Saturday, October 3, 2015

1841. And Latin. And Constantin von Tischendorf

Unlike railroads, the Khyber Pass, the Ottoman Empire and baseball, I've had no difficulty whatsoever in linking Constantin von Tischendorf to the Latin language in 1841. It was as easy as could be, of course.

To be precise, in 1841 he was still just Constantin -- or Konstantin, or Constantinus -- Tischendorf. The "von," or "of," or "de," was awarded to him in 1869 by the Russian Tsar. I don't know how the "of" of an aristocratic title is written in Russian. But most Russian aristocrats, and many German ones too, were perfectly comfortable with the French "de," which makes me a little less self-conscious about my ignorance of the Russian term. Today he's usually Constantin to those reading or writing in French, Konstantin in German and Constantinus in Latin; in his own time he was perfectly comfortable with all 3 spellings, one of many examples of why I oppose those who insist that there is such a thing as "correct" spelling.

But you're saying, "Yeah, yeah, Steve, whatevs, but who was this Tischendorf, and why was it 'of course' easy to link him to Latin?" And because you ask that, I can see that you're no New Testament scholar. He's the most prominent figure in the history of the field. He made the single most spectacular discovery, of all time so far, of 1 Biblical manuscript, the Codex Sinaiticus, which he found in several pieces and put back together during 3 visits to St Catherine's Monastery under Mt Sinai in 1844, 1853 and 1859.

(I think that Grenfell and Hunt's discovery of the manuscripts at Oxyrhynchus is more spectacular, but it's a discovery of many manuscripts, not just 1, and of many kinds, not just Biblical.)

Besides this world-famous discovery he also discovered several other manuscripts less well-known to the general public, but nearly comparable to Sinaiticus in the eyes of Biblical scholars.

He was a thoroughly professional academic Biblical scholar, fluent in Greek and Hebrew. And it just so happens that in Western civilization, almost all scholars who are fluent in Greek are fluent in Latin as well. It's a matter of course that ancient Greek texts are published in the West with prefaces and footnotes in Latin. And generally expected that those prefaces and notes will be more easily-understood by most readers than those Greek texts. In Tischendorf's case, there's no need to wonder whether he might have been a rare exception to the rule of mastery of Latin, because, like a typical mid-19th-century scholar in many a field, he wrote and published a great deal in Latin, perhaps more, if you count it all up page-by-page, than in his native German. Tischendorf published quite a lot before he turned 26 in 1841. Here's his 1837 dissertation, Doctrina Pauli apostoli de vi mortis Christi satisfactoria.

(It's ironic that among the ancient people who wrote and spoke Greek, knowledge of Latin was NOT assumed. The Latin-speaking Romans had a great admiration for Greek literature. Young Roman gentlemen were often sent to Athens to complete their educations. But the Greeks tended to underestimate the literary achievements made in Latin, and often they looked down their noses at Latin and refused to learn any of it at all, even after the Romans conquered the Greek-speaking regions, giving great practical benefit to a knowledge of Latin.)

All of the territory Tischendorf covered in Egypt, where he made all of his great manuscript discoveries, was a part of the Ottoman Empire at the time. It seems quite possible that he may have ridden the Cairo-to-Alexandria railway line, which opened in 1856. Given his quite busy professional life after the first discovery of parts of the Codex Sinaiticus in 1844, it seems that he only would have avoided riding European trains at some time during his life (1815-1874) if he had deliberately gone quite far out of his way to do so. It seems a very safe assumption that Tischendorf rode the rails at some point. Perhaps if I could find his diaries, it could go from an assumption to a certainty.

It seems unlikely, however, even though he traveled a bit around Germany and Switzerland before 1841, that he rode a train as early as 1841, simply because there weren't very many railways in that region yet.

As far as Tischendorf ever having been in the Khyber Pass -- I do not yet know enough to rule it out, but I believe that his travels beyond Europe were mostly or entirely confined to Egypt.

I have not yet found any evidence that Tischendorf ever heard of baseball, nor that during his lifetime any baseball players ever heard of him. But you never know. (I'm picturing some various tenuous possibility such as Mark Twain meeting Tischendorf during his travels in Germany and mentioning baseball. That's a pretty tenuous possibility, I think.)

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