Sisters of Sinai

3 01 2011

I read an interesting book over the Christmas holidays – Sisters of Sinai by Janet Soskice.  It is a biography of Agnes & Margaret Smith, twin sisters from Scotland who became acclaimed Semitic scholars and travelled extensively throughout the Holy Land.  Although their most famous discovery was at St. Catherine’s monastery in the Sinai desert – one of the earliest New Testament manuscripts (its text dating to the 2nd century) – they are also famed for pointing Solomon Schechter in the direction of the Ben Esra synagogue in Cairo.  Inside the Ben Esra geniza was of course the collection that would would end up divided between the University of Manchester, the University of Cambridge and the British Library.

The twins were also pioneers of digitisation as, having an idea of the importance of their discovery, they photographed the remainder of the manuscript so that scholars back in the UK could decipher it. The actual transcription of the MS was done from the item itself, with the help of a reagent to help reveal the underwriting, and a monk who held down the pages during windy weather.

 


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