Constantine Tischendorf: The Life and Work of a 19th Century Bible Hunter

19 Dec

Bloomsbury have mailed along a copy of this brand spanking new work by Stan Porter:

tischConstantine von Tischendorf was a pioneer. He existed in an age when biblical studies as we know it was being formed, when the quest for forgotten manuscripts and lost treasures was being undertaken with no less zeal and intrigue than it is today. It was Tischendorf who found, and preserved, the oldest extant version of the complete bible that we know of, the so-called Codex Sinaiticus, which he discovered in poor condition at St Catherine’s Monastery at the foot of Mount Sinai, in 1846.

With the discovery of the Codex Tischendorf, and others, was to take the study of biblical texts further than ever before, through linguistic methods, and attention to the most ancient sources available. In many ways Tischendorf was a father figure of the modern Historical Critical Method.

In this short biography, Stanley E. Porter, himself one of the most respected scholars of the New Testament and Koine Greek currently writing, gives a portrait of Tischendorf’s life and work, together with an annotated republication of Tischendorf’s influential work on the Gospels.

Published to celebrate Tischendorf’s bicentenary, in 2015, this volume will be a must for those seeking to understand how the study of biblical manuscripts began, and to understand the man who discovered the oldest version of the bible as we know it.

Porter manages to do quite well in a very brief space what biographies ought to do: describe and discuss the subject of their study.  This little book is a model of the biographical art.  Here Porter introduces Tischendorf and his historical context.  He describes T’s life.  And he describes T’s work.  And that, in 78 pages, is it.  But in those 78 pages Tischendorf is, in a sense, rehabilitated.

His story is told cordially and it is quite obvious that Porter has an astonishing appreciation for and respect for T.  But this is no hagiography.  T’s weaknesses are on full display as are his many amazing and astonishing accomplishments.  And while of late T has been seen as something of a scoundrel, stealing from the poor hapless ignorant monks a treasure they did not and could not recognize, Porter sets the record straight.  In like wise, throughout the book’s extent, Porter paints a portrait of a brilliant and driven scholar who was far more than just a textual critic.

As though to illustrate the power of Tischendorf’s rhetoric, the second part of the book is a republication of his ‘When Were Our Gospels Written?’  In that delightful volume Tischendorf tells the story of the discovery of Sinaiticus and then in successive chapters discusses the Gospels and their origins in the testimony of the Church, the second century heretics and heathen, apocryphal evidence, the witness of Barnabas and Papias, and the manuscripts and versions of the second century.  The booklet (that is what it is) is introduced thoroughly and meticulously.   The Introduction commences on page 79 and ends on page 116.  The booklet begins on page 117 and ends on page 174.

The third and final segment of the volume is a select bibliography and an index.  The second and third parts are the bulk of the volume, extending over 100 pages.

Porter is to be congratulated both for his clarity of expression and for his decision to include a sample of Tischendorf’s lesser known writings.  Too few biographies offer such samples.  Indeed, most end up simply talking ABOUT the subject rather than allowing the subject to speak for itself.

Concerning Porter’s prose, a few examples are in order:

Tischedorf’s capacity for work was clearly beyond the ordinary (p. 32).

Tischendorf returned home to Leipzig, during his time away having been promoted to the position of Ausserordentlicher Professor at the University in 1845, a title he held until 1865.  He brought with him some 50 manuscripts that he depositing in the University Library as a special collection bearing his name.  I find it interesting to note that I have not (yet!) come across any suspicions raised about how Tischendorf acquired the rest of these manuscripts (p. 30).

Another thing that Porter has, and should have, done here is to awaken a new generation of critics and exegetes to a man who is far too often overlooked or, among some, even unknown.  Tischendorf was no fool, nor was he a neutral party in a quest for manuscripts merely for the sake of science.  His conclusion, which I’ve reproduced photographically and highlighted, speaks volumes concerning his aims:


You will, I think, wish to read this volume.  I shouldn’t be surprised if you were to read it numerous times.


Posted by on 19 Dec 2014 in Book Review, Books


2 responses to “Constantine Tischendorf: The Life and Work of a 19th Century Bible Hunter

  1. vincent

    15 Dec 2014 at 10:08 pm

    Reblogged this on Talmidimblogging.


  2. vincent

    17 Dec 2014 at 5:40 am

    Reblogged this on Talmidimblogging.