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The Sisters of Sinai: How Two Lady Adventurers Discovered the Hidden Gospels
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The Sisters of Sinai: How Two Lady Adventurers Discovered the Hidden Gospels

3.98  ·  Rating Details ·  531 Ratings  ·  156 Reviews
In 1892, two sisters, identical twins from Scotland, made one of one of most important scriptural discoveries of modern times. Combing the library of St. Catherine’s Monastery at Mount Sinai, they found a neglected palimpsest: beneath an unpreposessing life of female saints, they detected what remains to this day among the earliest known copies of the Gospels, a version in ...more
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published August 18th 2009 by Knopf (first published January 1st 2009)
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Oct 21, 2009 Lyndon rated it really liked it
In one sense, this is a charming tale of two sisters whose passion for 'truth' led them to learn ancient languages, travel through deserts, negotiate academic squabbles, and discover folios previously unknown to modern scholarship. On another level, this is a story of how work from the fringes often re-orients the center of social and religious life through the work of a faithful few. The church should always be in reform (so saith Karl Barth), and the heart of reform (be it how we read scriptur ...more
Feb 22, 2011 Readnponder rated it really liked it
This book was a rare surprise for me. I don't normally read history or adventure or biblical textual criticsm, but this book contains elements of each. This is the TRUE story of twin sisters, Agnes and Margaret, who lived during the second half of the 19th century. They were born in Scotland and raised Presbyterian. Due to Providence (who is an unseen but very real character in the story), they end up inheriting a fortune. Women were not permitted to attend university in Victorian England, but t ...more
Aug 06, 2010 Elizabeth rated it really liked it
Agnes and Margaret - what a pair. I had read a good review of this book in the New York Times months ago but never bought it. When my good friend the Rev. Mary Earle recommended it and lent it to me, I was really looking forward to reading it mostly because these were women adventurers in the late 1800's. But what I discovered in reading about the twins' fascinating lives and travels there was so much more to experience in this book since Janet Soskice put their discoveries into the cultural con ...more
Nicholas Whyte
Mar 19, 2011 Nicholas Whyte rated it it was amazing
Back when I was an undergraduate I spent two years living in the "Colony", the sprawl of buildings owned by Clare College at the foot of Castle Hill. The central building of the complex is a late Victorian mansion called Castlebrae, which had the following inscription on a plaque in the front hall:

This house was originally the home of
DR AGNES SMITH LEWIS (1843-1926) and
Inseparable twins, tireless travellers, distinguished Arabic & Syriac scholars.

Enthralling - Educational - Entertaining

Absolutely amazing! I'm gobsmacked, really, wishing I could travel back in time and journey with these extraordinary ladies. Goes to show, whatever it is you desire to do, if you refuse to let gender or age or naysayers or inconveniences keep you from following your dreams, you can accomplish amazing things!

Superbly written in accessibly intelligent language, Soskice has penned a delightfully fascinating book exploring the lives of Scottish twin sisters
Mary Ronan Drew
Aug 03, 2012 Mary Ronan Drew rated it really liked it
The Sisters of Sinai is a book about the Codex palimpsestus Sanaiticus. No, wait! Don't turn the page. The story of the discovery of this earliest version of the four Gospels in Syraic (early 4th century) and the painstaking work of bringing it to the notice of the academic world of Biblical study is an adventure story . . .

To read the rest of my review go to my blog at:

Tree Riesener
Jan 05, 2010 Tree Riesener rated it really liked it
Wonderful read for someone who is a an armchair traveler and enjoys tales of Biblical history. Two Scottish Victorians take off for the Sinai, cope with sand and camels, charm the reclusive monks at St. Catherine's Monastery and manage to be credited for their discovery although male scholars are sniffing around and trying to usurp their place. Excellent writing as well, lucid prose and a lively style. Pull up your chair to the fire and spend a happy Sunday reading.
Etta Mcquade
Jul 03, 2010 Etta Mcquade rated it it was amazing
I can't say enough about these two extraordinary women who, not typical Victorian and not college educated (because women were denied college entrance in the 1800s), mastered French, German, Italian, Spanish, along with Arabic, Greek, Hebrew and Syriac, traveled by camel, slept in tents, unaccompanied, to the Middle East six times, the first time in 1868, discovering in 1893 at Mount Sinai in Egypt an ancient manuscript of the Four Gospels written in antiquainted Syriac. They photographed 400 pi ...more
Aug 08, 2010 Drew rated it really liked it
A splendid non-fiction read. What fascinating twin sisters and what a difference their faith, determination and grit made in discovering and preserving one of the oldest texts of the New Testament. The book should be made into a movie. I'm astounded that two wealthy twin sisters (at that time unmarried) would journey across the Sinai on camels in the late 1800's to go to the Monastery of St. Catherine's to prove the authenticity of scripture.
Nov 14, 2010 Joant rated it really liked it
When I read history, I like it to read as a story, and also to educate me. If it spurns me onto learning more about the topic, all the better. This one did. Great characters in Agnes and Margaret, Victorian era women and scholars; history told in cultural context; a bit of Biblical scholarship;and an amazing story I did not know. A fine book.
Sep 18, 2009 Tony rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Soskice, Janet. THE SISTERS OF SINAI: How Two Lady Adventurers Discovered the Hidden Gospels. (2009). ****. This is the fascinating story of two sisters – twins – and how they managed to make one of the most important scriptual discoveries of modern times. Traveling from their native Scotland, the polyglot sisters visited Sinai, and, specifically, the monastery of St. Catherine’s at Mt. Sinai. There they discovered one of the earliest known copies of the Gospels, a version in ancient Syriac, a d ...more
Mar 25, 2013 Mary rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
The Sisters of the Sinai is a biography of two very remarkable twin sisters whose father died and left them lots of money. Agnes and Margret were from Scotland and did not believe in spending money on frivolous things. Most of the action in the book takes place in the late 1800's. The sisters grew up in an era when women not encouraged or had access to an education beyond high school.

However, these two Presbyterian women had a love of learning. They both married only to have their husbands die
Bo'ness Library Bookgroup
Overall, we have rated this book 3/5 to reflect the opposite ends of the enjoyment spectrum from which our readers came. Those who were interested in theology and history loved the book, whilst those for whom history is not a draw read the book, but did not enjoy it. The majority of us gave the book 3 stars as good for the 'disinterested' reader. There were so many fascinating facts in this book that it tempted some of our readers to keep on til the end, even though they may have glossed over a ...more
Nov 17, 2009 Andy rated it liked it
Agnes and Margaret Smith were born into wealth, allowing them to adventure unencumbered by practical concerns, but more fortuitously for the twins, their father had a remarkably progressive outlook on childrearing for a mid-nineteenth century Scotsman. John Smith supported his daughters’ education—unusual for the time, they were educated alongside boys—and Smith imbued in his young daughters a fascination with foreign languages and culture. The sisters were encouraged to live independently, and ...more
Feb 10, 2013 Kathy rated it really liked it
Reading this book is like traveling alongside the twin sisters who discovered one of the oldest copies of the gospels in St. Catherine's Monastery. Unfortunatly, since the ladies are so assured of the superiority of their protestant brand of worship, the first half of the book was rather tedious. I wanted to be with the pilgrims holding candles in the Church of the Holy Seplicure instead of up in the balcony with the skeptics. I wanted to know more about the monks' Divine Office than Margaret's ...more
Jun 18, 2010 Susan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is an amazing book! It is well written and an excellent read. I had never even heard of these sisters (Agnes Lewis & Margaret Gibson). Their lives were exciting and their scholarly contributions on the highest of levels. According to sources, they were fluent in 12 languages, including Hebrew, Greek, Syriac, & Arabic. In the mid and late 1800's they traveled Egypt& Sinai 5-6 times without their husbands -- unbelievable. They made friends with the monks at the St. Catherine's Mon ...more
Harry Freedman
Dec 10, 2013 Harry Freedman rated it really liked it
This a great book, a fantastic example of how to take a subject which at first sight seems dry and uninspiring, and turn it in to a compelling biography. The heroes of the book, 19th century, Scottish twin sisters defy the narrow expectations of prosperous Victorian society by travelling, with no male escorts, to Egypt. This begins a series of adventures in which they pursue and discover ancient Syriac and Greek manuscripts of the Bible, becoming, almost coincidentally, world renowned scholars a ...more
Marcia Rodney
Nov 16, 2011 Marcia Rodney rated it liked it
If I could give this a 2.5 I would. The story is amazing, Scottish twin sisters make one of the great 19th century discoveries of early Christian literature by preparing themselves as language scholars so when they make their journeys to the Sinai they know what they have found -- despite Cambridge's big red NO! to women at the time. The telling of the story, however, was a mixed bag. I'd heard of these sisters and was prepared for a great can't put down tale, but the first part of the book left ...more
Well done biography/history of two Scottish twin sisters who broke all kinds of barriers yet remained staunch traditional Presbyrterians to the end.

Anyone who is interested in intellectual history in the 19th century, particularly how new findings in linguistics and science affected a world convinced of the literal truth of the Bible, would enjoy this. It is also interesting as a tale of two very intelligent and practical Scotswomen who undertook the physical and intellectual challenges few men
Mary Baker
Jan 11, 2011 Mary Baker rated it liked it
I finished the book. Interesting discussion in the book group. We talked of Victorian women with money and persoanlities for travel. We talked of the power of the women who were not granted degrees from Cambridge, but were given honorary degrees from everywhere else. We talk of the choosing of what is included in the Bible and other religion's text and what was left out. Power is everything in decision making.
The style of the book was a bit tedious because Soskice seemed to keep every fact on t
The Sisters of Sinai brings the extraordinary lives of Agnes and Margaret to life - vividly. The challenges and frustrations of highly intelligent, capable women living in Victorian England where their ideas and their contributions were often overlooked and minimized - intentionally or as a cultural matter of fact occurrence - when they felt 'called' to the work of studying languages, saving ancient manuscripts, and furthering the study of ancient biblical texts. This book holds a captivating st ...more
Sep 04, 2011 Jennifer rated it it was amazing
Such an enjoyable, fascinating (nonfiction) book! Perfect for "theo-nerds" like myself and anyone who enjoys what is essentially an academic "mystery" novel in a way. Dense with history, interesting personalities, suspense (of the academic kind) and adventure. The places she describes from Scotland to Sinai truly come vividly alive. Those interested in the history of Scripture and manuscripts will be especially keen to read it but others interested in religion generally should also take a look. ...more
Dec 26, 2011 Christina rated it really liked it
A prime example that truth is stranger than fiction. This is an improbable tale of Victorian Scottish twin sisters who travel the world and take the exclusively male academic world by storm with what they find. While some reviewers say it is written like a novel, most of my book club found it to be a bit dry, despite it's intriguing topic. Still, we found it to be a fascinating glimpse of the Coptic, Protestant and Muslim faiths in Victorian England and Egypt.
Jul 31, 2013 Jb rated it really liked it
Enjoyed this book greatly, we don't hear about adventurous women enough!
May 21, 2017 Phrodrick rated it really liked it
Many years ago as a fan of historian Barbara Tuchman, I ran up against the term "Popular Historian" The phrase is usually spoken with a sneer. This is popular history. Enjoy it and let the academics seethe.

There is something quintessentially Victorian Age British about two middle aged Scottish women -twin sisters no less - leading theirown expedition into the waste lands of Palestine to locate a long lost Biblical treasure. It is simultaneously anti-stereotype. Janet Soskice relates the story of
Eileen Daly-Boas
Feb 25, 2017 Eileen Daly-Boas rated it really liked it
Shelves: bookclub
I enjoyed this book, as it told the story of two interesting, talented and smart women without making too many assumptions about their private thoughts. Both sisters left enough evidence of their beliefs, their scholarship and their quirks to fully satisfy me. In the interest of readablility, Soskice doesn't delve too deep into details of their scholarly work, so we aren't looking at fragment after fragment of the texts they found. And while she gives plenty of details of their travel and the ac ...more
Jun 27, 2017 Jennifer rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: adventure-lovers, people interested in manuscripts, Christian historians
Well done, and reads more like a novel than the true story it actually is. Filled with adventure and the exploits of two wealthy, eccentric, and spunky twins who defied nineteenth-century norms and made six trips to Egypt in a quest to find some of the oldest manuscripts of the four gospels. Especially gifted in languages, the twins learned Syriac especially for this purpose (and had already studied French, Italian, Arabic, and modern Greek), and found the manuscript in St. Catherine's monastery ...more
Dec 08, 2016 Sonja rated it it was amazing
Wonderfully written scholarly history. The depth of research and exactness of storytelling kept my interest and wonder at what these learned women achieved though study and fortitude.
I will be seeking other publications from Janet Martin Soskice based on how well this book was written.
Jul 20, 2017 Bridget rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Really liked it. Cool historical information and fascinating women who were strong and independent (ahead of their time!).
Mar 04, 2017 LMGS rated it really liked it
This book follows an unlikely story of two sisters and how they helped uncover biblical treasures. These unknown women did incredible things both in their lives in England, and on the great adventures they undertook.

The book was a little challenging to read at times but overall a great book.
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