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Father gifts ancient biblical texts

Nov. 12, 2010

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Daniel Cernero | Photo Editor
David White, senior lecture in the Classic Department, Woodlands junior Lance Forsythe, and Amery, Wisc. senior Amanda Swenson look over a copy of the Codex Sinaiticus Tuesday in Morrison Hall.

By Jade Mardirosian
Staff Writer

Baylor was presented Tuesday with two copies of what is described as the world's oldest manuscript of the Bible.

The two facsimiles are of the Codex Sinaiticus, which is written in Greek and includes the oldest complete copy of the New Testament.

One facsimile will be given to George W. Truett Theological Seminary and the other will be given to the classics department.

Father Justin of the St. Catherine monastery at Mount Sinai in Egypt gifted the facsimiles to Baylor.

Fr. Justin is the only American who has ever been accepted into the monastic community at St. Catherine, which is the oldest working Christian monastery in existence.

Fr. Justin described the Codex as the most authoritative text for a number of the books of the Septuagint -- the Old Testament in Greek.

The two copies are the result of the Codex Sinaiticus Digitization Project, which is an international collaboration effort to reunite the entire manuscript, which is currently held by the British Library in London, the Library of the University of Leipzig, the State Library of Russia in St. Petersburg and Saint Catherine's Monastery.

The project takes high-resolution digital images of the leaves of the Codex in order to create a life-like view of the pages, allowing the Codex to be accessed by a global audience for the first time.

Through this project, all surviving parts of the manuscript have been published together for the first time.

Fr. Justin's personal connections to Baylor served a vital role in his decision to gift the university with these copies of the Codex.

Both of his parents attended Baylor before becoming missionaries in South America.

His father studied Greek in the classics department, resulting in his decision to give the classics department one of the two facsimiles.

Dr. Jeff Fish, associate professor of classics, said he believes Fr. Justin also chose Baylor for its academic approach to the Bible.

"I think he is impressed with the fact that at Baylor there is both an enthusiasm for the Bible and an earnest dedication to learning its context," Fish said. "He believes this gift will help students in better understanding the story of the Bible. We are quite honored that Fr. Justin would come all this way in order to present these to Baylor."

Fish adds that this is a marvelous gift that serves as an act of love for what Baylor gave to his parents. Fish said the Codex is significant because it provides a more accurate copy and reading of the Greek Bible than is had elsewhere. "Students here can now understand the history of the Bible much better and in a kind of face-to-face way that they couldn't have otherwise," Fish said. "I think it also established a kind of connection between us and St. Catherine's, which is one of the great witnesses to Christianity over the ages." Dr. Timothy Heckenlively, lecturer in the department of classics, believes having a copy of the Codex is very powerful. "One of the greatest gifts this brings is that students would be able to look and touch the reproduction and have a chance to connect with their Christian heritage," Heckenlively said. "That's a huge thing to bring to Baylor."

Fish said the facsimiles will be accessible by students to work with and use for assignments and anyone is encouraged to stop by and view the replica. The facsimiles are not yet completed and are expected to arrive at Baylor in the middle of December. Fr. Justin brought some pages from the copy of the Codex to the lecture he gave Tuesday in Morrison Hall to announce the donation.

"It's amazing. Every detail on the page can be seen," Heckenlively said. "It's just beautiful, and when you see a piece of history like this and connect with it, it makes things immediate and real." Fish said he was particularly moved by the students' reaction to the gift. "It was remarkable to see the students afterwards wanting to look at some of the pages that Fr. Justin brought with him," Fish said. "They were all amazed at the beauty of the page and were spending time trying to decipher the different hands of the scribes in the manuscript."