One of the common critiques of the Bible is that, as the words passed from the oral tradition to written Hebrew and Greek, to Latin, English, French, Italian, and all the other languages of the world, some of the meaning and intent of the original scriptures may have been lost. But now, the British Library is offering up the opportunity to cut out the middle man, presenting for the first time a digitized version of the New Testament from one of the world’s earliest Bibles, the Codex Alexandrinus. This ancient text, stemming from the 400s AD, says the British Library, “is one of the three earliest known surviving Greek Bibles: the others are Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus.”
Between them, these three manuscripts are the most important witnesses for the full text of the Greek New Testament. Codex Alexandrinus is particularly important, since it is the oldest example of what is known as the Byzantine text of the New Testament, the wording of which became the dominant form in Greek Christianity from the 7th century down to today. As well as the 27 books of the New Testament, it also includes two other texts important to early Christians, a letter of Clement, Bishop of Rome, written at the end of the 1st century, and a second slightly later homily attributed to Clement.
In the early 1300s, the patriarch of Alexandria, Athanasius III, brought the text to the Greek city. Over time, the tome wound its way from the Mediterranean to the British Isles, arriving as a gift in the mid-17th century to Charles I, the king of England, Scotland and Ireland. In 1757, King George II gave the Codex to the British Museum.
The Codex Alexandrinus’ version of the New Testament differs from the King James Bible in a few places, says the Library, giving the example of a passage, Luke 22:43-44, that is missing from the ancient Greek text:
And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground
So, if you want to poke through the Bible’s words in as close to their original form as you’re likely to find, the digital version is available for your viewing pleasure. Assuming, of course, that you can read ancient Greek.
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