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Constantine Tischendorf: New Book

January 9, 2015

Constantine Tischendorf (1815-1874) was certainly one of the most prodigiously productive scholars of his or any other time.  He was (and remains) also a figure of controversy, claim and counter-claim.  In a new book on Tischendorf (and released in anticipation of the 200th anniversary of his birth on 18 January), Stanley Porter gives a short biography and an appreciative assessment of the man and his scholarly work:  Constantine Tischendorf:  The Life and Work of a 19th Century Bible Hunter (London:  Bloomsbury, 2015).

Tischendorf is most famous (and controversial) for his discovery and publication of a manuscript found in the St. Catherine Monastery that is likely the oldest manuscript of a complete Christian Bible (of “Old Testament” and New Testament):  Codex Sinaiticus (most of it now housed in the British Library, London; see the link here).  But in addition he produced a huge body of other scholarly work, including the several successive editions of his Greek New Testament (Novum Testamentum graece, the 8th edition of 1869-72 still an essential reference for NT textual critics).

Drawing upon material held in Leipzig University and available more readily since the re-unification of Germany, and also guided by Christfried Böttrich (who has several German-language publications on Tischendorf), Porter gives a very readable brief account of Tischendorf’s career, and a concise discussion of his contributions to several areas of study (palaeography, textual criticism, the Greek Old Testament, the Greek New Testament, and his critical engagement with “higher criticism and theology”).  In addition, Porter includes the English translation of Tischendorf’s apologetic work, When Were Our Gospels Written?, preceded by a 32-page introduction to this work, helpfully setting it in the context of its time and the issues on the boil then (which, actually, aren’t all that different from those boiling today).

On questions about Tischendorf’s integrity, in particular his actions and intentions in the acquisition of Codex Sinaiticus, Porter is strongly positive, giving his reasons for taking this view.  Porter’s small book is a timely tribute Tischendorf and an accessible reminder of his remarkable career and many contributions to scholarship.

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  1. Larry (if I may)
    Thank you for the recommendation. I had not yet been aware of this new publication, and have immediately ordered it. By the way, I think that you will find that the name of the German scholar to whom you refer is Christfried Böttrich, assuming that you are referring to the author of the book “Der Jahrhundertfund”.
    With very best wishes for 2015 to you and yours.
    Trevor R Allin

    • Yes, Trevor, of course, it’s “Christfried.” I’m embarrassed, as he’s a personal acquaintance!

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