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Overview: Short stories – stories for children and teens

Konstantin von Tischendorf and the Codex Sinaiticus

Germany in the year1844: The scientist Konstantin von Tischendorf has set himself a great challenge: He wants to unearth ancient bible scripts rediscover them. He has seen, studied and worked on all of the old scriptures in Europe. However there must be even older manuscripts, handwritten bibles from the first centuries of Christianity. Why? He wants to prove that the bible was correctly copied without any mistakes over the centuries. He directs his view to the Orient, because all old bible scriptures came to Europe at some time from Egypt or the Middle East. He must look there, but where exactly? The old libraries were ruined long ago, the parlours had fallen down – only a few old cloisters still have a few left-overs from these times: undiscovered, nibbled by animals, covered in mould and in centuries of dust. Yes, behind these old walls there must be a few old scriptures to be found.

Konstantin sets off. The aim: A Coptic cloister from the 4./5th century in the Sinai mountains, because he knows: This cloister has not been disturbed since it was built. He travels to Italy, takes a ship from Livonia to Egypt and reaches Cairo in spring 1844.

On the 12th May 1844 Konstantin von Tischendorf sets off from Cairo and is headed for the Sinai Mountains. His transport is a camel. In the glowing heat, his path leads through the Egyptian desert, over one side of the Red Sea and along the Red Sea to the south. After ten danger filled days, he reaches the valleys and cliffs in the world of the Sinai Mountains. He finally stands at the foot of the Sinai, exhausted from his travels and sees: the St.Katharinen cloister.

Where is the entrance? Tischendorf rides around the powerful cloister walls in vain. Ten meters up the wall he notices an unlikely gap. A rope is let down. A swing is attached to the rope to hoist him up. He has to take a seat on it. He is pulled up to a dizzy height by a clandestine monk. Tischendorf has finally arrived in the cloister.

He hunts through the library, searches through the whole cloister – but does not find anything. However the scientist does not give up. He rummages and burrows and shifts. Eventually he turns a large waste paper basket on its head which is standing in the corner. He cannot belief his eyes: 129 ancient Greek parchment papers, containing parts of the Greek translation of the Old Testament, suddenly lie before his eyes on the dusty floor. At this point - 1844 – those are oldest known bible pages – thrown away to be burnt!

Tischendorf cannot hide his amazement about this one-off find. The monks become distrusting and do not want to help him any further with his search for the missing bible pages. Even worse: They ban him from taking the found parchment papers with him. Konstantin only manages to get 43 of the ancient Greek parchments after a long time haggling. He must leave the rest behind but is allowed to copy the text down from them. Then he travels back to Leipzig.

However the 86 parchment sheets in the cloister rubbish bin do not give him any peace. In 1854 he starts off on a second journey to Sinai. Nothing has changed there. The time seems to have stood still. Only the ancient bible pages are no longer to be found. The explorer must leave empty handed.

In 1859, he arrives at the St. Katharinen cloister for the third time with the support of Russian Tsar Alexander II. It seems to Konstantin, that he has returned to a long lost time. However nobody can or wants to remember the old bible manuscripts. He hunts through the whole cloister once again and his complete efforts seem to be unsuccessful once again. The day long careful examinations seem to end without a result. The evening before he is due to leave, the cloister caretaker shows him an old Greek bible text.

Konstantin von Tischendorf is tongue-tied. What is sees before him are not just the missing pages of the Old Testament, but the complete New Testament with all 27 books written in the year 350 A.D. ! Each page is worth a fortune, and each page is an elusive proof of the care taken in the copies, thanks to the fact that the holy books have been delivered genuinely for thousands of years!

In fact: "The heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away", says the word of God. However Tischendorf has his feelings under control this time. Almost apathetically, he asks the monk if he is allowed to take the parchment writings to his room. He works on his priceless biblical treasure the whole night. Up until now, no-one had found a copy which is older. He is decided: He must have this complete bible text.

After much effort, Konstantin von Tischendorf manages to arrange for the old writings to be brought to a cloister in Cairo where he can copy the bible texts. There isn’t enough paper and ink in the St.Katharinen cloister. The amount of work involved is massive: A total of 110000 lines must be copied.

To copy the texts down, the explorer brings two people versed in the Greek language with him: A doctor and a pharmacist. In the meantime, he carries on dealing with the monks for the ancient manuscripts. Tischendorf finally manages the almost impossible: the parchment manuscripts are given to the Russian Tsar as a gift.

However Russia should not remain the home of the Codex. Later, in the year 1933, the former Russian government was more interested in money than in the bible. They sold the Codex Sinaiticus (Codex means book). With the second name “Sinaiticus” the place where they were found is given. This therefore means: book from Sinai.), which is still the name of Tischendorf’s discovery. They were sold to England for 100000 English Pounds (was approx. 1 100 000 Euro in those days). They are now stored in the British Museum in London.

Just like all old bible manuscripts, the Codex Sinaiticus confirms the realness and uniqueness of the bible. Through these texts, God has disclosed his word to the people for thousands of years. Through these texts, God shows us the way to peace with him in belief.

  • But the word of the Lord stands forever. And this is the word that was preached to you. ( 1. Simon 1,25)

  • I rejoice in your promise like one who finds great spoil. ( Psalm 119,162)

  • Then it is not an empty word for you. But it is your life. ( 5. Moses 32,47)

  • Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. ( Luke 21,33)

  • Then the angel said to me, "These are the true words of God." (Revelations 19,9)

(Source: "Der Kompass" edition 2000, a daily calendar for children and young people in Germany. This story was given to our collection of materials with kind permission.
Copyright: Circulation of Christian Writings (, Translation from German into English by Youthwork-Practice.)

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