Oldest Known Bible to go Online

The oldest known manuscript of the Biblical New Testament is about to become accessible to millions of people around the world in a new online version.

The parchment, known as the Codex Sinaiticus, dates from the 4th Century and is believed to be one of 50 copies of the Scriptures commissioned by Roman Emperor Constantine after his conversion to Christianity.

The Bible, housed in the British Library in London, is currently being digitised by an international team of experts from the UK, Europe, Egypt and Russia.

Head of the Medieval and Earlier Manuscripts Department in the British Library Dr Scott McKendrick said: “It is a very distinctive manuscript. No other manuscript looks like this.

“On each very large page, about 14 – 16 inches (34 – 37cm) it has a Greek text written in four columns.

“That’s the really distinct feature of it – layers of text – it’s one of the fascinating aspects of it and it shows us how the Biblical text developed over a certain period, how it was interpreted in those crucial early years of Christianity.”

The digitisation of the Bible text will allow millions of people around the world to view one of the world’s rarest and most precious documents, having been viewed by only four scholars in the last 20 years.

The Codex Sinaiticus, which contains the whole Bible, is particularly significant because it has one of the oldest complete copies of the New Testament, as well as the Greek Old Testament, known as the Septuagint.

The digitising team is using hyperspectral imaging to photograph the entire text, which also allows any hidden or erased text to show up.

“To do it also in infra-red or ultra-violet photography, as in forensics, you’ll find out any hidden aspects of it as well,” explained the British Library’s digitisation expert Lawrence Pordez. He noted “It’s also faster to produce” and saves the manuscript from any possible unnecessary damage as it does not uses chemicals.

Dr Mckendrick estimated it will take about four years until the codex is available in full text, in order to give time “to essentially photograph the manuscript, to conserve it, to transcribe anew the whole of the text, and to present that in a new form electronically.”

The website, which is planned to be free of charge, will both “present the manuscript – not just the facts as it were, the images and the transcription – but also interpret it for different audiences, from scholars right through to people who are just interested in this manuscript or in Christianity,” said Mr Mckendrick.