Thursday, December 31, 2020

WM 186: Is Codex Sinaiticus a Forgery?


Here are my notes for WM 186:

This week (12.29.20) I posted my book review of D. C. Parker’s Codex Sinaiticus: The Story of the World’s Oldest Bible (British Library/Hendrickson, 2010).

In the review I made passing reference to Parker’s discussion of allegations made in the nineteenth century that this codex is a forgery, created by a man named Constantine Simonides (1820-1890).

I also noted on my youtube subscription feed that that there is a debate scheduled for 1.3.21 on Josh Gibbs’s Talking Christianity podcast between James Snapp, Jr. and Steve Avery on the topic: “The World’s Oldest Bible Is a Replica: Simonides the Scribe" (look here).

I thought it might be on interest to do a study of some of the background to the Simonides forgery allegation, by looking at a few discussions of it.

Let’s begin with the Wikipedia article on Constantine Simonides.              

Next, let’s look at Parker’s dismissal of the allegation in his work on Codex Sinaiticus (see pp. 151-152, and the bibliography on p. 154, especially the work by Elliot).

Finally, let’s look at a few relevant entries in Stanley E. Porter’s biography Constantine Tischendorf: The Life and Work of a 19th Century Bible Hunter (Bloomsbury, 2015).

See pp. 38-39 where Porter discusses how Simonides in 1855 sold to the University of Leipzig Library manuscripts of the Shepherd of Hermes, later challenged as inauthentic by various scholars, including Tischendorf. Around the same time, Simonides was also arrested on the charge of forging a palimpsest manuscript attributed to Uranius of Alexandria and Porter notes that Tischendorf also wrote disputing the authenticity of these documents.

See also pp. 48-50 and Porter’s discussion of the forgery claim made by Simonides and his ten reasons to reject the plausibility of this claim (taken from Elliot).


Codex Sinaiticus may be a forgery, but I believe it is more likely it is authentic based on the arguments made by Elliot (relayed by Porter).

There are people who are experts on papyrology and who have examined the documents firsthand, and their judgements should be given proper weight.

This is not to say, however, that scholars cannot be duped. They can! And their presuppositions can lead them to embrace dubious “evidence” to support their views.

There have been various examples of modern disputes about the age or authenticity of ancient documents.

Three contemporary examples:

First, Morton Smith and the Secret Gospel of Mark (1958).

The dispute here involves the authenticity of the Mar Saba letter attributed to Clement of Alexandria and its reference to an extended version of Mark.

Second, Dan Wallace and “first-century Mark” (2012). In a debate with Bart Ehrman in 2012, Wallace claimed that a fragment of Mark was about to be published that was dated to the first century. He later, however, had to withdraw this claim (see his 2018 blog post).

Third, Harvard Divinity scholar Karen L. King and the “Gospel of Jesus’s Wife” (2012).

This Coptic papyrus was proven to be a forgery and exposed as such in an Atlantic article in 2016.


Scholars can make overblown and even deceptive claims about mss. in order to support their points, just as traditionalists can to support theirs.

The three examples cited above all involved relatively short and fragmentary documents. One of the arguments in favor of the authenticity of Codex Sinaiticus is the fact that it is such a massive document and that it shows evidence of so much scribal correction.

Nevertheless, the claim probably cannot be completely dismissed. At the least the dispute illustrates a glary weakness of the reconstruction method. If you are going to rely on reconstruction as a method how can you do so without knowing with certainty the provenance or origins of many of the documents upon which you rely to make your reconstruction.


1 comment:

Unknown said...

You make no mention of Tischendorf's questionable relationship with the Vatican.