Constantin von Tischendorf

German New Testament textual critic

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 Constantin von Tischendorf
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Lobegott Friedrich Konstantin Von Tischendorf (1815-1874),German New Testament textual critic

Born in Lengenfeld, Tischendorf studied at Leipzig (1834-1838) under J. G. B. Winer, a noted Greek grammarian whose grammar of New Testament Greek (1822) had become a standard for many generations. For many years thereafter Tischendorf also taught in the theology department at Leipzig. Influenced by Winer, He developed an intense desire to utilize the most ancient manuscripts and thereby recover the purest and earliest form of the Greek New Testament. To that end he devoted a lifetime of labor to discovering manuscripts and producing accurate editions of the Greek New Testament. In fulfillment of his desire, he discovered Codexi Sinaiticus, deciphered the palimpsest Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus, collated countless manuscripts, and produced several editions of the Greek New Testament.

Of all Tischendorf's accomplishments, the best known is his discovery of Codex Sinaiticus at St. Catherine's Monastery (located near Mount Sinai). The manuscript, dated around AD. 360 to 375, is one of the two oldest vellum (treated animal hide) manuscripts of the Greek New Testament. The first time he visited the monastery (1844), he retrieved several leaves of an ancient Septuagint from a wastebasket. Many other leaves, he was told, had already been used to stoke fires! On another visit (1859) he was shown a copy of the Greek Scriptures (containing books of the Old Testament and all of the New Testament) by the steward of the monastery Recognizing it as the oldest extant copy of the Greek Scriptures, Tischendorf attempted to purchase the manuscript but was refused. After making a transcription of the text, he did some political maneuvering wherein the czar of Russia was given the manuscript in exchange for favors conferred upon the authorities of the monastery. Tischendorf greatly used the textual evidence of Codex Sinaiticus in preparing his critical editions of the Greek New Testament.

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In 19th century German biblical scholarship, many academic theologians experimented with speculative philosophical and historical accounts of Christian theology’s development. Tischendorf, on the other hand, wished to return evidence-based, rather than worldview-based, historical criticism of the Bible. He saw such criticism as a “conversion of theological science into sophistry.” An archaeologist as well as a New Testament scholar, Tischendorf had discovered one of the oldest New Testament manuscripts himself, the Codex Sinaiticus, on an archaeological expedition. Based on the information he gathered from his studies at home and afield, Tischendorf argues against academic theology’s verdict on the origin of the Gospels, their dating, and their authorship.

Although a professor of Greek and New Testament theology, Tischendorf did not restrict himself to the office or the classroom. Instead, he traveled across Europe, Africa, and the Middle East as an archaeologist, searching for any traces of ancient manuscripts. In 1844, Tischendorf made one of his greatest discoveries in the shadow of Mount Sinai— the Codex Sinaiticus, one of the oldest New Testament manuscripts, dated around AD. 360-375. In When Were our Gospels Written? Tischendorf recounts his search and discovery of the manuscript. Based on the new information yielded by that discovery, the scholar estimates dates for the composition of the Gospels. The Codex Sinaiticus remains a celebrated historical treasure, preserved in museums and prestigious libraries for future generations.

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