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The Most Profound Basis for the Sacredness of All Human Flesh


By Henry J.M. Nouwen | March 1987
The Rev. Henri J.M. Nouwen, a spiritual writer and Contributing Editor of the NOR, is currently a priest-in-residence at Daybreak, the l'Arche community in Toronto. His latest book is Behold the Beauty of the Lord: Praying with Icons.

Ed. Note: During the 1985-1986 academic year, Henri J.M. Nouwen was a priest-in-residence at the l’Arche community in Trosly-Breuil, France (a Catholic ecumenical community serving disabled persons). This article is the sixth installment in a series of articles reflecting on that year. The series is adapted from his diary.

Friday, February 28, 1986

Today I received from Bob Heller, my editor at Doubleday, James Bentley’s new book, Secrets of Mount Sinai (Doubleday, 1986). I started to read in it and soon became so fascinated I could hardly put it down. It tells the shocking and highly revelatory story of how the German Protestant Scripture scholar Constantin von Tischendorf discovered and published in facsimile the “Codex Sinaiticus,” one of the world’s oldest Bible texts. It reads like a suspense novel in which genius, religious prejudice, rivalry, ambition, manipulation, deceit, and an enormous amount of European arrogance played a role in bringing this most precious manuscript from St. Catherine’s monastery at Mount Sinai to Russia and from there to the British Museum.

The energy, will power, and desire for scholarly prestige with which biblical scholars in the 18th century did their work are astounding. More astounding is the disdain they felt for the monks who for centuries had guarded the manuscript in which they were interested.

With the mind of a German scholar, Tischendorf judged and condemned his hosts at Mount Sinai. Tischendorf and most of many earlier Protestant visitors to St. Catherine’s monastery never tried to enter into the contemplative tradition they witnessed. Bentley writes: “They took their own religious superiority for granted.” This despising of the monks made Tischendorf and others feel that the monks were not worthy of the manuscripts. It gave them an excuse to use the most base methods to get the manuscripts and transport them to the “enlightened West.”

Tomorrow I will write some notes about the Codex Sinaiticus and its value.

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