Review of Jongkind, Scribal Habits of Codex Sinaiticus

Dirk Jongkind, Scribal Habits of Codex Sinaiticus, Texts and Studies III.5. Piscataway: Gorgias, 2005. 323. ISBN: 9718-1-59333-422-2. $102.00. Printed Casebound.

Published in Bulletin for Biblical Research 22 (2012): 260–62.

Constantin von Tischendorf first visited St. Catherine’s monastery on Mt. Sinai in 1844. This eventually led to the 1862 publication of a typeset semi-facsimile of Codex Sinaiticus. Helen and Kirsopp Lake published a photographic facsimile of the known text of the manuscript in 1911 and 1922. Milne and Skeat published Scribes and Correctors of the Codex Sinaiticus in 1938, and in the years since new parts of the codex have come to light, high resolution digital images have been made available online at, and the British Library and Hendrickson Publishers have now made available a full color, life-size facsimile of the codex. David Parker has given us an authorized history of the manuscript in his book, Codex Sinaiticus: The Story of the World’s Oldest Bible [my review here], and both BibleWorks and Accordance Bible Software have made images of the facsimile available within their software, with tagged transcriptions of the Codex that are fully searchable.

Dirk Jongkind completed the dissertation under review here at Cambridge under Peter Head in 2005, prior to the appearance of the full color facsimile from Hendrickson in 2010. Jongkind relates that in most of his work he made use of the Lake facsimile, though he was privileged to use the manuscript itself, even working for the British Library as curator in the project to digitize the manuscript.

Jongkind begins with an admirable summary of the history of research on the Codex and states his intention to carry forward the work of Milne and Skeat. As the title of his book indicates, he is looking mainly at Scribal Habits. The volume’s second chapter examines the distribution of the scribal tasks, the third looks at scribal practices such as the use of nomina sacra, ligatures, spelling, the Eusebian apparatus, and division of paragraphs. Chapter 4 is a close look at the work of two of the scribes who worked on the manuscript, Scribes D and A. In the fifth chapter Jongkind reflects on his findings and engages the issues of where the manuscript was produced and whether the dictation theory can account for the production of the manuscript.

Jongkind finds that “no single, fixed procedure was followed in the production of Sinaiticus. The way in which the writing of the main text was divided up between the three scribes seems to betray a number of ad hoc decisions and attempts to cover up previous mistakes” (57). When he examines the use of nomina sacra, ligatures, itacisms, and text divisions, he finds that each scribe had his own tendencies. There was no consistent application of the use of nomina sacra. The scribes appear to have operated on their own preferences, but it is not clear whether they did entirely what they wanted or simply followed their exemplars  (83). One of the ways scribal hands can be distinguished is by the angle of the downward arm used in the kai-ligature (88). Scribe D was the best speller. It is again difficult to know whether the scribes were introducing new paragraphs or following their exemplars. The Eusebian apparatus was not fully incorporated into the Codex, and if the canon tables were ever present they have not survived. Jongkind concludes that whereas Scribe A does not appear to have interpreted the text by his use of nomina sacra and paragraphing, Scribe D’s sensitive use of these techniques does seem to reflect his understanding of the text (127–28). This kind of evidence indicates that the scribes had some freedom in the execution of their tasks.

Chapter 4 contains a detailed comparison of the work of Scribes D and A in 1 Chronicles, Psalms, Paul, and Luke. For each section Jongkind discusses orthography, nonsense word forms, leaps from same to same, additions and ommissions, harmonizations, editorial readings, substitutions, transpositions, and more. The close attention to detail in this section is remarkable. Many tables aid the reader with helpful summary presentations.

Jongkind has definitely moved our knowledge forward on the shoulders of Milne and Skeat. His particular contribution is in the “detailed profile of each scribe” (249). He points out an important reality to factor into text critical decisions: “there is not homogeneity in the quality of copying; different scribes produce a demonstrably different quality of text. . . the identity of the scribe is important” (249). He observes that from what we can see of the scribes alternating responsibilities, the dictation theory is not the best explanation for how the Codex was copied. There are also indications that the scribes corrected their work as they copied, which would not fit with the dictation theory. Jongkind raises significant considerations against the view that Sinaiticus was produced in Caesarea.

We owe gratitude and congratulations to Dirk Jongkind for producing this most significant study of Codex Sinaiticus to appear since Milne and Skeat’s 1938 Scribes and Correctors.

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  1. I assume this undercuts the conspiratorial notion that scribes typically changed the text of Scripture to further a theological agenda.

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