Sunday, October 24, 2021

Why Is James White Still Spreading a Myth?

           James R. White, the director of Alpha & Omega Ministries, continues to spread a false version of how Codex Sinaiticus was initially encountered by Constantine Tischendorf - and it looks likes his colleagues in/around Phoenix, Arizona are doing nothing to prevent him from doing so.  As far back as 1995, when the first edition of The KJV-Only Controversy was published, White claimed that in 1844, Constantine Tischendorf visited St. Catherine's monastery and saw "some parchment scraps" in a basket.  White went on to say that on a subsequent visit in 1853, Tischendorf's incessant search for manuscripts was "of no avail," but on another visit six years later, the steward of St Catherine's monastery showed him Codex Sinaiticus, have produced it from the close of his cell, "wrapped in a red cloth."
            This version of how Tischendorf first encountered Codex Sinaiticus was repeated in 2009, when the second edition of The KJV-Only Controversy was released.  Earlier, in March of 2006 (in material that is still online at Alpha & Omega Ministries' website), James White appealed to his own account in The King James Only Controversy in an attempt to refute the claim by Douglas Stauffer (currently a preacher in Niceville, FL) that Codex Sinaiticus was discovered in a trash can.  White writes:

            "So as you can see, Sinaiticus was not found in a trash can.  It was clearly prized by its owner, and well cared for.  The only reason Stauffer and those like him continue to repeat this story is for its impact upon those ignorant of history and unlikely to actually look into it for themselves.  But for anyone serious about the subject, such dishonesty destroys one's credibility."

            James R. White thus accused Dr. Stauffer of falsely saying that Codex Sinaiticus was found in a trash can ‒ and I'd say that he also appears to have accused Dr. Stauffer of dishonesty.  But it is James R. White who is telling a tale here, with help from Richard Pierce and from Bethany House Publishers (which has spread White's remarkably misleading version of events for over 20 years, in addition to many other inaccurate claims James White has made).

           Tischendorf's account of his first encounter with part of Codex Sinaiticus ‒ an account which is itself highly suspect in some respects ‒ can be found, in English, in his 1867 essay, verbosely titled, When Were Our Gospels Written?  An Argument by Constantine Tischendorf.  With a Narrative of the Discovery of the Sinaitic Manuscript - Translated and Published by the Religious Tract Society in London, Under an Arrangement with the Author.  Happily this document can be found online at Google Books and at among other places.

            When we open that text, we find that what White described as "parchment scraps" found by Constantine Tischendorf on his first visit to St. Catherine's Monastery (in 1844) were pages of Codex Sinaiticus, which at the time Tischendorf called Codex Frederico-Augustanus, in honor of one of his chief European benefactors, Frederick Augustus II of Saxony.  Tischendorf makes this perfectly clear, beginning in his description of his first encounter with pages of Codex Sinaiticus:

           "It was at the foot of Mount Sinai, in the convent of St. Catherine, that I discovered the pearl of all my researches.  In visiting the library of the monastery, in the month of May, 1844, I perceived in the middle of the great hall a large and wide basket full of old parchments; and the librarian, who was a man of information, told me that two heaps of papers like this, mouldered by time, had been already committed to the flames. What was my surprise to find amid this heap of papers a considerable number of sheets of a copy of the Old Testament in Greek, which seemed to me to be one of the most ancient that I had ever seen.  The authorities of the convent allowed me to possess myself of a third of these parchments, or about forty-five sheets, all the more readily as they were destined for the fire.  But I could not get them to yield up possession of the remainder. The too lively satisfaction which I had displayed, had aroused their suspicions as to the value of this manuscript.  I transcribed a page of the text of Isaiah and Jeremiah, and enjoined on the monks to take religious care of all such remains which might fall in their way."

              The reason why Doug Stauffer and D. A. Waite and various other individuals have spread the report that Tischendorf found pages of Codex Sinaiticus in a basket, about to be burned, is obvious:  they have rephrased the same thing that James White rephrased when he wrote that in 1844 Tischendorf was presented with "parchment scraps in a basket that was to be used to stoke the fires in the monastery's oven." (see The KJV-Only Controversy, p. 56, 2nd ed.).  The difference is that they grasped that Tischendorf was referring to pages of Codex Sinaiticus:  Tischendorf himself claimed to have found pages of Codex Sinaiticus in "a large and wide basket" which seemed in danger of being disposed of by the monks.  The "about forty-five sheets" of Codex Sinaiticus that Tischendorf took to Leipzig were stamped with the stamp of the Library of Leipzig University, which can still be seen to this day at the Codex Sinaiticus website, for instance in Lamentations.

            White went on to say that in 1853, "Tischendorf tried to find more manuscripts at the monastery in 1853 but to no avail."  This is very different from Tischendorf's own account:  "Having set out from Leipzig in January, 1853, I embarked at Trieste for Egypt, and in the month of February I stood, for the second time, in the convent of Sinai.  This second journey was more successful even than the first, from the discoveries that I made of rare Biblical manuscripts." 

            Only as James White describes Tischendorf's third visit to St. Catherine's Monastery, in 1859, does his version of events begin to converge with Tischendorf's.  In 1859, according to Tischendorf, the steward of the convent "took down from the corner of the room a bulky kind of volume wrapped up in a red cloth, and laid it before me.  I unrolled the cover, and discovered, to my great surprise, not only those very fragments which, fifteen years before, I had taken out of the basket, but also other parts of the Old Testament, the New Testament complete, and in addition, the Epistle of Barnabas and a part of the Pastor of Hermas."

           How James White has managed to repeat the detail about Codex Sinaiticus being wrapped in a red cloth (in a footnote on page 58 of The KJV-Only Controversy, 2nd ed.) and yet fail to realize that pages of Codex Sinaiticus  not mere "parchment scraps in a basket that was to be used to stoke the fires in the monastery's oven" (KJV-Only Controversy, p. 56)  were what Tischendorf encountered in 1844, is mind-boggling.  Nevertheless that is exactly what seems to have happened, and White's contorted version of events has been spread far and wide (with the endorsement of Craig Blomberg and D.A. Carson!) for over two decades.

            I recommend to those in charge at Bethany House Publishers (a division of Baker Publishing Group), and to whoever has any control over what Alpha & Omega Ministries produces, and to the leadership of Apologia Church including Jeff Durbin, Luke Pierson, and Zack Morgan in Mesa, Arizona (where James White is currently an elder), to arrange for a retraction of James White's false report about Codex Sinaiticus, and an apology from James White to those he has insulted and/or misrepresented in this regard, including Doug Stauffer.  James White wrote (at Alpha & Omega Ministries' blog), "Any "scholar" who can't even get this story straight is not really worth reading, to be honest."   Ten years ago when I made a short video attempting to prod James White to revise his distorted claims, I disagreed:  surely the gracious option is to think that although someone has made an inexplicable blunder, he can still be worth listening to.  But now, after ten years have passed in which James White has not retracted his version of the story, I agree.