Robert Lewis Dabney astutely questions uncial dating - Sinaiticus early dating reasons analysed and shown to be insufficient

Steven Avery

Some of these points were made by Johann Michaelis and P. C. Sense. And are quite fundamental.

Sister threads:

Bernard Janin Sage (P. C. Sense) questions great uncial dating edifice

Robert Lewis Dabney astutely questions uncial dating - Sinaiticus early dating reasons analysed and shown to be insufficient

Johann David Michaelis and the dating of Codex Alexandrinus.

Some formatting for readability and lists added.

The Doctrinal Various Readings of the New Testament Greek (1870)
Robert Lewis Dabney

This article appeared in the Southern Presbyterian Review for April, 1871, reviewing:
  1. Novum Testamentum Græce et Latine. Carolus Lachmannus. Berlin: 1832, 1842.
  2. Tregelles on the Printed Text of the Greek New Testament. London: Bagster. 1854.
  3. Novum Testamentum Græce. Edited by Constantine Tischendorf. Leipsic: 1862.
  4. Authorized English Version of the New Testament, with Introduction and Various Readings from the three most celebrated Manuscripts of the Original Greek Text. By C. Tisehendorf. Tauchnitz Edition. Leipsic: 1869.
  5. Bibliorum Codex Sinait. Petropolitanus Fac Simile. By Constantine Tischendorf. (Imperial Edition, Folio.) St. Petersburg. A.D. 1862.
Why does he [Lachmann] conclude that the Vatican, the Alexandrine, the Cambridge, the Codex Ephremi, are ancient MSS., while none of the Byzantine are? Why, that the splendid and venerable Latin codex of Brescia was interpolated from the (worthless) Byzantine Greek, while the codex of Vercelli is more trusworthy? None of these codices have a continuous, authentic, known history. He proceeds only upon internal evidence. It is not now to our purpose to inquire whether Lachmann conjectures right or wrong; his ground of selection is but conjecture. This charge is eminently true concerning the age which they are pleased to assign to those Greek MSS. which they recommend to us as most venerable: the Vatican, the Alexandrine, and now the Sinai. It is expressly admitted that neither of these has an extant history. No documentary external evidence exists as to the names of the copyists who transcribed them, the date, or the place of their writing. Nobody knows whence the Vatican MS. came to the pope's library, or how long it has been there. Nobody ventures to affirm whether Cyril Lucaris brought the so-called Alexandrine MS. to London from Alexandria, or from the monasteries of Mt. Athos. Tischendorf himself was unable to trace the presence of his favorite codex, in the monastery of St. Catherine on Mt. Horeb, by external witnesses higher than the twelfth century. [SA: this would be some Tischendorf disinformation] Their early date is confessedly assigned them by conjecture (conjectura: a casting together) of internal marks. It may be rightly assigned, yet by conjecture. Why, then, may not the antiquity of some single readings be correctly assigned by similar evidence?


We have hitherto seemed to admit the full claims of the Sinaitic, Vatican, and Alexandrine MSS. to a great antiquity. But let {p. 369} us now advert to the grounds on which the experts rest those claims; we shall find them, according to their own showing, far from conclusive. As we remarked, none of these codices have an authentic external history; their antiquity is inferred wholly from internal marks. Those marks are so nearly common to them all, that we may, with sufficient correctness, take that statement of them made by Tischendorf for his Sinai MSS. in his Prolegomena to the imperial edition, as an example of all.

The monastery of St. Catharine, on Mt. Horeb, is supposed to have been founded by the Emperor Justinian, A.D. 530; and Tischendorf would fain persuade himself that this venerable MS. was a part of the endowment originally bestowed upon it by its royal founder; and that it was one of the fifty MSS. provided by Eusebius of Caesarea for the Emperor Constantine. There is no external mark of its age save that it was there, and was handled by some of the monks in the twelfth century. Its internal marks of age are the following:

It is written, not only in uncial Greek characters, but in that species of uncials found in the Vatican MS., and in some classical MSS. on papyrus found in Herculaneum.

It has scarcely any marks of punctuation.

It has four columns on each page (the largest folios, next to it, having but three,) and Tischendorf thinks, with Hug, that this marks such MSS. as belonging to the age when the old rolled parchments were just going out of fashion; because it is supposed the copyists who were adopting the new fashion would seek to propitiate the reader's eye, by making as many columns as possible present themselves ad aperturam on the two faces of the two contiguous leaves.

It resembles the oldest biblical MSS. in their antiquated spelling, inflection of words, and order of several books.

It has the Ammonian chapters, and the Eusebian canons; yet it is conceded they may have been added by another hand than the copyist's.

It contains the Epistle of Barnabas (so-called), and the Pastor Hermas, from which it is inferred that the copyist regarded these two spurious pieces as belonging to the canon of Scripture. Now it is supposed that their claim to that place was exploded before the end of the fourth century, because the Council of Laodicea in A.D. 364, and of Carthage in 397, condemned them as spurious. Yet Eusebius, says Tischendorf, expressly places these pieces, with the "Acts of Paul," among the αντιλεγομενα: a sufficiently clear proof, {p. 370} one would think, that this copy was not one of his fifty. Tischendorf thinks that, inasmuch as the two pieces were not universally rejected, the politic Eusebius would be more likely to retain them, than to make the general suspicion of them a ground for their exclusion.

Another sign of antiquity for the Sinai MS. is, that the numerous marginal corrections, which are supposed to be later than the writing itself, are also in uncials.

Last, its omissions (such as those in Mark 16.8 to end; Matt. 13.35,) are such as to associate it with the Vatican, and the very oldest fragments. Such is the editor's argument.

These marks we cannot but regard as very far short of a demonstration that the MS. was the work of either the fourth or fifth century. We have no disposition to contest its possession of an equal antiquity to that of the Vatican and Alexandrine MSS.

But one obvious remark is, that several of these arguments depend wholly upon the assumed antiquity of the latter; whereas the evidences of their age are not different from these. Such arguing amounts to no more than this, that the Sinaitic MS. is as old as the Vatican; and how old is the Vatican? Why, as old as the Sinaitic.
Second; all the internal marks of great antiquity, as the character in which it is written, the spelling, the inflections, the arrangement, are made invalid by this consideration: that so many reasons existed to prompt the copyist to retain those peculiarities from the older copy before him. A temper of monkish conservatism, superstitious veneration for the forms of the past, the wish to perpetuate a pious fraud, or incompetency to change the antiquated features intelligently, may have caused, and doubtless often did cause, copyist after copyist still to reproduce these peculiarities, even ages after they had become generally antiquated. Let it be remembered, on the last point, that multitudes of codices were transcribed in the monasteries by men whose grammatical knowledge was wholly insufficient to construe what they were writing. They employed the hours of a superfluous leisure, which had no value, in imitating mechanically, letter by letter, the copy before them, much as a Chinaman paints the name of his English customer on a sign-board, while he knows not a letter of the English alphabet. It is obvious that such transcribers could not venture to change anything intentionally, however liable to change many things unconsciously; they could not change uncials into cursive letters, {p. 371} or old inflections into contemporary ones; they must imitate precisely what was before them, or else not copy at all.
Moreover, in the third place, it is exceedingly erroneous to suppose that the uncial and the cursive writing succeeded each other at a given date; they were contemporary for centuries. The cursives are known to have been in use as early as Trajan, and the uncials are known to have remained in use until the eighth century. The one set of characters were used for certain species of writing; the other for more serious kinds. A maker of grave-stones in our day carves the inscription on his marble in uncials, and then goes to his ledger and enters his bill in cursives, for the cost of the carving. It would be very unsafe reasoning, which should afterwards conclude that the marble must have been inscribed many ages before the ledger. To the practical mind it will appear very obvious, however provoking to the romantic temper of the antiquary, that the transcription of copies in large unicals may be accounted for by the very prosaic fact, that spectacles were not yet invented. The only expedient for assisting the failing eyesight of the aged was to enlarge the size of the letters.
Fourth; the presence of the two apocryphal pieces is very far from a demonstration that the whole writing was older than the councils of Laodicea and Carthage. When the piety of the monkish ages inscribed works of human, but revered, origin on the same parchment with the Bible, this was very far from showing that it assigned it a formal place in the canon. How obvious is this, when we remember that the Anglican Church, in imitation of the patristic ages, is doing the very thing now! She prints and binds up into the same volume the Apocrypha and the Scriptures, while she declares that the former are not canonical. Again, Tischendorf places the Alexandrine MS. only in the fifth century; but it contains the Epistle of Clement. Again, Eusebius places the Acts of Paul, the Epistle of Barnabas, and the Pastor of Hermas, not among the αντιλεγομεναι, as Tischendorf supposes, but among the Νοθαι. (See his Ecclesiastical History, Book 3, Chapter 25.) Let the reader accept this as one among several proofs that the affectation of superior accuracy of research over those grand and honest old English scholars, whose critical opinions they would supersede, has but little ground. Once more: Athanasius gave (A.D. 315) a list of the New Testament {p. 372} books esteemed genuine, which agrees exactly with ours in omitting these spurious pieces. And the earlier fathers, up to Irenaeus and Tertullian, while not giving, like Eusebius, professed lists of the canon, yet quote just the same books as genuine as now compose our New Testament. We have, then, the lists of Caius the Presbyter, A.D. 200, and of Origen, as preserved in the Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius, Book 6, Chapter 25. These also exclude the two pieces from among the genuine. Now then, if Tischendorf's inference were valid, the presence of this spurious Epistle of Barnabas, and of the Pastor of Hermas, in his Sinai MS. must elevate its antiquity, not to the fourth century, but to the second century. The argument is therefore worthless. This feature of his MS., on the contrary, in the eyes of every sober critic, must depreciate its value, and make it probable that it was the work of monkish superstition, rather than of sound biblical scholarship, and the production of a place and an age which give but a feeble guarantee of honesty or accuracy.
The pious fraud aspect brings the range of dates right up to the 1840s. As does a modern replica edition.

The 12th century disinformation should be checked. What did Tischendorf actually write?

The Caius reference is the Muratorian fragment.

Trajan was about 100 AD. Presumably a discussion of Latin "cursives". It would be interesting to find out how early go Greek cursives that are somewhat similar to our manuscirpts.
Last edited:

Steven Avery

Checking one section in Tischendorf

p. xxix

Novum testamentum sinaiticum: sive, Novum testamentum cum epistala Barnabae et fragmentis Pastoris. Ex Codice sinaitico auspiciis Alexandri II. omnium Russiarum imperatoris (1863)


Bold part checked.

Quaerenti qua aetate codex Sinaiticus scriptus sit nec nota praesto est qua ipsi scriptores tempus professi sint suum; nec quicquam a fratribus Sinaitis de origine deque historia eius libri traditum est. Antequam ipse anno 1844 fragmenta ilia Veteris Testamenti ex tenebris protraxi, nemo fratrum ad folia ex longo tempore disiecta attendisse aut quid rei esset cognitum videtur habuisse, neque magis peregrinatores docti quicquam litteris cousignarunt unde eos vidisse codicem aut de eo audisse coniicias. Tameu ex multis saeculis in possessione monasterii S. Catharinae eum fuisse statuendum est.1 Qui omnium ultimi quum studiorum suorum turn ipsorum memoriam in codice esse voluerunt, Dionysium, Hilarionem, Theophylactum, circa saeculum duodecimum ex numero Sinaitarum suisse, licet borum nominum nullum inter archiepiscopos illorum temporum inveniatur, 2 ex annalibus monasterii fortasse ostendi poterit. Priorum temporum memoriam recolenti non negligendum est, nobilem illam pietatis antiquae arcem perfugiumque, quum circa annum 530. Iustiniani imperatoris praesidio opibusque condita esset, nunquam dirutam esse. Neque absonum fidei est, illo ipso tempore imperatoris munificentia prospectum etiam esse ut ne studiis pietatique Sinaitarum, quos permagni fecit,3 librorum sacrorum supellex deesset, quae vix aliunde quam ex Alexandria, codicum laudatissimorum patria, calligraphorum sede celeberrimorum, arcessenda erat. At nihil hac via inveniri potest quod ad aetatein codicis accuratius definiendam faciat.

To the inquirer at what age the Sinaitic codex was written, there is no record available of which the writers themselves professed their time; Before I myself, in 1844, brought those fragments of the Old Testament out of the darkness, no one of the brothers had paid attention to the long-dissociated leaves, or seemed to have known what they were about, nor did the learned travelers infer anything in writing from which they could conjecture that they had seen the codex or had heard of it. Nevertheless the possession of the monastery of St. Catherine of one of the most out of the many over the ages in the ultimate of all, when they come to a decision on this.2 by that they would turn their hearts the memory of those who have chosen to be inserted in the code, to Dionysius, Hilarion as a Christian, Theophylactum, (twelfth century) duodecimum around the world, from the number of Sinaitarum suisse, although no separation comes between the archbishops of the words of the names, of those times can be found, will be able to be shown by 2, perhaps, drawn from the annals of the monastery. Priorum season recolenti memory can not be neglected, the famous ancient castle and asylum pity, since it was founded around the year 530, Emperor protection resources would never be destroyed. It is not incompatible with the belief, at the very time the perspective of the munificence of the Emperor's piety, too, that I might not Sinaïte the study, which is of the greatest sin, 3 be wanting to the vessels of the books of the Sacred Books, which we have barely any other source than from Alexandria, codicum most praiseworthy country, the seat of the most celebrated calligrapher, and to summon it was. But we have nothing do to define more accurately the hac of the Code of the way can be found to the 's age.

This wild speculation about the individuals who were not in the "annals of the monastery", yet implying that these gentlemen were surely in the monastery at the time, is possibly what led to the Dabney confusion that there were 12th century external evidences.
Last edited: