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Sisters Of Sinai: How Two Lady Adventurers Found the Hidden Gospels [Kindle Edition]

Janet Soskice
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (47 customer reviews)

Print List Price: £10.99
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Book Description

Sisters of Sinai is the story of how Scottish twin sisters made one of the most important manuscript finds of the nineteenth century - an early copy of the gospels which lay hidden in the Sinai desert. We trace the footsteps of the intrepid pair from the Ayrshire of their childhood, as they voyage to Egypt, Sinai and beyond, coping with camels, unscrupulous dragomen, and unpredictable welcomes, not least from the academics of their adopted home in Cambridge.

Fast-paced, informative and written with dry wit, this is a story of two remarkable women, undeterred in their spirit of adventure, who overcame insuperable odds to claim a place in history.

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"In Sisters of Sinai Janet Soskice has achieved the impossible - she has brought biblical scholarship to life. A gripping story of two spirited women determined to pursue the truth whatever the cost, with camels to boot. Wonderful." (Sara Wheeler)

"An extraordinary and compelling book, combining vivid travel adventures, wonderful characters, and absorbing journeys of the mind and heart. Janet Soskice brilliantly and accessibly unfolds one of the most gripping sagas of Biblical detection, while telling the story of two magnificent women who trespassed intrepidly in worlds that sought to exclude them." (John Cornwell)

"You needn't follow a particular religion to become engrossed in this enthralling narrative. Sisters of Sinai is a tale of grand adventure and far-flung travels... Soskice is so adept at making a rarefied subject accessible and vivid that the narrative seems almost cinematic." (The Christian Science Monitor)


`a cracking tale of two irresistible characters'

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 5388 KB
  • Print Length: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Digital (27 July 2010)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (47 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #134,620 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
4.8 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 19th century women heros telling us who we are 2 Jan. 2011
A brilliant book telling the story of two (very) rich Scottish widows, Dr. Agnes Smith Lewis and her twin sister Dr. Margaret Dunlop Gibson, who searched the Sinai desert (!) for ancient Syriac manuscripts (!!) near the end of the nineteenth century. The story is astonishing at all sorts of levels. They were strict Presbyterians, well connected, very well educated, multilingual, exceptionally healthy and very clever.

They found out that the monastery where von Tischendorf found the Codex Siniaticus was expected to have Gospels in Syriac which might predate the recently found "Curetonian" Diatessaron, which was 5th century. It turned out that the "Sinaitic Syriac" the palimpsest found by Mrs Lewis and her sister in 1892 had been attested by Ephraim the Syrian, placing it in the 2nd century (so it was important!). Mrs Lewis had learned Syriac especially for this expedition (being already fluent in Arabic, Hebrew and modern and Biblical Greek). (!!!)

The monks of St.Catherine's monastery, who as Greek Orthodox could not be more different from the Presbyterian sisters (who thoroughly disagreed with both their theology and their practise), had faithfully preserved all these ancient manuscripts for 1200 years and more. Actually, the first great Schism in the Church was at the Cappadocian Settlement of the fourth/fifth centuries, where the Syrian church seceded. But it was the Syriac monks who preserved the Greek philosophical manuscripts that the Islamic scholars edited later and shared with Christian scholars. And it was this new understanding that Aquinas codified (against, it must be said, very substantial obscurantist opposition), and the mediaeval rational theology that underpinned the mediaeval physicists like Buridan on whom Galileo depended.
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88 of 91 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stars of Sinai 1 April 2009
Janet Soskice has brought to vivid life the extraordinary story of the Smith sisters, Agnes and Margaret, staunch Scottish Presbyterians, who did the unthinkable for two respectable ladies of the mid Victorian era. Not only were they well educated, in itself unusual at a time when education for ladies tended to stop at watercolouring, embroidery, a little piano playing and possibly a smattering of French. The Smith sisters were fortunate in having considerable private means, but their intellectual vigour ( encouraged from the earliest by their widower father ) led them to pursue biblical scholarship. They learnt to speak and read, (besides the customary European languages, French, Italian and German), Greek, classical and modern, Arabic, Hebrew, and Syriac.

It was knowledge of the latter which enabled Agnes to make the discovery that transformed their lives, and propelled them into the front rank of Biblical textual scholars. Alerted to the possibility by a scholar friend, they set off for St. Catherine's Monastery, Mount Sinai, specifically to track down an ancient gospel manuscript in one of the monastery's store cupboards. It turned out to be a palimpsest, an over-written vellum book, containing in the partially erased original writing, one of the very earliest copies of the four gospels. It was written in Syriac, a language very close to the Aramaic spoken by people in Israel at the time of Jesus.

The journey, one they were to repeat six times, was arduous enough, even with the financial means to assemble the large caravan of camels, dragomans, porters, cooks and so on necessary for an extended crossing of the Sinai desert. It was an even more outstanding achievement for two Victorian ladies to organise the expedition for and by themselves.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Double trouble 24 July 2010
This is an excellent story that needed to be told. Meticulously researched, beautifully and authoritatively written by Prof. Janet Soskice. Just like the Scottish twins, who rose from the ranks of amateur linguists to international scholars of theology and philology, no extensive prior knowledge is required but an open mind will go a long way. How infuriating to learn that only a century ago, Cambridge did not award degrees to women!
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sinai and the West 24 April 2010
A remarkable book about two women who were able to fulfil many of their dearest wishes. The fact that they were able both to amass 2,000 mss and even learn the necessary languages to read many of them is their triumph of education. Sinai has never been easily accessible for Westerners, so they must have charmed their way in. The Bete Noire who could so easily have frustrated their attempts was the 19th Century German Scholar, Tischendorf, but they built up a new relationship with the monks of Sinai, which is truly commendable. When the New Sinai website started up, last year, in its first three hours it had 20 million hits. Such is the interest in Mt. Sinai.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Victorian academic heroines brought to life. 22 Feb. 2011
The human drama of this biblical research - the journeys and the jealousies, the diligence and determination, the erudite and the oecumenical - makes this a remarkably good book to read, as others have said. It is a real life quest for a Holy Grail, in this case the earliest available verification that the Bible has not been distorted over the centuries by translation and transcription errors and omissions (those impressed by Dan Brown's books will struggle with this true adventure). The author conveys the importance of the sisters' discovery at the time, but avoids undue hyperbole. She also includes their key role in the important discovery of the Wisdom of Ben Sira in Hebrew.
Despite their Wee Free church upbringing, and some remarks on the customs of other Christian organizations, the heroines of this tale come across as relatively broad minded in their search for truth and more generous towards their academic peers than might have been the case had their path to scholarship been more traditional and masculine.
The author reports the sisters' own sense of `Greater Providence' being responsible for providing two self-disciplined and highly intelligent ladies of independent means to find and make available to a freshly doubting world the earliest version of the four gospels. And, indeed, why not? This is a fine combination of an enjoyable yet thought-provoking read.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
An amazing achievement by these two Presbyterian sisters
Published 20 days ago by H,C, de Iongh
5.0 out of 5 stars This is an amazing story of serendipity
This is an amazing story of serendipity, hard work, perseverance and great courage. I have been greatly affected by this story of two Victorian ladies who come from a small town... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Lochside
5.0 out of 5 stars Enchanting phrases
The language used in the writing is enchanting. This is an engaging tale containing real (and realistic) characters from history. An excellent read.
Published 5 months ago by Rosie Glover
4.0 out of 5 stars Sister of Sinai
This is a wonderful story, well told, long, but keeps your interest to the last page. Two amazingly brilliant Victorian twins, never beaten by anything, full of energy and... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Sara McCREA
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Excellent purchase
Published 6 months ago by S C WADE
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 7 months ago by Mrs S
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Enjoyable reading makes you think.
Published 7 months ago by christina
4.0 out of 5 stars A real gem
Despite my enthusiasm for exploration, especially in the Victorian era - when the world was unveiling secrets at an incredible rate, the names of Agnes and Margaret Smith were... Read more
Published 8 months ago by Jules
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Very Good. Fascinating
Published 10 months ago by Rev. M. Appleyard
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
A must to read if you ever go to St Catherine's monastry.
Published 11 months ago by jean-pierre
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