Vol. 25 New Series February, 1963 No. 1
ROGUES AND RASCALS

Early in the year 1919 I was asked by Mr. A. E. Knoch to secure for the Concordant Version a copy of both the Codices Vaticanus and Sinaiticus. He had been unable to obtain these. But I soon found them in the City of Edinburgh. In a large book shop I was taken into a dark room, and shown. a large and heavy tome, but that was not what I wanted. Then I was shown another large volume, and at once recognized it as the Vaticanus, with its beautiful lettering. A little later I was able to get the Sinaitic Codex new. Next, I had to get the collations of Scrivener and Tischendorf, and the whole costs came to £17, equivalent to about $85 in those days.

In February, 1919, I turned ill, due chiefly to the lack of any holidays during the long War which began in August, 1914, and ended in November, 1918. However, I was able to do the collation work, that is, comparing one Greek text with another. This task took four years.

During those four years Mr. Knoch wrote a great many letters to me, and of course I had to reply to them all. Some times he sent me four letters within one week. After the task of collating was over, I had to send the two Codices to Los Angeles, so I had to split the Codices into parts and post them separately. I must say I was sorry to part with them, especially the Vatican Codex, with its very beautiful writing.

Now it was Tischendorf who discovered the Sinaitic Codex in 1859. A monk had it in his cells wrapped in a red cloth when Tischendorf first saw it. Imperial gifts to the Convent of St. Catharine purchased the Codex for the library in St. Petersburg. Naturally, the great value attached to these documents stimulated the desire for gain, and many persons unworthy to be engaged in such a work have devoted themselves to the business of securing such documents and offering them for sale.

No bolder attempts in this direction were made than those which rendered the name of Constantine Simonides infamous, especially in connection with the Sinaitic manuscript. This man, in 1856, sought to palm off upon the Academy of Berlin a manuscript purporting to be the "History of Egypt," by Uranios, son of Anaximenes. But it was quite false, and was bought for twenty-five hundred thalers, before the deceit was discovered. Also, a few leaves of a very important document the "Shepherd of Hermas," were also purchased. Then came a message from Professor Lykurgos, of Athens, that probably both the manuscripts were spurious, and Tischendorf at once gave them critical examination and pronounced them false. Simonides next appeared at the Bodleian Library in Oxford, England, and produced two or three genuine manuscripts of no very great value, and belonging to the tenth, twelfth, and thirteenth centuries. He then unrolled with much apparent anxiety a few fragments of vellum, which bore an uncial text of most venerable appearance. The librarian carefully inspected the crumbling leaves of vellum, then smelt them, and gave them back with the single remark that they dated from the middle of the nineteenth century! The baffled Simonides gathered up his wares with many protestations, and departed, going straight to the railway station, whence he sped to the house of a well-known country gentleman in Worcestershire, where he disposed of the whole lot at a satisfactory price. This most extraordinary performance of Simonides was no doubt prompted by a spirit of revenge. It was said that Tischendorf was the means of detecting the fraud perpetrated in Berlin, and some other incidents had also brought him into collision with Simonides.

No sooner had Tischendorf published his earliest fac similes of the newly discovered "Codex Sinaiticus," in 1860, than Simonides declared that Tischendorf himself was at last deceived; that he, Simonides, had written the whole document! He appealed to his wonder skill as a calligrapher and said that while he was still a youth he had been employed by his uncle, Benedict, head of the monastery of Panteleemon on Mount Athos, to make in manuscript from a printed Moscow Bible, a copy of the whole Scriptures, which might be worthy of presentation to the Russian Emperor Nicholas, in acknowledgment of benefits conferred upon the monastery.

It was all a marvellous story, requiring the most colossal impudence, and yet so cunningly planned, so boldly supported, with the manual skill of its author so well known, that for a time it found credit in some quarters. But its refutation was easy. The monks at Sinai, including the librarian who was in charge at the time covered by the story, gave testimony that they had never seen Simonides, and that the book had been catalogued from the earliest times. According to Simonides himself he could not have been more than fifteen years old in 1839, when he began the task, and to have finished it at the given time he must have written at least 20,000 large and separate uncial letters every day, which was incredible. The very mistakes of the Codex show it must have been copied from another manuscript, and not from a printed Bible, because omitted words were in several cases just enough to fill up a line in an old papyrus document, showing that the copyist had a roll or book like his own lying before him. Simonides was said to have died of leprosy in 1867; but two years later he was seen in St. Petersburg, still active under an assumed name. Another attempt at fraud was that of a dealer called Shapira in 1881. He brought to Europe several MSS, among them a Moabite copy of Deuteronomy. It consisted of fifteen leather slips, black with age, and impregnated with the faint odour of funereal spices. They presented to the casual observer only the appearance of a plain oily surface, but on touching them with a brush dipped in spirits of wine, the strange old writing became visible— forty columns of Deuteronomy in the ancient Hebrew characters, just like those on the Moabite Stone, and apparently dating from about the eighth or ninth century before Christ. These documents were brought to the British Museum by Shapira, and he estimated the value of this new-found treasure at one million pounds sterling! After careful examination it was decided that the document did not belong to 800 B.C., but to a date as late as 1880 A.D. Next week he committed suicide.

A.T. Last updated 23.2.2006