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

Janet Soskice
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
RRP: 10.99
Price: 7.69 & FREE Delivery in the UK on orders over 10. Details
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Book Description

5 Aug 2010

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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Sisters Of Sinai: How Two Lady Adventurers Found the Hidden Gospels + Codex Sinaiticus: The Story of the World's Oldest Bible
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Product details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (5 Aug 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 009954654X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099546542
  • Product Dimensions: 2.6 x 13.2 x 19.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 23,145 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"The hunt for early Bible manuscripts was among the most romantic of all the 19th century's grand quests... At the heart of this lively, inspiring double biography is the story of how a pair of spirited Presbyterian women made their own extraordinary discovery" (Sunday Times)

"A bracing and moving book...a reminder of the ardour, hardship and energy invested in the pursuit of knowledge and that endlessly inquiring and industrious Victorian age" (New York Times)

"This pacy tale involves not only an Indiana Jones-like quest, but camel rides across the Sinai desert, trips up the Nile, bickerings, misunderstandings and confusions... A cracking tale of two irresistible characters" (Herald)

"[A] luminous new study... Sisters of Sinai is by turns a rattling adventure yarn - thick with roving Bedouin and ancient tombs - and a testament to the power of perseverance" (Washington Post)

"Marvellous... A fine, fascinating account" (Los Angeles Times)

Review

`a cracking tale of two irresistible characters' --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
4.8 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 19th century women heros telling us who we are 2 Jan 2011
Format:Paperback
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
Format:Hardcover
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
Format:Hardcover
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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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Engaging tale of two likeable and determined women 28 April 2011
By Jeremy Bevan TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
This is a wonderful true story in the best traditions of intrepid 19th century scholarship-cum-exploration, combining the discovery of biblical manuscripts, ferocious academic competition, intrepid travel in far-flung lands and a healthy dose of good old-fashioned Victorian eccentricity. It's the story of how twin sisters Agnes and Margaret Smith, women of independent means and robust Presbyterian Christian faith, discovered an ancient Syriac version of the Gospels at St. Catherine's monastery in Sinai, a discovery with major implications for New Testament scholarship. Janet Soskice tells their story very well, and in an accessible, flowing style. She catalogues the sisters' fascinating transformation from keen, interested amateurs with a love of travel and a gift for languages into serious scholars with a command of Syriac, Hebrew, Arabic and Greek, not to mention palaeography - acquired in crash course at Cambridge after the Sinai find.

They emerge as likeable and determined women, often struggling in the male-dominated world of Orientalist scholarship to achieve the recognition that was clearly their due. At times, the tale is racy, almost breathless, as scholars rush to secure manuscripts and publish their findings ahead of others. It's clear that the period was one of fevered excitement, with ancient manuscripts turning up in whole or in part at Cairo antique dealers almost faster than scholars could get their hands on them. Not surprisingly in such an atmosphere, there are some serious fallings-out along the way, and although Soskice is scrupulous in noting the variant accounts of all the participants in the Sinai expedition, she is not surprisingly at some pains to defend the sisters' version at some length.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars How is it that these two amazing women are not household names
Fascinating. How is it that these two amazing women are not household names? I'm very glad to have been introduced to their incredible lives and accomplishments, they must have... Read more
Published 1 month ago by PGTips
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Fascinating story. Very readable.
Published 1 month ago by Barbara Cooper
5.0 out of 5 stars Very good and interesting read
This is a brilliant and factual adventure story. It's also, perhaps unwittingly quite humorous. I don't know what the sisters would think about the easy way in which we travel... Read more
Published 4 months ago by shelalia
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant Book!
An enthralling story of two extremely talented and determined women whose journeys to the Middle East are amazing! Read more
Published 4 months ago by Pat Kadwell
5.0 out of 5 stars Book
Bought for interest in local subject matter.It seems well written and much research put into it. There are many who would enjoy reading this.
Published 4 months ago by Maccer
5.0 out of 5 stars very satisfied
This book was mentioned in a TV documentary and I sent for a copy. Having visited Sinai I was intrigued by the contents and not disappointed. Read more
Published 4 months ago by jeanfinlay
5.0 out of 5 stars Discovery of ancient gospels
This was the best book I had read for some time, well researched and full of scholarship but written as a real adventure story with the added interest that it was all true.. Read more
Published 4 months ago by veronica wilson
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic book
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Extremely well written in a prose format that flowed well. The factual matters were never boring. What fantastic women! Read more
Published 5 months ago by Susan Lang
4.0 out of 5 stars An Adventurous Twosome
The idea of two sisters travelling without male escort in what was a wild part of the Turkish empire in the 19th century, is unusual to say the least. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Mithra
5.0 out of 5 stars Revelations.
A spellbinding tale, well written and structured. The story of two Presbyterian female twins who, by their own tenacity,intellect and conviction uncovered a series of... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Donald Bain
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