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Bookmarks Issue: 
43-Nov-Dec-2009
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How Two Lady Adventurers Discovered the Hidden Gospels

A-The Sisters of SinaiCanadian by birth, Janet Soskice is a professor of Philosophical Theology at Cambridge University and a fellow of Jesus College.

The Topic: At a time when women were not admitted to most colleges, two middle-aged Scottish sisters took the world of biblical scholarship by storm when they made one of history’s most significant scriptural discoveries. Born in 1843, twins Agnes Lewis and Margaret Gibson were raised and educated by their wealthy, forward-thinking father after their mother’s death. Both married in their 40s and were widowed within three years. Eccentric, rebellious, and fluent in multiple languages, the grieving, devoutly Presbyterian sisters embarked together on a perilous journey to St. Catherine’s Monastery on Mount Sinai in 1892, where "an unpromising brick of parchment" they found turned out to be the earliest known copy of the Gospels, written in Syriac, which echoed the Aramaic dialect of Jesus, and dating back to the 2nd century.
Knopf. 316 pages. $27.95. ISBN: 9781400041336

Christian Science Monitor 4 of 5 Stars
"You needn’t follow a particular religion to become engrossed in this enthralling narrative. The Sisters of Sinai is a tale of grand adventure and far-flung travels, and it proves appealing even on that level. Soskice is so adept at making a rarefied subject accessible and vivid that the narrative seems almost cinematic." Carmela Ciuraru

Denver Post 4 of 5 Stars
"The Sisters of Sinai sets the extraordinary life story of two plucky women traveling in the Middle East—at a time when few people did—against a backdrop of swashbuckling Bible hunters, racing each other around the world to find the latest clue in the mystery of how the Bible was first written." Colleen O’Connor

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"With great clarity, [Soskice] steadily and captivatingly unwinds the complicated threads of her narrative, explicating formidable scholarship while keeping the twins at the fore. … For its evocation of the character, as well as the characters, of the era, Sisters of Sinai is a bracing and moving book, not only a story of adventure, but also a reminder of the ardor, hardship and energy invested in the pursuit of knowledge in that endlessly inquiring and industrious Victorian age." Caroline Alexander

Scotsman (UK) 4 of 5 Stars
"This rattling tale appears to come straight from an Indiana Jones adventure. … Janet Soskice has done an excellent job in piecing together the lives of two remarkable, and largely forgotten women who, like Moses, made a discovery at Mount Sinai that would transform their lives forever." Marc Horne

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"[A] luminous new study. … The Sisters of Sinai is by turns a rattling adventure yarn—thick with roving Bedouin and ancient tombs—and a testament to the power of perseverance." Matthew Shaer

Critical Summary

To critics’ delight, Soskice has resurrected the long-forgotten story of two daring women who bucked the conventions of their day and prevailed. Critics were quick to point out that this rollicking adventure tale will appeal to a broad spectrum of readers despite its religious overtones. Soskice’s scholarship is impeccable, and she engages readers in the controversies surrounding the Bible in the late 19th century while skillfully evoking the prejudices of the Victorian era and placing her charming subjects squarely within it. The spirited sisters struggled for recognition and control of the "Lewis Codex" amid academic suspicion, resentment, and treachery, and Soskice has penned a worthy tribute to their perseverance.