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Visiting the Monastery at Mount Sinai: A Blast From the Past

A long-time reader has asked that I re-post one of her favorite bits from the blog archives, about my trip a few years ago to Saint Catherine’s monastery at Mount Sinai.  It was indeed an amazing trip with an interesting tale connected to it, involving one of the greatest biblical manuscript discoveries of the 19th century (or, actually, of all time).  This will take two posts.


In my previous post I talked about Constantin von Tischendorf and his discovery of the Codex Sinaiticus in St. Catherine’s Monastery on the Sinai peninsula in 1844 and then 1859.   I have a personal anecdote to relate about the manuscript, one of the most interesting things every to happen to me on my various travels hither and yon.

To make sense of the anecdote I need to provide some background information.   As I indicated in my previous post, when Tischendorf discovered the codex Sinaiticus (as it was later called), he considered it to be the most ancient biblical manuscript then known to exist.  He was right.  It was.

Tischendorf claimed that the manuscript was gifted to him by the head of the monastery.   The monastery later claimed, and still claims to this day, that he stole it from them.

The manuscript consists of…

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What I Saw at St. Catherine’s Monastery at Mount Sinai
Student Excuses: A Blast From the Past



  1. talmoore
    talmoore  July 14, 2018

    Oh, the irony of stealing a bible.

  2. Avatar
    Pattylt  July 14, 2018

    Inquiring minds want to know…. is the bush still burning? 😂

  3. Lev
    Lev  July 14, 2018

    May I ask an off-topic question?

    I appreciate your presentation of Jesus in your book ‘Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium’, which carefully and masterfully uncovers the reliable sayings of Jesus in the gospels and presents him as an Apocalyptic Prophet.

    I also understand you believe Paul spent time with Peter, John, and James (the brother of Jesus), who knew him best, and that Paul had learned from them reliable stories about of Jesus – and had concluded he was the Son of God.

    How then, do you reconcile the presentation of Jesus as an Apocalyptic Prophet with Paul’s conclusion that he was the Son of God? They seem to be at odds with one another.

    In other words, why would Paul’s view be secondary to yours, especially as Paul had access to the people who knew Jesus’ life and ministry so well?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 15, 2018

      I’m not sure I understand the question fully. All those who followed Jesus after his death (including his brother and the disciples) believed he was the Son of God. They didn’t think he was a failed apocalyptic prophet.

      • Lev
        Lev  July 15, 2018

        Yes, sorry, I probably framed that question poorly.

        I’m trying to understand how you deal with the mismatch of the historical Jesus (as an apocalyptic prophet) with the presentation of him the gospels (Son of God).

        I understand you believe the gospels were the products of the church (many decades after Jesus’ death), rather than the products of eyewitnesses. So whilst they contain some reliable information that can be extracted using certain criteria, they have been heavily influenced by the teachings of the early church, and are a considerable distance from eyewitness accounts.

        However, as you’ve just acknowledged, there is broad agreement between the disciples of Jesus and the gospels – they both present Jesus as the Son of God.

        So how do you square the circle? If the most reliable parts of the gospels present Jesus as an apocalyptic prophet rather than Son of God, and yet his disciples and brother of Jesus taught he was the Son of God, how do you discard those conclusions as inauthentic or unreliable? Isn’t it more likely that the parts of the gospels that present Jesus as Son of God goes back to the historical eyewitnesses?

        • Bart
          Bart  July 16, 2018

          That’s one of the theses I deal with in my book How Jesus Became God — so you may want to look there for a fuller statement. The short version: the resurrection changed everything. Afterward, people started thinking of Jesus as divine, even though they didn’t before.

          • Lev
            Lev  July 16, 2018

            Thanks, Bart – that makes a lot of sense.

    • talmoore
      talmoore  July 15, 2018

      There’s a difference between what his disciples thought Jesus was and what we, with the benefit of hindsight and advanced understanding, are able to see he really was. For his followers, Jesus was more than just a prophet. He was a herald and harbinger of the coming Kingdom of God, a powerful bearer of the Holy Spirit of God, and possibly the Messiah/Son of God himself. And after Jesus’s resurrection, they saw him as the “first fruits” of the imminent mass resurrection of the dead. In other words, they obviously thought he was a pretty big deal.

      But what we see when we look at Jesus is the typical doomsday preacher and messianic claimant of that time and place. We just see another failed apocalyptic prophet. Clearly, those who continued to loyally follow Jesus even after his untimely demise didn’t think he was a failure. The irony, of course, is that, while Jesus himself was a failed prophet, he still managed to accomplish what most men can only dream about: becoming the most worshiped human being in the history of mankind. He basically failed upwards.

      • Lev
        Lev  July 16, 2018

        As a Christian, I take another view, but I see where you’re coming from.

        One question I’ve always wrestled with is – did he really fail as an apocalyptic prophet? The prediction that judgment would come and the temple be destroyed within a generation took place – if we consider that the victory of Rome in the Jewish revolt was ‘judgment’.

        Obviously, Jesus’ return and the final judgment of humanity has yet to occur, and it does sound like he predicted that would also happen within a generation.

        So perhaps he was half right, half wrong?

        PS: “He basically failed upwards.” <~I love this line. 🙂

        • talmoore
          talmoore  July 17, 2018

          “did he really fail as an apocalyptic prophet?”

          Well, Jesus preached that the ‘Olam ha-Ba (i.e. the Kingdom of God) was coming within the lifetime of his listeners — if not within months, weeks or days (otherwise, why the urgency in his message?). And, alas, the ‘Olam ha-Ba did not arrive within his lifetime. Nor the lifetime of his listeners. Nor the lifetimes of the next generation. It’s been almost two thousands years, and still no ‘Olam ha-Ba.

          So you tell me.

          • Lev
            Lev  July 19, 2018

            “So you tell me.”

            Christians would argue that Jesus was enthroned King of his new Kingdom on the first Easter morning and the disciples received power to establish the rule of the Kingdom of God “on earth as it is in heaven” to “the ends of the earth” at Pentecost. We also believe a final settlement would be made when Jesus returns and personally governs “a new heaven and new earth” at the final judgement of humanity when the resurrection of the dead will occur.

            So we believe that the Kingdom of God has come (easter / Pentecost), is coming (the mission of the church) and will come (the future apocalypse).

            How we untangle the various prophecies Jesus made over the coming judgment as it relates to the destruction of Jerusalem or the final judgment of humanity, is something I’ve never been able to accomplish to my satisfaction.

            It seems Jesus successfully called it over the destruction of Jerusalem within a generation, but it also seems his disciples were convinced the apocalypse would also occur within their lifetimes – which of course, never happened.

  4. Avatar
    prestonp  July 15, 2018

    “Jesus did not join the Pharisees…He associated with an apocalyptic prophet in the wilderness who anticipated the imminent end of the age. That was how Jesus began. Did He begin to focus on something other than what John preached?” Bart
    Indeed, the imminent end of that age came when Jesus arrived. Don’t forget John preached that he baptized with water, “but among you stands One you do not know… He is the One who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.” “I baptize you with water for repentance, but after me will come One more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” The Holy Spirit is exactly whom Jesus sent, though the Jews didn’t see the new era being ushered in like that, nor did the very earliest church. It passes the criterion of dissimilarity. John answered all of them: “I baptize you with water, but One more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”

    John testified concerning Him. He cried out, saying, “This is He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because He was before me.’”

    The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!

    Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”

    Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.

    As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

    as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:

    “I will send my messenger ahead of you,
    who will prepare your way”
    “a voice of one calling in the wilderness,
    ‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
    make straight paths for him.’”

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