Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Agnes was undeterred

I have just finished Sisters of Sinai by Janet Soskice, which I enjoyed very much. It's about Scottish twins who made improbable discoveries in Middle Eastern Biblical manuscripts. The book's not out until next week, but because one of the twins was married to Samuel "Satan" Lewis, Parker Librarian, we've got an early copy in the library. The sisters were very likeable. They're also fine examples of the sort of person I completely fail to live up to being. Their upbringing, according to the tenets of what the author calls "fearless Presbyterianism", was rather similar to my own; their father actively encouraged them to read books seen as controversial at the time, like Darwin's writings. They took the attitude that better manuscripts of Biblical texts and better understanding of the variants which are found in the MS tradition are things to be desired not feared; this at a time when it was seriously suggested that Hebrew should not be taught in seminaries because access to the original texts just confused everyone. The older twin, Agnes, is particularly like the fictional character of Amelia Peabody in Elizabeth Peters' Egyptologist murder mysteries, and the stories of their travels are rather fun. I was surprised to learn that "Nile travellers were advised to bring with them a small pistol for use at dinner parties" but this turned out to be a more audible substitute for a gong, to let people on other boats know that it was time to dress for dinner, rather than as a defence from rampaging crocodiles, or anything of that sort.

There are a few little errors in the text, but I think that's just one of those things. People who can write text without errors are rare beasts. The Parker library does not contain three-quarters of all surviving Anglo-Saxon manuscripts; I have often heard it said that it has one quarter of them, but I'm not sure that's true either.

I really want to go to Sinai. I also yearn to go back to Jerusalem.

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