Greek Manuscripts of the British Library for the Science and Technology Volume of Brill’s Textual History of the Bible

Todd R. Hanneken, St. Mary’s University

Part of 4 Science and Technology > 4.2 Electronic Resources > 4.2.1 Image Databases and Collections > British Library

Digital technology has facilitated the study of the Greek biblical manuscripts of the British Library in the areas of searchable catalogs, images viewable online, and in the case of Codex Sinaiticus, additional data. The primary online catalog for non-print material is Explore Archives and Manuscripts (​/). The catalog provides detailed description and bibliography about the manuscripts even when digital images are not available online. For example, the catalog entry for the fifth-century Codex Alexandrinus provides rich information about all four volumes, even though images are only available for the New Testament volume (as of June 2022). The Explore Archives and Manuscripts catalog itself does not make immediately clear whether images are available online. It is necessary to click “I want this” and look for “View online, Digital item(s), Digital version,” and not just “Restrictions to access apply.” Searches focused on available images of manuscripts should start at Digitised Manuscripts (​/manuscripts​/). Searching for the fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus through this portal will bring up images of folios possessed by the British Library in the standard image viewer used by the Library. It is much better to navigate to the site of the joint Codex Sinaiticus Project, described below. Search fields are limited and Boolean searches do not appear to be possible, but one should be able to filter the results with moderate effort. Keyword searches match anywhere in the catalog entry, such that a search for “keyword:Bible date:0-500” matches more than biblical manuscripts, while “title:Bible date:0-500” misses fragments and canon tables. The search portal for Illuminated Manuscripts (​/catalogues​/illuminatedmanuscripts​/) excludes as of June 2022 the Cotton collection, notably Cotton Genesis. However, the virtual exhibition “An Introduction to Bible Manuscripts” includes an image of one fragment (​/catalogues​/illuminatedmanuscripts​/TourBib1.asp). Other virtual exhibitions and articles online from the website of the British Library can be helpful as well, such as Peter Toth, “The Old Testament in Greek” (​/greek-manuscripts​/articles​/manuscripts-of-the-greek-old-testament). As of June 2022, the Library’s IIIF-compliant viewer does not include Greek biblical manuscripts, but increased interoperability can be anticipated for future developments (@ International Image Interoperability Framework).

Codex Sinaiticus Online

As of June 2022, the most advanced digital project related to the Greek manuscripts of the British Library is the joint project Codex Sinaiticus (​/). This project exemplifies the potential of digital technology for the study of manuscripts in several ways. First, it brings together in one digital space folios that are separated by great distances in geographic space. The folios are held in London, Leipzig, St. Petersburg, and St. Catherine’s Monastery in Sinai. In some cases, fragments of a single folio are held at different institutions. The digital project reconstructs the folios and the sequence of the original codex from disparate fragments. The project also acknowledges the principle that a single image does not adequately represent a folio. The image viewer allows the user to select “standard” (diffuse) or a raking angle of illumination. If additional raking angles exist, they are not available on the project website as of June 2022. The project website asserts that multispectral data (@ Spectral Imaging) were collected for some regions (not complete folios). The project also utilizes richly encoded transcription data, including corrections by various hands, encoded in TEI XML (@ Text Encoding Initiative). As much as possible, the multiple stages of modifications are encoded with identification of scribal hand. The three original scribes have distinct paleographic and orthographic characteristics. Subsequent “corrections,” marginalia, and annotations provide additional data about textual and reception history. It is possible to download the complete TEI XML representation of the text for further study. The digital products of the project are licensed Creative Commons BY-NC-SA (attribution, non-commercial, share-alike). The project links the image and transcription data, such that clicking on a portion of the transcription highlights the relevant region of the image, and vice versa. The project includes detailed metadata on the physical description of each folio. The physical description is especially important for codicology and the history of the book because Codex Sinaiticus stands at the beginning of the shift to parchment codices (as opposed to papyrus codices or parchment scrolls). The project also addresses the conflicting ways of thinking about the structure of a biblical manuscript. Users may navigate by book-chapter-verse (as judged by later traditions) or quire-folio-side of the reconstructed codex. The XML data also indicates column and line breaks (sometimes deviating from TEI guidelines to accommodate marginalia). The viewer also displays the library possessing the folio, the folio enumeration used by that library (as opposed to the reconstructed folio enumeration), and the primary scribe. Translations are available for some books. The project’s imaging, transcription encoding, and website development reflect the sometimes dated standards and judgments of the first decade of the twenty-first century. Overall, it endures as an important project for study of the textual, canonical, and codicological history of the Bible.


British Library, “An Introduction to Bible Manuscripts,”​/catalogues​/illuminatedmanuscripts​/TourBib1.asp, accessed 6/2/2022.

British Library, “Digitised Manuscripts,”​/manuscripts​/, accessed 6/2/2022.

British Library, “Explore Archives and Manuscripts,”​/, accessed 6/2/2022.

British Library, “Illuminated Manuscripts,”​/catalogues​/illuminatedmanuscripts​/, accessed 6/2/2022.

Codex Sinaiticus,​/, accessed 6/2/2022.

Peter Toth, “The Old Testament in Greek,”​/greek-manuscripts​/articles​/manuscripts-of-the-greek-old-testament, accessed 6/2/2022.

Todd R. Hanneken, “Greek Manuscripts of the British Library for the Science and Technology Volume of Brill’s Textual History of the Bible.” San Antonio, Texas: St. Mary’s University, June 2, 2022.