The invention of the codex, a series of pages bound down one side, not only replaced the scroll, but created a revolution in book-making. Evidence of the codex prior to the fourth century is scarce, but thereafter it would truly blossom under Christianity, who would arguably come to play a central role in its development.

One of the most important books in the world is the mid-fourth century handwritten codex (manuscript), which contains the most earliest and most complete version of the Christian Bible in Greek. The care with which it is put together is breathtaking, transcribed by probably the best scholars in the empire.

The Codex Sinaiticus came to the world’s attention when it was discovered in the library of St. Catherine’s Monastery in 1844, when a German scholar by the name of Constantin von Tischendorf spotted some leaves of the Codex, according to him, in a basket to be burned in the ovens. He removed fourty-three leaves, taking them to Leipzig. He returned again in 1853 for the remainder of the Codex but left empty handed. Back again for the third time, with the support of the Russian Tsar, he was more successful in finding the rest of the Codex. Given permission to study it closer in Cairo, he instead hatched an underhanded plan to run off with it to Russia, where he presented it as a gift to the Tsar. He, of course, promised to return the manuscripts but never did. The loss of this extremely rare and importance bible from the monastery, possibly the second oldest bible in existence, is a story in itself for another day but for now most of it rests in the British Museum. 

Photo credit: The Codex Sinaiticus is in the public domain and is provided only for non-commercial personal and educational use, by the British Library, Leipzig University Library, St Catherine’s Monaster at Sinai and the National Library of Russia.

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