Harold Idris Bell - 1942 - defends binding by Cockerell properly ripped by Kirsopp Lake

Steven Avery

JSTOR - A Reply - Harold Idris Bell

These are on copyright, so I plan to use fair use extracts

Kirsopp Lake Review, Jan 1942

Plus I count about 15 possibly interesting articles with a search like this:

This could be done at a University Library.


27th April, 1942
To the Editor of “Classical Philology’’

In the issue of Classical Philology for January, 1942, appeared a valuable review by Prof. Kirsopp Lake of Scribes and Correctors of the Codex Sinaiticus by H. J. M. Milne and T. C. Skeat, published by the Trustees of the British Museum. I should be grateful if you would allow space in which to reply to one criticism which the reviewer levels, not indeed against the authors of the book in question, but against the policy of the British Museum in the binding of the Codex.

I should like, however, first to express the appreciation which the two authors, no less than myself, feel for Prof. Kirsopp Lake’s review. It was, if I may say so, by far the most helpful and constructive notice which the volume has so far received, and such dissentient criticism as it contains of views expressed by Messrs. Milne and Skeat will be very carefully considered by them.

It is in regard to the binding of the Codex that Prof. Kirsopp Lake’s opinions seem especially to call for an answer; and since I was Keeper of the Manuscripts at the time of the acquisition and in that capacity advised the Trustees to have the manuscript bound, I feel that it is on me that the duty falls of stating the case for this policy.

After quoting the authors’ remark that “the process of binding would present such an opportunity for examining the book, both from the technical and paleographical standpoint, as would never occur again,” Prof. Kirsopp Lake writes: “Why, after enjoying this opportunity themselves, have they acquiesced in the policy of rebinding the Codex and so prevented all others from seeing it under the same advantageous conditions? To me, at least, it seems certain that a codex such as the Sinaiticus ought not to be bound but kept in a box. This was the policy of the librarian at Leningrad, and the result was that I was able to photograph it under favorable conditions.”

It is undeniably true that for certain purposes it is more convenient to handle unbound leaves than a bound volume. But Prof. Kirsopp Lake seems to forget that this is but one side of the position; he ignores another, and in my view even more important, responsibility of a librarian. A librarian’s first duty is surely that of conservation: he is responsible for seeing that the treasures committed to his care are preserved safely for the use not merely of contemporary scholars but of an indefinite number of future generations. Only subject to that over-riding responsibility can he make a volume accessible to any individual student or for any particular purpose. Now from this point of view I do not think that there can be any doubt as to which is the preferable policy. The leaves of the Codex Sinaiticus are extremely thin and often very brittle. At every handling there was a risk that portions of the edges would break away, and the vellum was constantly tending to “cockle” and the corners to turn inwards. Moreover it is very much more difficult to guarantee the safety of single leaves than of a bound volume. A collection of unbound leaves must be carefully counted (which, given the fallibility of man, means in effect counting at least twice) every time it is used, and both before and after issue to a reader. And the risk of the theft or loss of single leaves, even while they are reposing in their box, is considerably greater than with a bound volume. I may remind Prof. Kirsopp Lake that when he saw the Codex in Leningrad he was still able to photograph some scraps from Genesis and Numbers. These scraps never reached the British Museum. It is possible that they are still at Leningrad, but I have no information on this point, and we must, I fear, provisionally allow for their disappearance at some date between the photographing and the sale to the British Museum.

There is another consideration on which I would lay no great stress, for it is of a less ponderable kind than the risk of physical loss; but it is worth mentioning and is not without weight for any librarian or bibliophil. The Codex Sinaiticus is not just an article, a mere tool of textual criticism; it is a book, of venerable age and hallowed by its history and associations. It was bound in antiquity and later rebound at least once, and it was by a mere accident of fortune that it came into Tischendorf’s hands as a collection of loose leaves. To bind it, even in its imperfect state, with all the skill of the best modern craftsmanship (and Mr. Douglas Cockerell’s competence and taste are everywhere acknowledged), will seem to many an act of piety.

I do not forget that, as Prof. Kirsopp Lake remarks, the librarian at Leningrad did not bind the Codex. It is not for me to criticise the Russian authorities, particularly as I do not know whether their policy was temporary only or intended to be permanent. I can only say that each librarian must settle his own problems to the satisfaction of his own conscience. It seems likely that demands for access to the Codex will be more frequent, and the risks of loss or damage consequently greater, in London than at Leningrad. I cannot expect Prof. Kirsopp Lake, whose case is, from his own point of view, unanswerable, to agree with the decision of the Trustees, but I ask him to believe that that decision was not taken without full consideration of various points of view. It is perhaps the greatest of human difficulties that we are so often confronted with a conflict of responsibilities, one of which must be sacrificed to the other; and librarians are no more exempt than their fellow men from this problem.

I am, Sir,

Yours truly,
H. Idris Bell
Keeper of Manuscripts

Department op Manuscripts
British Museum London,
W.C. 1
Book Reviews

Scribes and Correctors of the Codex Sinaiticus.
By H. J. M. Milne and T. C. Skeat.
Published by the Trustees of the British Museum, 1938.

The Codex Sinaiticus was acquired from the Monastery of Mount Sinai by the Czar, through his representative, Constantine Tischendorf, under conditions which have never been fully cleared up. It was published by Tischendorf and, more recently, in photographic facsimile by myself; and it remained safely in the great public library in Leningrad until 1933, when, after rather prolonged negotiations, it was sold by the government of the U.S.S.R.

The reason for the sale has not always been.quite understood. The Russian government needed money, of course, but it was willing to let go this great Codex because it is trying to concentrate its powers on the collection of manuscripts belonging to peoples more closely associated with its past history. Thus, for example, Leningrad and Moscow have become primarily collectors of Slavonic manuscripts, while their Georgian codices have been sent to Tiflis and their Armenian to Etchmiadzin. Greek manuscripts, being non-Russian, were regarded as suitable for trading purposes, to obtain money which was badly needed for the renovation of libraries and museums.

Thus the Codex Sinaiticus came on the market. It was offered to at least one American library, but the price asked was too high. Ultimately, the highest bidder was the British Museum. The Codex reached London on December 27, 1933, and the present volume by Milne and Skeat, prepared on the basis of a study of the manuscript in its new home, is a magnificent example of exact scholarship and lucid exposition.

The most permanent contribution of Milne and Skeat to paleography will probably be the new light they have thrown on the importance of the ornamentation which goes with the subscriptions of the individual books. Their contention is that the coronis is so fixed an element in the method of each scribe that it amounts to a signature. This section of their works seems to me to be most convincing and provides a clue for the identification of scribal schools which will be enormously valuable.

But more spectacular is a discovery by the use of the ultraviolet lamp. Tischendorf always thought that the last verse of John looked unnatural and believed that it was written by a different scribe, inferring that it was missing in the original text. The opinion of other scholars who had seen the Codex was, on the whole, adverse to Tischendorf’s view, though they agreed that there was something queer in the appearance of that verse. Milne and Skeat, plus the ultraviolet lamp, have solved the problem. It is now absolutely certain that the last verse of the Gospel was omitted and a coronis added to show the end had been reached—but the original scribe noted the omission, washed out what he had drawn, and put in the missing verse. There can be no further doubt on the subject. Tischendorf’s insight has been remarkably confirmed; but, of course, the omission of the verse has now no critical importance. It was merely a scribal error, corrected immediately.

On two points the treatment given the Codex by the British Museum seems to me to be open to criticism. It reached London in the same condition as it was in when Tischendorf saw it on Mount Sinai and I saw it in Leningrad—unbound. The editors say: “Since the process of binding would present such an opportunity for examining the book, both from the technical and palaeographical standpoint, as would never occur again, it was decided that the entire description given in Tischendorf s great edition should be compared afresh with the original.” The new comparison has not been reprinted, but the main results are given in this book. The complete comparison has merely been handed over to the editors of the Cambridge Septuagint and the Oxford "New Tischendorf.”

This seems to me to be unfortunate. The two editors, Dr. Milne and Dr. Skeat, are among the most competent in the world, but they are human. Questions will surely arise which, as they admit, can be investigated only when the leaves are loose. Why, after enjoying this opportunity themselves, have they acquiesced in the policy of rebinding the Codex and so prevented all others from seeing it under the same advantageous conditions? To me, at least, it seems certain that a codex such as the Sinaiticus ought not to be bound but kept in a box. This was the policy of the librarian at Leningrad, and the result was that I was able to photograph it under favorable conditions.

It is also a pity that the British Museum made no effort, so far as is known, to complete this publication by a study of the leaves which are in Leipzig. These are in some ways the most important of all, because they have been so thoroughly corrected and because of their close connection with the Codex Pamphili. When I published the photographic facsimile of the Codex Sinaiticus I included the Leipzig leaves, and surely the editors of the present volume could have gone to Leipzig for a week to complete their study. German scholars, before the war, were always hospitable, and there could have been no difficulty.

Moreover, in merely handing over their corrections to the editors of the Septuagint at Cambridge and of the “New Tischendorf” at Oxford, Milne and Skeat (or more probably the trustees of the British Museum) have missed a chance of really benefiting students of the Septuagint and the New Testament. The paleographical commentary on the Codex which Tischendorf published was one of the most perfect examples that have ever been published of what such a commentary should be. But it is now almost unattainable and very expensive. To have republished it with Milne’s and Skeat’s corrections and notations would have given us a great book, and it ought not to have been terribly expensive. To pass these corrections over to be incorporated in the Cambridge Septuagint or in the “New Tischendorf” merely means that in future we must take the opinion of the editors of these books, instead of being given the evidence.

The problems concerning the Codex—apart from its textual value—are in the main three: (1) Where was it written? (2) How many scribes wrote it? (3) How often was it corrected?


The provenance of the Codex has recently been dealt with by Rendel Harris, Lagrange, and myself. Lagrange discussed the point in an article in the Revue biblique for 1926 (pp. 91 IT.), but his argument is merely that, since the manuscript was in Caesarea in the sixth century, it probably was written there.

Rendel Harris first discussed the matter in a paper, never published in full, which he read to the University Philological Association in Baltimore in 1884, but he elaborated the theme in a lecture given in Oxford in 1893 and published his argument in an appendix to his very valuable book on stichometry. Some of his points cannot be appreciated without a full discussion of Euthalius, which, in turn, cannot be undertaken until we have a proper critical edition of Euthalius. But his main contention is that Euthalius was connected with Caesarea and that the Codex Vaticanus was connected both with Euthalius and with the Codex Sinaiticus. Therefore, (Aleph) and B and Euthalius all came from Caesarea. Moreover, he argued that a mistake in Matt. 13:54 indicates that the Codex Sinaiticus comes from Caesarea.

(continues - available online)

Kirsopp Lake

Steven Avery


Today I would like to share a little aside about the celebrated book-binding of Sinaiticus done by Douglas Bennett Cockerell (1870-1945) of the British Museum in the 1930s.

One place where the comments were clear-cut were in a review by Kirsopp Lake (1872-1946), who was very well informed on the ms., having photographed Sinaiticus in London and Leipzig, and published in 1911 and 1922.

The excerpts will be from:

<cite>Classical Philology</cite>
Reviewed Work: <cite>Scribes and Correctors of the Codex Sinaiticus</cite> by H. J. M. Milne, T. C. Skeat
Review by: Kirsopp Lake
<cite></cite>Vol. 37, No. 1 (Jan., 1942), pp. 91-96

Harold Idris Bell (1879-1967) gave a response, but it was rather milquetoast and unconvincing.
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Steven Avery

A related article, needs JSTOR access.
THE BINDING OF THE CODEX SINAITICUS https://www.jstor.org/stable/4421879?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents THE Codex when received consisted of detached sections and a number of single leaves. The 'vellum', which a vellum-maker considers to consist of sheepskin much scraped and rubbed down, is very thin and curls persistently towards the hair side. The sections, with the eight leaves arranged with the hair side facing hair side and flesh side flesh side, and fastened together, werepricked right through as a guide to the ruling. The ruling was done with a point right across two leaves on the flesh side only, leaving an indented line on that side and a very slightly raised line on the hair side. There is evidence of at least two bindings; the first was sewn with a single thread of loosely twisted hemp. This first binding must have come apart, as at some subsequent time numerous leaves that had become detached were roughly overcast by fine hempen thread used double, on to neighbouring sections. The overcasting was over the earlier glue at the backs of the sections and little regard was paid to the original gathering. The overcast sections were sewn with double hempen thread
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