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Sisters Of Sinai: How Two Lady Adventurers Found the Hidden Gospels Paperback – 5 Aug 2010

4.8 out of 5 stars 54 customer reviews

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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: 12.9 x 2.6 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (54 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 153,596 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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4.8 out of 5 stars
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I wasn't sure what to expect from this book as the true tale of these 2 sisters is so extraordinary. However I believe that during this era some learned individuals truly were filled with a pioneering spirit even if they didn't recognise it as such. Why read historical fiction when historical fact is so fascinating? A delight to read especially for anyone with an interest in manuscripts.
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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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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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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
My mother-in-law, who went to Cambridge, as did the author of this book I believe, asked me to get this for her birthday. As background, she is the local historian in her village, has written three books herself with an historical, factual background. She absolutely loved this book and was completely captivated by it. I realise this is not my own personal review but felt that as it was such a completely successful present for someone who has quite high standards I thought it worth submitting!!
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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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Format: Hardcover
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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