As reported by the BBC. This time it’s the oldest known manuscript of the Bible, the Codex Sinaiticus, which has been in several pieces in different countries since its 19th-century discovery. The digital version is expected to be online in 2009, and will enable not just scholars but anyone to view the entire text together. The article indicates that a translation of the original Greek will also be available.

This brings up several issues. First, there is the fact that when historical texts like this are digitized, they are often in languages which are not familiar to many potential users. Even someone who speaks modern Greek is likely to have difficulty with a text in the fourth-century version of the language, which furthermore does not have the modern convention of space left between words. Thus although digitization does improve access, that alone is not sufficient for many.

Translations are therefore necessary in order to make these texts truly available for wide use. Then more questions are raised: Who will do the translation? Into what language(s)? Will the translations be copyrighted and who will own the copyright? For a text like the Bible, where the choice of wording for translation can have significant effects on interpretation and thereby affect religious understanding, the problem of who will translate and how is especially critical. In the case of the Codex Sinaiticus, which includes two additional books in the New Testament and which has other important textual differences from other manuscripts, this may be a major consideration.

The article doesn’t mention how the digital form will be made available – through a website, on a cd-rom, or what other means. Nor does it give any indication of image format, methods of searching/viewing, etc.; these may be things as yet in flux. It will be interesting to see how the digitization of the Codex is carried out and presented, and what effects the availability of this text has on Biblical studies and indeed on religion generally.