Thursday, April 09, 2009

Sisters of Sinai: Book of the Week

Radio 4 this week is serializing a reading of Janet Soskice's book Sisters of Sinai (March 2009: Chatto & Windus) as Book of the Week in Women's Hour.

Here's a description of the book:
"Sisters of Sinai" tells an extraordinary tale of nineteenth century exploration; how two Scottish sisters made one of the most important ancient manuscript finds of the age. Hidden in a cupboard beneath the monastic library at St Catherine's in the Sinai desert the twins discovered what looked like a palimpsest: one text written over another. It was Agnes who recognized the obscured text for what it was - one of the earliest copies of the Gospels written in ancient Syriac. Once they had overcome the stubborn reluctance of Cambridge scholars to authenticate the find and had lead an expedition of quarrelsome academics back to Sinai to copy it, Agnes and Margaret - in middle years and neither with any university qualifications - embarked on a life of demanding scholarship and bold travel. In this enthralling book, Janet Soskice takes the reader on an astonishing journey from the Ayreshire of the sisters' childhood to the lost treasure trove of the Cairo genizah. We trace the footsteps of the intrepid pair as they voyage to Egypt, Sinai and beyond, Murray's guide book in hand coping with camels, unscrupulous dragomen, and unpredictable welcomes. We enter the excitement and mystery of the Gospel origins at a time when Christianity was under attack in Europe. Crucially this is the story of two remarkable women who, as widows, were undeterred in their spirit of adventure and who overcame insuperable odds to become world class scholars with a place in history.


rick allen said...

Which manuscript did they discover?

Deirdre said...

A 4th Century Syriac text of the gospels called the Sinai Palimpsest.
See the original accounts at


rick allen said...

Is that the source identified in the UBS Greek New Testament Introduction as syr[superscript]s?

I am curious partly because I began trying to read through a Peshitta version published by an outfit called "The Aramaic Scriptures Research Society," titled "The New Covenant Commonly Called the New Testament: Peshitta Aramaic Text With a Hebrew Translation," which purports to be an edition of the Peshitta in a standard pointed Hebrew square script alphabet on left pages with a Hebrew translation on the right.

I am a pure amateur, but have some middling grasp of biblical Greek and Hebrew, and hope to make my way through Matthew Aramaic this year.

I am curious, if you know, whether (1) the version I am working with is what a scholar would consider a "respectable" text of the Peshitta and (2) what the relationship is between the standard Peshitta text and the above-reference syr-s?


Deirdre said...

Yes. Syr[superscript]s is the palimpsest manuscript discovered by Agnes Smith Lewis at the Monastery of St Catherine in 1892 & published in 1894.

There is another Old Syriac version of the Four Gospels, Syr[superscript]c, called Curetonian Syriac in the British Library (edited by William Cureton). While both these texts are copies, their underlying text could go back to the second century. Metzger thinks that the Sinaitic Syriac represents an earlier text than the Curetonian.

The Peshitta version of the Syriac text comes into being around the beginning of the 5th Century, perhaps to supplant the Old Syriac tradition above. Your text seems to be related to this manuscript tradition.

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