On his third visit to the library of the Monastery of Saint Catherine on Mount Sinai in Egypt, biblical scholar Constantin von Tischendorf discovered the Codex Sinaiticus .
"The first two trips [in 1844 and 1854] had yielded parts of the Old Testament, some from a rubbish bin. The emperor Alexander II of Russia sent him to search for manuscripts, which he was convinced were still to be found in the Sinai monastery."
"The story of how von Tischendorf found the manuscript, which contained most of the Old Testament and all of the New Testament, has all the elements of a romance. Von Tischendorf reached the monastery on January 14; but his inquiries appeared to be fruitless. On February 4, he had resolved to return home without having achieved his goal.
"On that day, when walking with the provisor of the convent, he spoke with much regret of his ill-success. Returning from their promenade, Tischendorf accompanied the monk to his room, and there had displayed to him what his companion called a copy of the Septuagint, which he, the ghostly brother, owned. The manuscript was wrapped up in a piece of cloth, and on its being unrolled, to the surprise and delight of the critic the very document presented itself which he had given up all hope of seeing. His object had been to complete the fragmentary Septuagint of 1844, which he had declared to be the most ancient of all Greek codices on vellum that are extant; but he found not only that, but a copy of the Greek New Testament attached, of the same age, and perfectly complete, not wanting a single page or paragraph."
"After some negotiations, he [Tischendorf] obtained possession of this precious fragment. James Bentley gives an account of how this came about, prefacing it with the comment, 'Tischendorf therefore now embarked on the remarkable piece of duplicity which was to occupy him for the next decade, which involved the careful suppression of facts and the systematic denigration of the monks of Mount Sinai.' He conveyed it to Tsar Alexander II, who appreciated its importance and had it published as nearly as possible in facsimile, so as to exhibit correctly the ancient handwriting. The Tsar sent the monastery 9000 rubles by way of compensation.
"Regarding Tischendorf's role in the transfer to Saint Petersburg, there are several views. Although when parts of Genesis and Book of Numbers were later found in the bindings of other books, they were amicably sent to Tischendorf, the codex is currently regarded by the monastery as having been stolen. This view is hotly contested by several scholars in Europe. Kirsopp Lake wrote:
"Those who have had much to do with Oriental monks will understand how improbable it is that the terms of the arrangement, whatever it was, were ever known to any except of the leaders.
In a more neutral spirit, New Testament scholar Bruce Metzger wrote:
Certain aspects of the negotiations leading to the transfer of the codex to the Tsar's possession are open to an interpretation that reflects adversely on Tischendorf's candour and good faith with the monks at St. Catherine's. For a recent account intended to exculpate him of blame, see Erhard Lauch's article 'Nichts gegen Tischendorf' in Bekenntnis zur Kirche: Festgabe für Ernst Sommerlath zum 70. Geburtstag (Berlin, c. 1961); for an account that includes a hitherto unknown receipt given by Tischendorf to the authorities at the monastery promising to return the manuscript from Saint Petersburg 'to the Holy Confraternity of Sinai at its earliest request'.
"In 13 September 1862 Constantine Simonides, a forger of manuscripts who had been exposed by Tischendorf, by way of revenge made the claim in print in The Guardian that he had written the codex himself as a young man in 1839.
"Henry Bradshaw, a [librarian and] scholar, contributed to exposing the frauds of Constantine Simonides, and exposed the absurdity of his claims in a letter to The Guardian (January 26, 1863). Bradshaw showed that the Codex Sinaiticus brought by Tischendorf from the Greek monastery of Mount Sinai was not a modern forgery or written by Simonides. Simonides' "claim was flawed from the beginning" (Wikipedia article on Codex Sinaiticus, accessed 08-08-2009).
Book Trade notes:
♦ "In 1931 Ernest Maggs had travelled to the Soviet Union with a colleague, Maurice Ettinghausen, who was both a bookseller and a scholar. When they saw the priceless Codex Sinaiticus, Ettinghausen remarked to his hosts, “If you ever want to sell it, let me know." Some time later, Maggs received a postcard saying that the Soviet government would be prepared to sell the Codex Sinaiticus for 200,000 pounds. The British group countered with 40,000 pounds. Finally, a price of 100,000 pounds was agreed upon. This was the largest price that had ever been paid for a book. It was an enormous sum at the time. [In 1933] The British government agreed to pay half the amount and guaranteed the remainder if it were not raised by public subscription." (Wikipedia article on Maggs Bros., accessed 08-02-2009).
♦ From Rosenbach: A Biography by Wolf & Fleming (1960)367-68:
"Some preliminary negotiations were under way with Amtorg [in 1932] for the Codex Sainaiticus, the fourth-century manuscript of the Bible which had been in Russia since its discoverer, Tischendorf, acquired it for the Czar in 1869, and which the Communists, interested in neither its contents nor its provenance, wanted to sell. It was a volume before which the the Doctor's flow of words was inadequate. It was simply the most important, exciting, and valuable book in existence; except for fragments, it was one of the three oldest manuscripts of the Bible known. To have handled it would have added luster to any reputation. In the dickering stage, Dr. Rosenbach told the Russians that the asking price of $1,600,000 was too high, but he hung on the fringes of the deal by assuring them in confidence, 'that I might interest some of our wealthy clients in its purchase for presentation purposes, if the price could be lowered considerably.'
"Ah, perfidious Moscow! Before the end of the next year Ramsay MacDonald announced the purchase of the Codex by the British Museum for £100,000. The news found the Doctor astonished and disappointed. It had been offered to him for $1,250,000, he told the Herald Tribune, and he could not understand how the British Museum had obtained it for less than half that figure. . . ."
[In July 2008 it was stated on the Codex Sinaiticus website that the "recent" history of the manuscript would be revised in light of previously unavailable documents.]