Tony's Reviews > The Sisters of Sinai: How Two Lady Adventurers Discovered the Hidden Gospels

The Sisters of Sinai by Janet Martin Soskice
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's review
Sep 18, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: history
Read in September, 2009

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 dialect of Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus. At the time, the two ladies were of middle age, and possessed only their language abilities – abilities which were astounding to me. These two women were Agnes and Margaret Smith, Scottish Presbyterians from a very wealthy family. The wealth was passed on to them from their father and uncle, who both made their fortunes by investing in the new railroads being established both in America and Great Britain. When their father passed, he left the two daughters an estate valued at over 1.2MM Pounds. To translate this amount into today’s terms, the author suggests that you mulitply this figure by 70 to get a modern equivalent. The girls were great travelers, and were able to put up with the uncomfortable and hazardous circumstances encountered with such travels at their times. It was not easy for women traveling unaccompanied by men to travel at the time. We are looking at the the time period of the 1860s when most of this occurs, so the regions in which they had to travel were just opeining up to wealthy tourists – but almost solely to those surrounded by guards and appointed protectors. Having learned of the trove of manuscripts stored at St. Catherine’s, the sisters had to pave the way for their being accepted into the monastery to begin with. The monks at the monastery were not known for welcoming visitors with open arms. In fact, they were known to stone approaching visitors from the walls of the monastery unless specifically known to have been invited. After arrangeing their reception, they were finally allowed to examine the collection of old manuscripts in the ‘library,’ such as it was. They found hundreds of manuscripts in various stages of disarray – none of which had been catalogued. One of the manuscripts turned out to be a palimpsest – a document written on top of an older manuscript whose writing has been erased, or scraped away. The detective work that was involved here was phenomenal and involved months of painstaking work on the part of the sisters. They ultimately discoved that the original writings were those of the Gospels in Syraic, which made them at least 150 years older than the oldest extant copy of those works. In all, this is a fine history of the efforts of the sisters and the impact of their discoveries on biblical research and knowledge. Recommended.
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