imageThe Cambridge establishment was miffed when credit was (justly) given to Agnes and Margaret Smith, non-academic, wealthy and intrepid travelers who in 1892 found the  Syriac Sinaiticus in St. Catherine’s Monastery, Egypt, rather than to a group of dons who subsequently went out to transcribe the manuscript. Atlas Obscura has the tale by Ailsa Ross.

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You can examine Agnes Smith Lewis’ CUP publication of the find at the Internet Archive. The Syriac Sinaiticus is described and illustrated on pages 43-4. The imprint is interesting: I wasn’t aware that Cambridge like Oxford had allowed their London office to publish on their own. Well actually it looks more like they allowed their printer to publish on his own, using the warehouse in London as the distribution point. Maybe this can be read as a precedent for the recent unconventional publication of Michael Black’s Learning to be a publisher which, although it isn’t an official CUP publication may only be ordered from their bookshop in Cambridge.

The Monastery of St. Catherine seems to have been a treasure trove of Biblical manuscript. Wikipedia tells us “The monastery library preserves the second largest collection of early codices and manuscripts in the world, outnumbered only by the Vatican Library. It contains Greek, Arabic, Armenian, Coptic, Hebrew, Georgian, and Aramaic texts.” It also seems possibly to have been a low-security environment. Constant von Tischendorf, discoverer there of the Codex Sinaiticus in the 1840s, reported first finding leaves of it in a wastepaper basket, whence they’d have been taken as kindling to the ovens. Unsurprisingly the monastery did deny this. You can look at the manuscript at the Codex Sinaiticus site. The importance of the Smith’s discovery is that their Syriac Sinaiticus turned out to be the oldest Biblical translation.

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