Friday, July 13, 2018

What Darkened Sinaiticus?

Last year, I wrote a three-part series of posts refuting a conspiracy-claim to the effect that the famous Codex Sinaiticus is a forgery made in the 1800s.  Alas, the conspiracy theorists – particularly David W. Daniels of Chick Publications, assisted by Steven Avery – have continued to promote their theory that a man named Constantine Simonides produced the manuscript in his youth. 
Lately their website has focused on a particular question about the difference between the photographs of the portion of Codex Sinaiticus that is housed at the University of Leipzig and the portions that are housed elsewhere (mainly at the British Library, and at Saint Catherine’s Monastery):  “Why,” they ask, “are the CFA pages in Leipzig University Library white, while the remainder of the pages, described in 1845 as “white”, are stained and yellowed with age?” – the insinuation being that Constantine Tischendorf (who took most of the manuscript from Saint Catherine’s monastery during visits to Saint Catherine’s monastery in 1844 and 1859) artificially colored the second batch of pages, in an attempt to make them look ancient.  “Sinaiticus is clearly a fake,” Daniels states about Codex Sinaiticus in his book, Is the World’s Oldest Bible a Fake?, and “It is not an ancient manuscript at all.”  
The real Bible, Daniels affirms, is the King James Bible.  Much of his book has nothing to do with Codex Sinaiticus and is a presentation of KJV-Onlyist propaganda, which I shall not address here.  Instead, I shall consider today a question which Daniels raised repeatedly:  why are the pages from the first collection of pages that Tischendorf obtained in 1844 (the “Codex Frederico-Augustanus” pages housed at the University of Leipzig, in Germany) lighter in color than the rest of the pages?
Jacob W. Peterson, with a book-cradle
for manuscript photography.
            This issue about the color of the parchment seems to have been a sort of spark to Daniels’ investigations.  In his book, he describes an experience he had:  “I prayed and asked God, ‘What question should I ask?” And I heard “What color is it?”  And that was the beginning of all that you are about to read.  Please, check the facts all you want.”
            Okay.  Let’s check the facts.  To test Daniels’ claim that “someone darkened Sinaiticus,” I’ve consulted Jacob W. Peterson, a photography-specialist at the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts who has worked with almost 500 New Testament manuscripts and prepared thousands of photographs of manuscripts for CSNTM.  Here’s the conversation we had about the differences in the photographs of the different portions of Codex Sinaiticus:

Q:  Jacob, the photographs of the pages of Codex Sinaiticus at Leipzig clearly have a lighter tone than the photographs of the pages of Codex Sinaiticus at the British Library.  How do you account for this?

Peterson:  There are two explanations for what is going on here between the parts of the manuscript in the two collections and their online presentation. As that sentence hints at, these differences are part actual and part visual effect. As to the actual difference, there are undoubtedly differences in the storage conditions of these two sections of the manuscripts that likely led to some of the color difference.
For instance, you can look at other portions of the Codex Sinaiticus that are currently housed at St. Catherine’s that share the same color qualities of the London leaves.  They are just as dark, if not slightly darker.  It should be obvious that the manner in which a manuscript is stored can, and does, have an effect on its color and condition. The visual effect on the images is immediately recognizable for anyone who has worked in digital reproduction and with manuscripts in particular.
We’ll get into some of the finer details in a bit, but as an introduction, the color balance for the images appears to be off and my suspicion is that the lighting in the room had adverse effects on the resulting images. What this means is that the photographs of the Leipzig portion are not entirely accurate representations of the real leaves. Storage has definitely played a role.  I’m not saying that the leaves are actually dirty brown, but rather that the leaves are not greyish-white.
Same page.  Different lighting.
Q:  Here you have supplied, as an example of the effect of subtle environmental factors, two photographs of the same manuscript page. One image looks darker than the other. Did you apply lemon juice or tea to the manuscript-page before you took the second photo, or is there some other explanation?

Peterson:  Haha, no. This is a great example of how digital photography is not as simple as pointing a camera at an object, pressing a button, and out pops a perfect reproduction of the object. These images were taken about 15 minutes apart. If I remember the day correctly, we had just bought new cameras and were trying them out. We were working in a room with yellowish walls and the color would not come out correctly no matter how hard we tried. We moved the manuscript over to another room, where the walls were white, and the image was much better. So we brought the manuscript back to the main room, turned off the overhead lights, and only used the lights on our digitization stand. The correctly colored image on the left was the result. The implication is that the overhead lights were causing enough reflection off the walls to affect the color-tones in the photograph. When possible, we now use only the lighting attached to our equipment, which is designed to emit both warm and cool tones to provide as neutral lighting as possible.

Q:  When you compared the colors of the photographs of different parts of Codex Sinaiticus, what did you observe, and what does that imply about the environments in which the photographs were taken?

Peterson:  The portion of the manuscript housed in London features the typical slight variations one would expect in a manuscript. Some pages are slightly lighter, and some are darker. This is due to which side of the parchment you’re looking at (hair or flesh) and several other factors, like different kinds of animals used as sources of parchment.
The leaves at Leipzig, on the other hand, are a consistent off-white, which I would describe as having a cool-grey tone. There are a couple of problems with this:  (1) Leaves should have a little more variation than we see here due to the factors just mentioned, and (2) Manuscripts typically don’t have a cool-grey tone. Most manuscripts I’ve seen shade toward warm-yellow tones since this is more or less the default starting tone for parchment. If I were of the conspiracy mindset and knew that the images were accurate, I would actually be more inclined to think the Leipzig leaves were bleached to make them look newer. The situation would be comparable to the guys who polish the patina off of old guns to make them appear to be in better condition, but in doing so ruin their value. But I digress.

Q:  When you compare the color-charts that accompany the pages at Leipzig to the color-charts that accompany the pages at London, do you notice any difference?

Peterson:  There are immediately recognizable differences. The color chart in the London images is visually much closer to what I would expect. The color variations between the patches are clear and sharp. There’s no mistaking the magenta for a slightly different red. Similarly, the gradient of the greyscale proceeds nicely and evenly with differences between the sections noticeable at every point.
The Leipzig color charts unfortunately have some problems. The magenta and the purple patches are clearly not correct. At times the magenta is barely distinguishable from the red and the purple almost looks black. The grey and black patches are also barely distinguishable. Similarly, the greyscale portion of the chart has barely distinguishable sections on the black end and the middle grey color ends up being in the upper third of the chart rather than in the middle. To these color differences can also be added the background color for the images. I do not know for certain that they used the same board or material, but it looks that way and would be a sensible protocol. Yet, the background color does not match in the images across locations.

Q:  Does this mean that someone has been darkening the color-charts, along with the parchment, using lemon-juice or some special chemical agent?

Peterson:  Definitely not.

Q:  What, then, does it mean?

Peterson:  There are perfectly normal explanations for everything involved. Again, I think the storage conditions make up a significant portion of the differences, but the imaging has really altered our perception of the manuscript’s color.  At the NT Textual Criticism discussion-group on Facebook, I offered the possible explanation that the Leipzig portion was photographed under particularly cool lights (in the 6500K range). This would have given everything a cool-grey appearance so that what the photographers were seeing in the images was accurate to what they were seeing with their eyes. It would be like the difference between seeing things by the light of old yellow-tinted headlights versus new blue-tinted halogen headlights. The tone of the light you are using drastically influences your perception of the objects you’re looking at.
In such a scenario, the Leipzig crew did nothing blameworthy, and unfortunately their photographs were negatively affected by the lights of the room they were given to work in. Photographing manuscripts is not an easy task and there are so many variables, often out of your control, that can really affect the end product. My job is to critique photographs of manuscripts and you can ask teams working under me how much of a stickler I can be about getting things right. We have a shooting standard called “practical perfection” because we know that perfection is unattainable and sometimes there’s just nothing you can do or the equipment just won’t adjust quite right. At the end of the day, the Sinaiticus images are perfectly usable and I’d never advocate for re-imaging them because the minimal returns that would result would not be worth the risk of damaging the manuscript.

Q:  So, which possibility seems more likely to you: that Constantine Tischendorf deliberately darkened 347 pages of parchment, or that the photographs taken of the pages at Leipzig were taken under conditions that caused the parchment to look lighter than it actually is?

Peterson:  I definitely think the Leipzig leaves are artificially lighter in the images than in reality.  I made a technical measurement of the lightness value of the white square in the color target in one of the images at Leipzig, and it was 99, which is impossible given the type of target used and in comparison to the 95 value seen in the images at London.  This means that the image from Leipzig is washed out.  At minimum, it has what is technically called a Δ4 change.

Q:  Could you explain in a little more detail what is wrong with the approach being used by David Daniels?

Peterson:  The individuals who are claiming that Sinaiticus is a forgery are focusing on the HCL color values that were assigned to the images.  There is, no doubt, some objectivity and subjectivity to the process of assigning HCL color values when this is done without a spectrometer and averaging software.  Nevertheless, they provide a much better picture of the real color since they were done with the actual manuscript at hand. The conspiracy theorists have said the following about the color of the pages at Leipzig: 
“The colour of the CFA pages housed in Leipzig are consistently characterized by the CSP as S 1005-Y20R, while the leaves housed at the British Library are more variable.  They tend toward a NCS number of S 1010-Y or S1010-Y10R but vary all the way from S 1005-Y20R to S 1515-Y10R.”
They then offer this image [shown to right] as a sample of these NCS values.  You would have to be imbibing severe amounts of alcohol to think three of those colors even remotely describe Codex Sinaiticus. The GitHub generator they’ve used to convert the NCS code into RGB has serious deficiencies. If I had to guess, the code has inverted the yellow-red values. The S 1515-Y10R looks rather like actual NCS color S 1515-Y90R (As an aside, not recognizing such an issue casts strong doubt on SART’s description of Mark Michie as a “colour engineer expert”). Rather than using a second-hand generator, you are free to use the generator provided by the organization that came up with the NCS.
            Regarding the claims about supposedly radical differences in page color, let’s just say I am less than impressed.  I don’t have an explanation for why in Leipzig they seemed to have gone with a single descriptor code.  Perhaps they wanted to be a bit more specific with the larger sample size of leaves in London. Perhaps the Leipzig leaves are more uniform. Again, storage conditions perfectly explain the latter option if that’s the case.  Regardless of which of these is true, it is demonstrably untrue that the leaves in Leipzig are the cool-grey color that is shown in the digital images.  It is demonstrably untrue that those leaves are drastically different from those in London. The Leipzig leaves in actuality have a slight yellow tint that is exactly the same as, or very near to, the tint of some leaves in London.

Q:  So, how – with a minimum of jargon – would you answer David Daniels’ question, “Who darkened Sinaiticus?”

Peterson:  The natural passage of time, with possibly a little help from the British climate.  The options are to trust either (1) color science as demonstrated by L*A*B* and NCS color schemes, the physical assessment of the manuscript by a team of scholars, and my experience digitizing manuscripts or (2) A theologically motivated group who have never, to my knowledge, photographed, handled, worked with, or seen a manuscript except for perhaps in a museum display.

TTotG:  Thanks, Jacob.  I remind our readers that in addition to this explanation of the color-differences as basically a phantom-difference caused by different cameras’ environments, 20 more reasons why Codex Sinaiticus is not a forgery are listed in my earlier posts Ten Reasons Why Sinaiticus Was Not Made by Simonides and Ten More Reasons Why Sinaiticus Was Not Made by Simonides.  I would also like to draw reader’s attention to a 21st reason:   a newspaper report (mentioned by Dr. Tommy Wasserman in a comment in 2017) announcing that a fragment from Codex Sinaiticus (with text from Joshua 1) was discovered by researcher Nicholas Sarris in a book-binding from the 1700s.   


Steven Avery said...

Thank you, James and Jacob.

All of this has been responded to, point by point, and giving much more context, at:

What Darkened Sinaiticus? - the strange hand-wave theories of Jacob W. Peterson and James Snapp

MJH said...

Thanks for sharing this. Of course , none of this would be necessary if authorities would just carbon date the pages and ink of Siniaticus. The unwillingness to do so is a big red flag .......