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New Testament from the oldest complete Bible available online for the first time

The New Testament volume from one of the British Library’s most valuable treasures, Codex Alexandrinus, has been made available online for the first time on the British Library’s website. Codex Alexandrinus, which translates simply as ‘the book from Alexandria’, dates from the fifth century and is the most complete Bible preserved from early Christian times. The New Testament volume of this unique book has been digitised in full as part of a larger British Library project to transform access to some of its oldest and most valuable handwritten books.

The Codex 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 seventh 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 first century, and a second slightly later homily attributed to Clement. Its use of stylized decoration means it is also of great importance for the history of early Christian art.

Dr Scot McKendrick, Head of History and Classics at the British Library, explains,“Access to the digital images of Codex Alexandrinus will transform biblical scholarship on this crucial text, and we are delighted to have digitised this manuscript as part of our programme to share our early manuscripts online. By using magnifying tools on the digital images it is now possible to study and enjoy this great treasure as never before.”

The Codex is named after the capital of Greek Egypt, Alexandria, to which it was brought at the beginning of the fourteenth century. It was presented to King Charles I in 1627, and its arrival in Britain was a revelation to biblical scholars, not least for its important divergences from the text of the recently published King James Version of 1611. For example, Codex Alexandrinus omits the so-called ‘Holy Sweat’ passage (Luke 22:43-44): ‘And there appeared an angel unto him [Jesus] 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’ (King James Version). The book passed into national ownership with the donation of the Old Royal Library by George II in 1757.

The digitisation of Codex Alexandrinus complements the full digital coverage of Codex Sinaiticus made available in 2009 by the British Library as a result of an international collaborative project. Codex Alexandrinus joins over 800 other medieval manuscripts now available in full online on the Library’s website where they can be studied in great detail by anyone, anywhere in the world.

Professor David Parker, FBA, Edward Cadbury Professor of Theology at the University of Birmingham, added “Digitisation of the pages of this remarkable ancient codex is a significant event in the preservation of our written heritage, and makes a vital resource available to a new global audience.”

Click here to access the Codex Alexandrinus

Source: British Library

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