Although in physical form it is in 4 separate locations around the world, the oldest known copy of the Bible is now completely online. The document dates back to Constantine I and is considered one of the world’s greatest written treasures. Now, thanks to the internet, everyone has equal access to this historical heritage.
To find out more about why this document is so important, you can read more about it here. Interestingly enough, there are many discrepancies between the contents of the Codex and what we consider as the Bible today. For example, it has no mention of a resurrected Jesus – a pivotal component of modern Christian doctrine.
I took the image you see above while playing around with the controls at the Codex Sinaiticus website. As the image shows, you can zoom in to see quiet a lot of detail.
Even you are not a librarian or a photographer or an archivist, it isn’t difficult to imagine the daunting task of digitizing a 1,600-year old manuscript that is literally falling apart.
This monumental achievement reminded me of the massive volumes of Baha’i texts which are hidden away in vaults and not accessible by scholars (or anyone else). To give you an idea of what a similar project for Baha’i texts would look like, here is a low resolution image of an excerpt from the Epistle to the Son of the Wolf by Baha’u’llah (written in the handwriting of Mirza Aqa Jan, Baha’u’llah’s amanuensis):
It is difficult to estimate the sheer magnitude of material that is locked away right now. But I would estimate that less than one percent of the total is currently published. Most are kept in special archival vaults under Mount Carmel but there is also an impressive collection in the Afnan Library in England.
Sadly, the website of the Afnan Library is merely a bookmark on the internet rather than the storehouse of information it could be if it were used as a portal to the contents of the documents held there.
The Baha’i Faith is the only world religion which has verified and authentic religious texts. As well we have an untold wealth of secondary documents. So it is frustrating that they are not shared freely with the world. After all, the documents are intended for all of humanity. So it would follow that they should be made available as widely as possible. Before, this meant either publishing the content as books in their original language – which had limited market and was an expensive undertaking – or translating them to English or other languages to open up a larger market – but this meant expensive and protracted translation projects.
With the advent of the internet, we have the solution. When texts are published online in digital format, as with the Codex Sinaiticus, they are available to as many people as possible for the least per unit cost. This opens up an incredible panorama of possibilities and advantages. Not only for scholars and others who are interested in the text but also for the dissemination and scholarly advancement of the content itself.
The Baha’i Reference Library is a good step towards this end but it is infinitesimally small compared to what could be done. For the price of one translation project, all Baha’i texts could be digitized and made available online in their original format.
Because the Baha’i texts are so young, they are in very good condition and could be digitized much easier than the Codex. As it stands now, a person would have to request permission (something that is not always given – especially if the person’s views vary at all with that of the UHJ/ITC) and then physically go to Haifa and London. This cumbersome and anachronistic process need not continue.
The Baha’i Faith is the youngest of the world religions and as such it is only natural that we should be at the vanguard of realizing the full potential of the internet. I hope to see this fulfilled in my lifetime.