compromising parchment science and professional integrity

Steven Avery

The professionals who work with manuscript science, the science of parchment conservation (e.g. IDAP) apparently accept the palaeographic dates that can be assigned and then verified by "textual criticism" or "politicized" palaeography ... without any recourse to the actual manuscript.

(In the papyri realm, the related issue of "theological palaeography" assigning dubious dates has been a recent controversy, however that only occasionally touched on the authenticity issue. It is in the authenticity realm that actual handling of the ms becomes extremely important, less so on the issue of whether a papyrus dated 250 AD might actually be 450. The concept of the non-symmetery of time chronology in palaeography does apply though in both cases, future scripts wll not be possible.)

In some cases this is not too much of a problem, there are no provenance issues, and the manuscript fits its mode well (e.g. a later medieval purple manuscript with a script matching). And in many cases, of course, the manuscript itself has been easily available in the libraries of Europe.

Sinaiticus in England looks old, in a sense, because it is "yellow with age" .. or "yellow with lemon-juice". The issues in England, the CSP, Codex Sinaiticus Petropolitanus section, are the amazing flexible, supple condition, that does not match manuscript science. And also the wide variance in colour and the stain factor. The CFA in Leipzig is simply white, which is an insoluble problem for manuscript theory. So call it "exceptional" and move on.

Sinaiticus, especially the CFA in Leipzig, apparently requires large hoops to see, which is puzzling since the manuscript is in excellent conservation. That can be seen in the British Library video, and based on the comment of the image specialist who worked on the CFA for the Codex Sinaiticus Project, Leipzig is the same. You would think that they would leave a leaf on display in a temperature-controlled case, my conjecture is that they want as little embarrassment as possible and only occasionally have an exhibit.

Now, when asked questions about the historic conservation, Leipzig arrogantly says "go to the CSP". Which says nothing. Thus the British Library people will talk of a Leipzig "cleaning" as one possibility for explaining the white parchment, and then backtrack and say maybe that was just surface dust taken off. Leipzig is mum .. they will say .. nothing. Leipzig planned real scientific studies, and then they were cancelled.

Sinaiticus is is "good conservation" .. it should have been questioned early and often and access sought (not just Morozov in St. Petersburg).

What we have had instead is a "perfect storm" of illusion. Starting from when Tischendorf utilized the facsimile for misdirection. Everybody thinks the other guy verified the manuscript satisfactorily. Few, or none, before 2009, even saw and handled the two parts of the manuscript. (We don't know of any from 1860 to 2009 other than Tischendorf and Lake who even saw the two parts, and they had vested interests. Skeat and Milne in England made the telling comment that Alexandrinus was "limp, dead" compared to Sinaiticus, and dropped the issue. It is possible they traveled to Germany, but offhand I do not remember such an action.)

Ironically, in his Memoir, Simonides used the superb conservation of Sinaiticus to argue that forgeries that he created could be thousands of years old even though the parchment or papyrus was in great shape. And how did he know the Sinaiticus parchment was in such superb shape in 1859? .... :) .... the answer is obvious ... the same reason that Tischendorf was concerned about the Sinaiticus "stories" when he was going to heist the manuscript. Personal involvement. Crafty fellow, that Simonides, he would use one dubious piece to support another.

Ironies abound.


Lots of people get hurt by this charade. A lot of times the emphasis is on the false textual theories of Hort that needed Sinaiticus to try to fly.

A simpler area that gets hurt are the professionals in parchment conservation and related fields. They now have to modify all their chemistry and science to allow that parchment does not really have to yellow, even with 1650 years of largely heavy use. Take really good parchment, like Sinaiticus, and it can stay "snow-white". This would be a hard position to take, so they are silent, while willfully deceived. Remember, though, that the IDAP people were called in to help with the study of what animal was involved. Were they concerned with the anomalies (they probably only saw England)? If so, not publicly.

Generally, they try to ignore this, but it is a type of scholastic blot on their profession and integrity. At the very least, they would want to study closely the ultra-"exceptional". And write a paper about what made Sinaiticus so "exceptional". However, so far, mums the word. The scientists and conservationists play "pretend".
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Steven Avery

[dm-l] the integrity of parchment conservation science requires palaeographic vigilance[/PLAIN]

[dm-l] the integrity of parchment conservation science requires palaeographic vigilance

Steven Avery steven.avery.ny at
Sun Apr 10 01:29:04 MDT 2016

April 10, 2016

Hi Digital Medievalist list,


Today, I would like to share some questions about a famous manuscript, one where the superb digitization project of 2009 (the year it was placed online), the Codex Sinaiticus Project, helped reveal some amazing elements. In a sense this very set of questions is a thank you to the digital contribution to manuscript study.

First, allow me to explain that the Codex Sinaiticus has a: highly problematical provenance with no substance before the 1840s allegations in the 1860s that Sinaiticus was a modern manuscript allegations in the 1860s that there had been colouring of the ms in the 1850s to make it look older creative and suspicious fabrications surround its discovery and procurement. And Sinaiticus has an unusual palaeographic dating history. The 4th-century date was pushed very aggressively, with minimal science, by its "discoverer" Constantine Tischendorf. This dating was quickly *set in stone* in textual circles by 1870-1880 despite various objections, minor and major. The palaeographic dating was based almost entirely on the pictures and descriptions in facsimile book editions, editions by Tischendorf that omitted salient facts about the manuscript's condition. Tischendorf also included lots of theorizing on soft evidences, the script (a standard easy-to-emulate script) and the textual components. Hardly anybody was actually viewing and handling the manuscript. This situation is still true today, except that the Codex Sinaiticus Project allowed for viewing the ms. online and included solid numerical representations about items like colour and thickness and numerous other features.

The digitization revealed the fact that the two sections of the manuscript were different, in ways that are major anomalies.

1844 - 43 leaves - Leipzig - Codex Friderico-Augustanus - pristine white parchment - all leaves the same colour

1859 - 347 leaves - St. Petersburg-->England-1933 - "yellow with age" - unusual colour variance in the leaves

A gentleman named David R. Smith has been studying Codex Fuldensis (it might be a couple of hundreds years later than commonly accepted) and made a salient comment:

"I do not trust palaeography to prove an old date, but I do trust it to disprove such a date. It is easy to imitate what is antique, but impossible to predict what will be novel."

Palaeography is a non-symmetrical discipline, in terms of time chronology. Some professional palaeographers, especially Brent Nongbri, have been making this point on the common early papyri dating, that the range of years is often far too restrictive (in that case the issue is usually a couple of hundred years of range.) And all the researchers involved in identifying forgeries and replicas are very aware of this basic fact. However, in Bible textual manuscript dating, it is often left out of view.

Here is one basic concern, parchment manuscripts yellow with age and use: Gavin Moorhead: The colour of parchment varies with animal type, making process and condition or state of decline. *New parchment can be near white but as it ages or is exposed to detrimental factors it will start to yellow* and go brown-black if left to degrade completely. The colour change can also be influenced by the type of degradation and degree of gelatinization Now we get to a key point.* Leipzig is white parchment*, it "forgot" to yellow. Overturning the known chemical processes that we can see on manuscript after manuscript. This was hidden from view publicly until after 2009, it was never mentioned in the Sinaiticus literature. (Porfiry Uspensky references this about the 1845 full manuscript before it was separated to two major sections, and Ernst von Dobschütz mentioned the Leipzig section as snow-white parchment in one publication in 1910.) And this was never mentioned in the context of all the literature about palaeographic dating, from Tischendorf to Lake to Skeat & Milne to Parker and others today.

*This white parchment anomaly alone should ring loud alarm bells, and should cause a full reappraisal of the dating of Sinaiticus*. Then you add the flexible and supple condition, and then you add the colouring discussed below.

Note that there had been tests planned on these Leipzig pages for April 2015 by BAM, * Bundesanstalt für Materialforschung und -prüfungin* in Berlin, a group which studied carefully the parchment and ink of the Dead Sea Scrolls. *The Leipzig University Library cancelled those plans*. Today, Leipzig does not want to discuss anything at all about the manuscript condition and history of conservation. (The British Library, to their credit, has engaged in open discussion, with various theories and conjectures about the unusual elements of the manuscript. Although for them the possibility of non-antiquity is an *elephant in the living room*.)

So where does this leave us today?
Here you can see the wonderful condition of Sinaiticus. Flexible, supple, not at all brittle.

The Codex Sinaiticus: The Oldest Surviving Christian New Testament - The Beauty of Books - BBC Four

Sinaiticus in some cases used as the exemplar for parchment and ink longevity. * If Sinaiticus is actually a modern production, the discipline and integrity of parchment conservation science is compromised. *Thus, even if textual critics, a somewhat cloistered group with their own peculiar areas of emphasis, are slow to consider the implications, the professionals in manuscript conservation and the related chemical sciences that are applied to manuscripts should have real concern.


Another major point. I have barely referenced the compelling evidence that *the British pages taken from Sinai in 1859 were coloured by hand, *perhaps using lemon-juice, matching the 1860s accusation. That was actually the first point that glared out at us as researchers. Why was there such a marked difference between Leipzig and the British Library pages? If you look at these two sites, you can learn a lot about the colouring.

Codex Sinaiticus Authenticity Research

Sinaiticus - authentic antiquity or modern?


One of the difficulties here is that the evidences are so simple, clear and compelling.
We find the very simplicity is difficult for those in the scholarly and academic realms!

All feedback from the manuscript experts, and all forum readers,


Steven Avery
Dutchess County, NY
SART - Sinaiticus Authenticity Research Team at
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