Oldest Bible (Codex Sinaiticus) Now Online

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.

Codex Sinaiticus detail

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):

excerpt from Epistle to Son of the Wolf Bahaullah (Mirza Aqa Jan handwriting)

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.

  • stevemcr

    Not sure why the article says there are no references to the resurrection. The manuscript includes Mark 16:6:

    “And he said to them,(A) “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him.”

  • stevemcr

    Thanks. But the article your link references discusses the dispute over Mark 16:9-20. Codex Sinaiticus includes Mark 16:6, which references the resurrection.

  • Baquia

    Steve, take a look at this. It should explain it. If you're interested in the changes in the Bible over time, read Ehrman's books.

  • Baquia

    Steve, perhaps a more correct statement would be that it does not have an account of the resurrected Jesus:

    The two versions of Mark

    Just for an instance, an example: Mark's Gospel. There are two traditions, one of which ends quite abruptly where the three women go to the tomb, find it empty, encounter the angel, and the short ending ends with them going away afraid. You don't get the post-resurrection appearances of Christ, it just ends there. So that ending is actually in the Codex, and it's one of the earliest witnesses of that shorter ending. That's a very dramatic difference between the longer ending tradition. But that's quite exceptional, and that's quite a large portion of text that's not there, and it's not as though critics haven't talked about that for a long time. It's always been a big point of dispute as to where Mark's Gospel actually ended and where the story came to an end as far as Mark is concerned.
    source

  • intellectuallycurious

    What reason could Possibly justify the fact that every primary source is not available, right now, to everyone who wishes to see it?

    Sunshine is the greatest disinfectant.

  • alonso

    The reason not to make the primary Baha'i texts public could be that the responsible persons are afraid of miss interpretation. Because the texts from Baha’u'llah are not plain and logical. There is such an amount of words and structure needs to be recognized, I guess.

  • Baquia

    alonso, I was afraid someone would say something like that. Doesn't really surprise me, given the culture of the Baha'i community today but still, I was hoping that we had actually understood what it means to be a Baha'i. Oh well, I suppose it will take 1000 years.

  • Craig Parke

    I would estimate that with the incredible power of communication of INTERNET TIME, everybody else in the world who is a FREE THINKER will have implemented the incredible Power of the World Age in the affairs of mankind within 100 more years under their own initiative and inner spiritual guidance right out of the “thin air” of the Cosmic Spirit.

    But since the BAO has to slowly check EVERY breath in and every breath out of every card carrying Baha'i on Earth 24/7/365/1000 and additionally check everyone's personal thoughts on ANY subject on Earth (at least twice) for sanctioned orthodoxy in a hyper mental orgy of organizational OCD, I estimate it is going to take the widely mentioned 500,000 years (the planet EARTH once through the ENTIRE Zodiac) before the Baha'i Faith can open a can of beans with a sanctioned and approved can opener to feed someone anywhere on Earth. It is going to take 500,000 years before any level of the organization can actually do anything competent or useful for any human being. By then everyone else will be spread through out the Galaxy and will be informed of the spiritual teachings of other planets and other planetary civilizations and other creatures.

    In Ruhi speak I will repeat this:

    By _____ everyone ____ will __ ____ ______ the _______ and ____ __ ________ of the _______ _________ of ________ _______ and _______ ________ ________ and _______ ___________.

    Please fill in the blanks correctly with the properly pre-approved and pre-authorized answers or you may be thrown out of my coming secret spiritual esoteric Sufi order of the Faith called “Baha'is Under the Provisions of Common Sense”.

    No one knows who may or may not subscribes to the radical new “secret doctrine” called “Common Sense”. Sometimes it's presence is completely undetectable!

    It is lightning in a bottle!

    500,000 years and counting…because everyone's every single public and private thought and how they personally wipe their behind in life must be approved by a Baha'i committee somewhere. The Baha'i Committee On How Everyone Is To Think From The Cradle To The Grave and How Everyone Is To Wipe Their behind In The Proper Pre-Authorized and Pre-Approved Way.

    Meanwhile, everyone have a nice weekend!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LvSgUH0Wn-M

    Study up on Ruhi Book 1929 because the way things are going all of human civilization may have about six more months until we are completely broke or hyper Weimar Style inflation starts.

    So it goes.

  • intellectuallycurious

    If misinterpretation occurs, then there will be discussion. I wonder which will be more problematic.

  • fubar

    people misinterpret existing “official/published” bahai scripture all the time, so i guess maybe it should be withdrawn? lol. maybe people should be told to forget everything they have ever read in case thinking about it might lead to “disunity” ?!?!?

  • intellectuallycurious

    Whatever the reason, I am certain it isn't about maintaining authority… RIGHT?

  • sonjavank

    There is quite a lot available online.
    http://reference.bahai.org/en/

    in Persian, Arabic and English with an excellent search facility.

    H-Bahai hosted on the Michican University system was started as an open academic resource for all to use. There are scans of originals of manuscripts. There are provisional translations and there is discussion.

    http://www.h-net.org/~bahai/

    In response to “intellectuallycurious”'s comments, on the front page of the Baha Reference website is a quotation from Baha'u'llah,

    “Knowledge is as wings to man's life, and a ladder for his ascent.”
    (Tablets of Bah??'u'll??h, p. 51)

    Surely that means trying to read the source/s of things where possible and not using the excuse of 'miss – interpretation' to put off a diversity of interpretation which surely must happen where there is open discourse. A diversity of interpretation is what makes life worth while I would argue. We should engage for its own sake and not dis-engage because we fear that this would be or could be seen as “disunity”, whereever that means :)

    Baquia, it would be great if Haifa could one day put up originals of manuscripts so more people could have access but these days this is becoming less of a bottle neck as various initiatives such as h-bahai make material available.
    In my view having originals of Shoghi Effendi's typescripts would be important, given that later editions of his books have variations in them and these are in English. Now if someone could put these online ? Currently these are hidden away in Wilmette. This would be, not to criticize as later editions might be closer to the originals, but to see the changes for ourselves and hence gain more knowledge on the context. That's the point of seeing originals, in order to try and gain a better understanding. Afterall any reading by anyone is always just an (mis)interpretation.

  • Frank Winters

    The Bahai texts we have were carefully chosen to create a religion that I suspect is very different than the one that would grow out of the entirety of what Bahaullah wrote. And for the life of me I don't know if that's good or bad….

  • NJ

    What a lot of angst from what a lot of misinformed people. The vast majority of Baha'u'llah's writings are individual letters that don't contain significant teachings in themselves. They are for the spiritual benefit of the recipient. The vast majority of Baha'u'llah's significant works have been translated already and the ones that haven't are in the process of being translated, as fast as accuracy and faithfulness to the texts will allow.

    The originals are not available due to a combination of factors: lack of resources (it takes a long time to scan or transcribe thousands of tablets), plus the need to maintain an accurate portrayal of the Faith (many texts require commentary) and the need to ensure textual accuracy (there are several manuscripts of some of the Bab's writings which would need detailed comparison to come up with an accurate copy). Just uploading everything indiscriminately is not the aim of the Baha'i World Centre.

  • frankwinters

    What a lot of fuzzy thinking from one apparently brain washed individual. Scanning doesn't take decades. Nor should translation. “The vast majority of Bahaullah's writings … don't contain significant teachings?” I guess that leaves “The vast majority of Bahaullah's significant works…” Is that where his teachings are? So the rest of the volumes of his works are insignificant, I suppose. But isn't that actually the vast majority of his writing? “God builds his temple in the heart on the ruins of churches and religions” wrote Emerson. The vast majority of what passes for the Bahai faith today supports that idea.

  • peyamb

    Oh THIS is really funny. So individual letters to recipients from the handwriting of the founder of the religion are insignificant. BUT, letters written on behalf of the great-grandson of the founder of the religion are consider law by the misinformed people inside the Bahai community who either run the show or have mindless followers. Which one are you?

  • SunWALKer

    Q. Where is the Revelation of Baha'u'llah?

    Ans: Manifestly in the consciousness of Baha'is and Baha'i-like souls and potentially in the challenges of becoming.

  • SunWALKer

    Q. Where is the Revelation of Baha'u'llah?

    Ans: Manifestly in the consciousness of Baha'is and Baha'i-like souls and potentially in the challenges of becoming.

  • RianJepson

    I've always enjoyed reading the bible but I never imagined that I would actually be able to do it from the original manuscript. Also, because it is placed in four different locations it would have been very difficult for me to see all of it. It's nice to see that, although it is conservative, the church uses modern technology to reach out to people.
    kingdom of god