notes on the Kevin McGrane paper - review of Bill Cooper

Steven Avery

comments from James Keith Elliott and the British Library

in the introduction

British Library

Introduction p. 3

'aware of the ongoing doubts and concerns about the dating of this extraordinary manuscript.'3

3 private correspondence
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Steven Avery

Constantine Simonides - p. 47-70

This will first be a quick run through.

p. 47-49 is stuff we know, through Kevin's glasses. He does emphasize the change of years of visiting Sinai in the Simonides account.

108 In this letter there is the one visit in 1852. In a subsequent letter there is another visit, in 1844. In yet another letter there is a third visit of unspecified date. This is all pure invention, but is poking fun at Tischendorf, who made three visits to St Catherine's. Simonides times his (imaginary') 1844 visit just days before Tischendorf's 1844 visit to sharpen the coincidence. Simonides is also parodying Tischendorf's idea that the Codex would make a wonderful present to the Tsar by weaving into his tale that it was his (imaginary') uncle Benedict's idea to make it a gift for the Tsar twenty' years previously. - p. 49

This has the silly claim from Kevin of Benedict being "imaginary". Refuted by numerous evidences, and the writing of Kevin McGrane! Maybe he is only claiming that the "idea" was imaginary, with the word misplaced, which would be shoddy mind-reading non-scholarship.

And again he misplays the idea that the Codex would be for the Tsar, which is eminently sensible, as "parodying", that goes with the earlier ultra-dubious phrase, "deep irony" on p. 45.

We should have a special section on the question of replica or forgery, enterprise, or deception:

105 Later Tregelles would write to The Guardian newspaper against those who gave credence to Simonides that 'Whoever pretends that Cod. Sinaiticus can be modern, virtually asserts that it was intended to deceive'. ... p. 48

The folks defending Sinaiticus authenticity make the same mistake today as was made in the 1860s. If the motives of the Athos crew and/or Simonides were not crystal pure, if they intended to deceive, that does not help Sinaiticus authenticity.

109 The Codex was not in the library open to visitors and scholars, and it would not have been shown to a traveller such as Simonides, since the sacristan, Vitaly, was under strict advice from Uspensky not to do so. By this date Uspensky had studied the Codex in great detail, both in 1845 and 1850, and certainly would have been able to tell whether it had been written as recently as 1840! - p. 49

Here we have a total logic fail from Kevin McGrane. There is no way to show how the "strict advice" of a Russian churchman 2,000 miles away actually affected the daily life in Sinai. Maybe the advice was taken, maybe it was ignored. Maybe it was followed for a year. Maybe the monks liked to scribble there own notes and corrections, in Greek and Arabic. And the manuscript really has some weird scrawls that could easily be c. 1850.

And clearly, if Simonides was familiar with the manuscript, and had been involved in its production and delivery, that would obviate any possible conjectured prohibition.

110 In a separate letter Simonides states that when he saw it in 1844 and 1852 it contained the whole Pentateuch entire. - p. 49

This needs a quote reference, to see exactly what was said. This may be a McGrane extrapolation.

111 There are grounds to doubt that it was as far back as 1860 since as late as December 13,1861 Simonides wrote the The Athenaeum (see issue December 21,1861, p.849), 'It is to be regretted that you see no cause for thankfulness to God in the discovery of the earliest MSS. of the New Testament extant; and I fear Mr. Tischendorf came in for a share of your animadversions for the praise which he offered to God for his discovery of the 'Codex Sinaiticus.' - p.49-50

This was published, with a spot of irony, by Simonides in the

Periplus of Hannon

and the context was likely simply to support his manuscripts, in a manner similar to the 1859 bio reference to the Sinai manuscript (which Kevin puts in a footnote on p. 57.) The reports that Simonides was talking about the Sinaiticus ms. in 1860 are well-supported by his England friends.

Amazingly, Kevin McGrane does not once mention the concerns that Tischendorf expressed, in his letter to his wife, about the stories from Simonides. Written while Tischendorf was whizzing along to heist the manuscript in 1859. This strongly supports the idea that the buzz in England was even earlier than January, 1859.


Then Kevin returns to the Jonas King issues of 1846, which we discuss here:

is the ad hominem component relevant to the Sinaiticus authenticity question? - emphasis on Jonas King, 1846

This takes us all the way to p. 53, where the claim has some irony:

However, Simonides' mastery of written Greek came much later than would appear to be indicated by his newspaper smear campaign articles, for he was still incapable of writing these articles in the 1840s entirely from his own resources. Tracing this back, we find that the monks at the Panteleimon monastery judged that when he arrived there in November 1839,

He was a poor boy, who could, of course, write Greek, but not much more.124 p. 53-54

Now we are saying that the articles were not really from Simonides? That it was a put-up job? This would negate much of the accusation against Simonides.

However, perhaps his Greek was extremely good, like his calligraphy skills, and this was downplayed at the monastery.

Next, p. 54 continues with more Athos reporting on Simonides, we can consider that later, comparing to material omitted and what David W. Daniels has discovered about Benedict, Simonides and Kallinikos and the Russico monastery.

And then p. 55 goes into a description from Alexandras Lykourgos, quite interesting, and we will stop for one quote:

he quite keenly felt his weakness in style, because many mistakes and solecisms escaped his pen.

Since Sinaiticus is full of blunders and solecisms and bad spelling, "many obvious blunders" even per Tischendorf, much less yet John William Burgon, this is an argument more for the Simonides participation in the manuscript than for the alternative of a professional scriptorium of the 300s.

On p. 56, Kevin returns, yet again, to the Jonas King affair, and the fact that Simonides remained anti-evangelical. Bill Cooper, btw, refers to how Simonides did not really care much about scripture (unmentioned by Kevin, but I really do not want to spend much time getting on minor issues between the two.)


Next on p. 57, Kevin attacks the first sentence of the account from Simonides:

About the end of the year 1839, the venerable Benedict, my uncle, spiritual head of the monastery of the holy martyr Panteleemon in Mount Athos, wished to present to the Emperor Nicholas I., of Russia, some gift from the sacred mountain, in grateful acknowledgment of the presents which had from time to time been offered to the monastery of the martyr. - p 57

This is a Cooper-McGrane back and forth, but McGrane does not help himself with a really dumb analogy attempt:

Dr Cooper protests that there is solid evidence that Simonides and Benedict really were at the Panteleimon monastery at Mount Athos in 1839, which fact he presents as indicative of the truthfulness of the whole of Simonides' claimed account of production of the Codex; but that is as fallacious as claiming that because jonas King really did hold Protestant services at his house in Athens in 1847, then this is indicative of the truthfulness of Simonides' claimed eyewitness accounts of orgies thereat.

McGrane totally missses the point. The opponents of Simonides were in fact saying that the Athos story was a total fabrication, that there was no Benedict or Kallinikos, and thus the evidences that there were actually working together at the right time and place, and resources, to make Sinaiticus, is extremely salient.

No one doubts that in late 1839 Simonides was at the Panteleimon monastery, as was Benedict, a hierodeacon and a teacher,

Not today, since the evidence has validated what Simonides says, but in the early 1860s, this was attacked. Again, Kevin argues anachronistically, assuming now that everyone knew then what we know today (e.g. the Spyridon Lampros catalog of 1895-1900.)

but Benedict was never at any time the spiritual head of that monastery; neither was he Simonides' uncle. Yet Simonides

No one doubts today that Benedict was a type of overseer (or uncle, depending on cultural usage, perhaps he was a more distant family member) to Simonides, Kevin even includes that information. As for parsing the Greek words for hierodeacon, abbo, etc. and being concerned of his exact position in the monastery, all of this is much ado about very little.

If this is the basis of attacking Simonides, it is rather a big nothing.

Next on p. 58, Kevin goes over the history of Hegumen Gerasim, and the question of who Robert Curzon met at the monastery. Even if he described Gerasim, he may well have met with Benedict, who has his own distinguished background.

There are many Greek words and positions involved, and I have very little confidence that Kevin McGrane really has this difficult angle of Greek monastery culture analysis figured out fully.

Ironically, Kevin really says nothing about the distinguished Benedict, about whom David W. Daniels studies and discusses:

His early name was Basileion, then Bessarion (Vissarion), then Benedict as a monk on Athos. Benedict composed a famous hymn to the virgin that is still sung today. ... his teaching activities, the group behind the schools, the city, the rebellion, the overrunning by Turkish forces, the war, the reason for creating the Sinaiticus....

On p. 60 Kevin switches to a historical account of Athos by Uspensky.

Then he goes to other historians who, ironically, confirm the essentials of the Simonides story by pointing out that Benedict had an important position:

'... Parfeny also describes in detail Abbot Gerasim and Deacon Venediktos [=Benedict] of St Panteleimon, Father-Confessor Ieronim, Prior Akaky of the Prophet Elijah Skete and a number of Russian ascetics on Athos, all of whom he knew personally.' ... Ageev (Aggeev) describes the day that the Russian monks were admitted (November 21,1839) and the roles of hierodeacon Benedict and the hegumen Gerasim. ... The abbot of the same, elder Gerasim, and the pious elderly teacher [= Benedict?] ... 1860); St Panteleimon Monastery: PyccKiu AeoncKiu omevHuia>XlX-XX etbKOffb Vol.l, (2012); Alexey Afanasievich Dmitrievsky ... (Kiev, 1906). See Chapter 4 especially for details of hegumen Gerasim and hierodeacon Benedict ... Uspensky also mentions the late hierodeacon Benedict. p. 60

The Monastic Magnet: Roads to and from Mount Athos (2008)
Parfeny Aggeev and Russian Pilgrimage to Mount Athos
Nicholas Fennell


Kevin McGrane is so concerned about possible quibbles that he does not realize that he has basically supported the high position of Benedict at the monastery. Thanks! Appreciate your digging up the materials.

(Later, I hope to back and show you the ridicule of the Tischendorf support crew of the 1860s attacking the very existence of Benedict.)

Then there is the account of monk Parfeny Ageev (Aggeev), who was at the Panteleimon monastery at exactly the same time as Simonides (1839-41), and wrote copious details (published in 1855) about hegumen Gerasim and hierodeacon Benedict. Parfeny twice records that Benedict was 106 years on his last appearance before his death,139 and thus Benedict was about 90 years the senior of Simonides.

Kevin embarrasses himself with more quibbling over "uncle", and does not even seem to realize that great-uncles are often called uncles, quite properly. And even unrelated individuals can take on an "uncle-type" relationship, the children of my business partner are encouraged to call me "Uncle Steven".

Simonides' tale that Benedict was his mother's brother was thus patent nonsense p. 61 ... The impossibility that Benedict was his mother's brother is of course evident from their ages: when Benedict was a centenarian Simonides was a teenager. p. 63

In fact, we have shoddy research from Kevin McGrane, just to try to make a quibble attack, since the biographical memoir of 1859, written before the public Sinaiticus controversies, says quite specifically:

Stewart, p. 3 Biographical Memoir:
Having pursued his studies for some time in the latter city, and not having received any intelligence of his family, owing to the unsettled condition of the country and other causes, he visited the island of Calauria, expecting to find there his relative Benedict, the uncle of his mother.

Kevin continues in Attempted Quibble Mode, next attacking:

But Benedict, as well as the principals of the monastery, wishing to recognize with gratitude the munificence of the Emperor Nicholas...decided that a transcript of the Sacred Scriptures should be made in the ancient style, and presented as a gift for the Emperor Nicholas, and he found that all the heads of the monastery perfectly agreed with him. Accordingly, having again revised the books ready for publication, and first Genesis, he gave it to me to transcribe.

Yet he offers no evidence against this, and it is a defacto acknowledgement that Benedict was not an authoritarian head of the monastery, but simply (a major) part of the monastery team.

Then Kevin attacks an explanation given by Cooper:

'a gift to Tsar Nicholas I of Russia in appreciation for his many kindnesses toward the Mount Athos monastery' (p.29),

which is not part of the Simonides explanation, and thus quite irrelevant. Kevin follows that up with a chronology quibble, which actually demonstrates the closer connection to Russia at exactly the right time:

Some Russians were admitted during the 1830s, but due to difficulties were asked to leave again, and not re-admitted until November 1839, the same month that Simonides arrived. The monastery itself did not agree to accept alms from Russia until 1841,142 and sent out hieromonk Arseny in 1842 to gather support, by which time Simonides was gone. - p. 62

So at almost the exact same time that "alms from Russia" were approved, the idea of a manuscript for a printing press was moving along. Kevin is actually supporting the Simonides account! And once again in footnote 142:

The 'Russico' Panteleimon monastery especially was under Ottoman suspicion of having secret relations with Russia, and it was far too dangerous to accept funds from the Russian nobility while under the jurisdiction of the Ottomans, at least until the 1840s. p. 62

And 1840-41 is exactly when this manuscript to the Tsar action occurred!


Now, at the bottom of p. 62, Kevin switches gears to the press debates beginning in 1862. And then some comments from the monastery trying to distance themselves from Simonides and the Sinaiticus question (essentially, they were being accused of running a forgery ring, and said, if anything happened, it was rogue operatives.)

This goes on to p. 65 and we can look at it more in pass two.


Next. The Zosimas Moscow Bible!

147 Simonides in his letter to The Guardian claimed to have used as his text the Moscow edition of the Bible (which for the New Testament was Textus Receptus) that Benedict had collated 'with the ancient ones and cleared it of many errors'. Subsequently, Simonides specified these as three ancient copies, plus Codex Alexandrinus, and a Syriac version. He still could not have produced the text of Codex Sinaiticus from these, but what tricks was was 'learned Benedict' up to tinkering with the Scriptures on behalf of the monastery? And more pointedly, in the article to which the Panteleimon monastery were responding, the argument by Tischendorf against Simonides' claimed provenance had been set out, which indicated the gross indecency of sending such a codex as a present to the Tsar as the defender of Orthodoxy, since due to the thousands of changes from the Textus Receptus, the resulting text of Codex Sinaiticus would appear to the Tsar as promoting 'gross heresies', which could not but reflect very badly on the monastery. - p. 64
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