Sinaiticus Goes Digital

Today Codex Sinaiticus will be available for all to see.  Not all of it, but at least a bit of it.  The site’s full completion of uploading the manuscript should happen by mid-summer next year.  Sinaiticus, a fourth-century manuscript, is the oldest complete New Testament manuscript known to us today (Old Testament is lacking portions).  I had the opportunity to see it a few times at the British Library, while passing through London.  It is truly a beauty.

News has been circulating for several days about it so I thought I would go ahead and mention it here.  So check it out and bookmark it!

Note: if the site doesn’t initially work it probably means they’re still working on it — it’s the launch day!  So try refreshing your page if it doesn’t work at first.

Ministrae in Pliny 10.96

Ben Witherington recently wrote a ‘postlude’ for his series of reviews on Frank Viola’s and George Barna’s work, Pagan Christianity.  In the latter part of the post he mentions Pliny’s comments on the Christians in Pontus-Bithynia as an outsider investigating some of their practices.  After quoting Pliny’s famous passage Ben notes that the two female servants “were tasked with the serving of the meal, since diakonia in its root meaning is ‘to wait on tables’.”

I bring this up not so much concerning the servants’ function, but rather the translation of ministrae.  Here, Ben’s comment seems a bit misleading, implying the letter was written in Greek when, in fact, it was written in Latin.  Here are my comments I made on his post, followed by a few additional thoughts:

I’m sure you know that Pliny’s letter to Trajan was written in Latin; so the word translated, in my opinion awkwardly, as ‘deaconesses’ isn’t diakonia, but rather ministrae.

Also, very recently (in April during my course on Tacitus and Pliny) I had a conversation with classicist Miriam Griffin about this passage and the awkwardness of deaconesses as the translation for ministrae. Pliny certainly knows of some of the practices, but he admits in 10.96.1 that he had never been present at ‘trials of Christians.’ With the women, Pliny is dependent on what they’re saying to him. We don’t know what they said. But they must have given Pliny some explanation concerning the status of these Christians.

We both concluded that Pliny, although he was aware of these Christian practices (how much did he know?), might not have known the particular nuances of the specific function of these ministrae. We settled on a more general translation such as ‘servants.’  We were trying to see things from a Roman point of view as Pliny wrote about his investigations.

This is not to detract these women’s function in their own church context, but it seems safer to keep it generic and understand Pliny is writing from his point of view as a Roman.


It’s interesting that Sherwin-White, Radice, Walsh, and W. Williams translate ministrae as deaconesses.  Even the OLD has that as a gloss translation.  Commenting on the Latin, Williams (Pliny: Correspondence with Trajan from Bithynia, p. 143) writes, “The Latin word ministrae is probably used to translate the Greek word diakonoi, for Paul refers to Phoebe as the diakonos (servant) of the church at Cenchreae (Romans 16, 1).” There certainly may be a reason for giving that sort of translation–even connecting the dots (anachronistically?) with Paul.  But as I try to see it from a Roman’s point of view, as I mentioned, although he knew some of their basic practices, I don’t think Pliny would have known the intricacies of these Christian people’s function and organization.  Again, I think it may be better to translate the word more generically.  (I tend to repeat myself a lot!)  It really isn’t a huge issue but I’m just nit-picky sometimes. 🙂  Does anyone else have an opinion on the passage?

iTunes U Classics

I just received an e-mail from iTunes U about several of their Classics audio/video offerings — for free download.  News is already circulating; I have also mentioned the iTunes U’s offering for Vergil’s Aeneid.  Here is what is mentioned in the e-mail: