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Academics agog over oldest bible on planet

THE surviving parts of the world's oldest Bible were reunited online yesterday, generating excitement among scholars.

The Codex Sinaiticus was hand-written by four scribes in Greek on animal hide, known as vellum, in the mid-4th century around the time of the Roman emperor Constantine the Great, who embraced Christianity.

Not all of it has withstood the ravages of time, but the pages that have include the whole New Testament and the earliest surviving copy of the gospels written at different times after Christ's death by apostles Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

The Bible's remaining 800 pages and fragments - it was originally some 1,400 pages long - also contain half of a copy of the Old Testament. The other half has been lost.

"The Codex Sinaiticus is one of the world's greatest written treasures," said Scot McKendrick, head of Western manuscripts at the British Library.

"This 1,600-year-old manuscript offers a window into the development of early Christianity and first-hand evidence of how the text of the Bible was transmitted," he said.

The texts include numerous revisions, additions and corrections made during its evolution through the ages.

"The Codex is arguably the oldest large bound book to have survived," said McKendrick. "Critically, it marks the definite triumph of bound codices over (papyrus) scrolls - a key watershed in how the Christian Bible was regarded as a sacred text," he said.

The ancient parchments, which appear almost translucent, are a collection of sections held by the British Library in London, the Monastery of St Catherine in Sinai, Egypt, the National Library of Russia and Leipzig University Library in Germany.

Each institution owns different amounts of the manuscript, but the British Library, which digitized the pages of the entire book in London, holds the most.


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