the beginning. Even Dr. Daniel Wallace, at the end of his presentation, says that it is time to acknowledge that the story of how he supposedly discovered the first pages in a rubbish basket should be declared a “myth,” essentially admitting his belief that the great German scholar was lying.
SOME FINAL QUESTIONS
1. Was Constantine Simonides an ingenious forger as most scholars and historians believe?
It is certainly possible that he was, but we believe it is important to note that this was an accusation that he always denied. It is also worth noting that not everyone believed he was a forger. His friends at the Mayer Museum in Liverpool, along with its curator, John Eliot Hodgkin and his biographer, Charles Stewart, did not think so. In fact, Stewart wrote to the Athenaum in 1862, saying:
“… the high opinion I entertained of Dr. Simonides as a gentleman and a man of honour, at the time I published his biography, has in no way diminished during the two years that have elapsed. I know him to be utterly incapable of committing the disgraceful deeds imputed to him, and firmly believe that the truth and value of his statements and discoveries will, ere long, be universally admitted and recognized.”
(Letter of Mr. Charles Stewart, to the Editor of the Athenaum, 1862, see: The Periplus of Hannon, p. 64)
Also, James Farrer believed that he was falsely accused in the controversy over the Mayer Manuscripts, in which he discovered a first century fragment of the Gospel of Matthew, which was unrolled with other scrolls by Simonides in the presence of several witnesses, including Joseph Mayer the founder of the museum. It was said to be the oldest historic record of the New Testament. He was accused of forging this, and the other papyri, even though they had been purchased by Joseph Mayer years before he ever met Simonides. Our opinion is that the accusations came against him because the first century fragment of Matthew was in Greek, and contradicted the theories of the critics who believed it was originally written in either Aramaic or Hebrew. Of this controversy, James Farrer wrote:
“It is almost impossible to believe in his manufacture of these papyri. They correspond in writing and appearance with numberless other papyri which have of recent years been discovered and published … If these are forgeries, they can hardly be forgeries by Simonides; and if he was guiltless in respect of these, he was presumably guiltless in respect of the others.” (Farrer, p. 56)
All this to say, even if Simonides was the world’s most brilliant forger (as some think him to be) this would only increase the possibility that he could have created a great manuscript that would deceive the academic world.
2. Are you open to the possibility that Simonides was not the true author of the Codex Sinaiticus?
Yes, absolutely. While we are inclined to believe the evidence leans primarily in his direction, we recognize other potential scenarios. We think it’s important to acknowledge the two possibilities argued by both Scrivener and Farrer in this regard. The first and most obvious is that Simonides simply lied to somehow get even with Tischendorf, or rob him of the glory of his discovery. Because of what we reported about the Shepherd of Hermas earlier, however, we believe this to be the less likely explanation. The second explanation offered is that Simonides did, in fact, create a codex just as he described, but that the codex he created on Mt. Athos was not the Codex Sinaiticus. This possibility was also suggested by Henry Bradshaw.
Yet with the above things in view, we still do not believe anyone ever proved he was lying. Furthermore, his critics in the 19th century were nearly all involved, either directly or indirectly, with the Revision Committee of 1870 under Westcott and Hort. Even W.A. Wright was the secretary for the Old Testament Company of this committee. So they all had an interest in promoting Sinaiticus, because they wanted to use it to change the underlying Greek text of the Authorized Version.
3. In your opinion, how could Simonides’ claims be fully disproven?
Right now, we know of two ways.
A. Compare the traced page of Genesis chapter 24 with the Genesis 24 fragment recovered by Tischendorf in 1853, which now resides in St. Petersburg, Russia. We have no idea where the traced pages of Simonides might be. Yet if the traced page of Genesis that Simonides created in 1852, matches the section of Genesis found in St. Petersburg, and if the acrostic of Simonides is not present – this would prove he was either mistaken or else he was lying.
B. Find the ancient catalogues of St. Catherine’s Monastery. We did not mention this in the article above or in our film. However, this is very important and, in our opinion, proves that deception was employed to discredit Simonides. In 1863, someone claiming to be a Greek monk of Mount Sinai wrote a letter that was published in The Literary Churchman, June 1, 1863, in which he declared the following:
“Mr. Simonides … lies when he positively affirms that the ancient MS. of the Holy Scripture published by Mr. Tischendorf is his work; because the MS. in question (as the librarian of our holy monastery, having been so from the year 1841 to 1858, assured me) belonged to the library of the monastery, and was marked in its ancient catalogues … how could it possibly be the work of Simonides …?”
Obviously, if there were a record of the codex in the ancient catalogues of the monastery it would completely destroy the claims of Simonides. When we first came across this, our expectation was that this would be the proof that he was lying, which we would have then documented in our film. Indeed, it was this letter that was the great nail in the Greek’s coffin, at least, according to J.K. Elliott. Yet, in response to this incredible claim, Simonides replied in another letter published shortly after in The Literary Churchman, June 16, 1863. He boldly declared:
“I emphatically deny that the Codex Sinaiticus was inscribed in the Ancient Catalogue, for the good reason thatno ancient catalogue exists: there was none there whatever, till I made a catalogue, during my first visit, for the Patriarch of Constantinople, Constantius …”
Can you imagine this happening in a courtroom? What would the judge do at this point? Would he not require that the alleged “ancient catalogue” be produced as evidence? Yet, to our knowledge, no one has ever produced any such catalogue from the library of St. Catherine’s. They certainly did not produce it in 1863, and the partisan newspapers of the time, not to mention the critics, never pursued the issue.
Thinking back toward the beginning of this article, remember how the British Library told us that the “first written record” of the codex may be from the Italian explorer in 1761? Shouldn’t the earliest record have been the ancient catalogue? Barring additional information not yet known, it would appear that Simonides was correct, and that no ancient catalogue exists. However, if such a catalogue were produced, we agree that it would prove Simonides’ claims were false.
It is for the above reasons that we continue to believe that there are many unanswered questions on the subject of Simonides and the Codex Sinaiticus that require further research; and our prayer is that such research may be sought out through sober investigation.
Unless otherwise specified, the newspaper articles were obtained through the book, “Codex Sinaiticus & the Simonides Affair” by J.K. Elliott
The British Library’s official website for the Codex Sinaiticus is http://www.codexsinaiticus.org