Posts Tagged ‘“Sisters of Sinai”’

Still More Books About Extraordinary Women

These reviews include two famous women explorers, a godly pastor’s wife who wrote a very famous hymn, a champion of the poor, and a missionary to western Africa. It is marvelous how many ways God uses women to take the Gospel to the lost. I hope you will get these books. You will be inspired and blessed!


—  Soskice, Janet, The Sisters of Sinai: How Two Lady Adventurers Discovered the Hidden Gospels, (Vintage Books: A Division of Random House, New York, 2010).

sisters of sinai bookDuring the nineteenth century the Bible came under attack by liberal scholars influenced by the so-called “higher criticism”. Critics not only doubted the dates of the Gospels but they doubted the integrity of the text itself.

Faithful Christians never doubted that the Word of God was given by the Holy Spirit and that the Scriptures had been protected by God down through the centuries. They longed to counter the claims of the liberals but there were very few ancient copies of the Scriptures to authenticate their claim that the Bible indeed was written by Paul and other men of God during the first century.

But God has continually protected His Word and in His providence directed the finding of evidence of its veracity. Twin sisters – Margaret Smith Gibson and Agnes Smith Lewis – came across one of the earliest known copies of the four Gospels in a secluded monastery in the Sinai Peninsula.

Janet Soskice tells the story of these remarkable twin sisters in a very engaging manner. Not only is this a great adventure story, but Janet Soskice gives all of the background to the machinations and intrigues of those scholars who hunted for ancient manuscripts. Cambridge University wanted to downplay any credit to the Smith twins, simply because they were women. God chooses whom He will to serve Him and these sisters gave a great gift to the world. You will have a hard time putting this book down.


—  James, Sharon, Elizabeth Prentiss: ‘More Love to Thee’, (The Banner of Truth Trust, Carlisle, PA, 2006).

Many people are familiar with the hymn “More Love to Thee”. Not many know that ite prentiss book was written by a very godly Christian woman after the nearly fatal illness of her daughter. Elizabeth had suffered many tragedies in her life but always remained faithful to Christ.

 More love to Thee, O Christ, more love to Thee!
Hear Thou the prayer I make on bended knee;
This is my earnest plea,
More love, O Christ, to Thee,
More love to Thee, more love to Thee!

In this wonderful biography of Elizabeth Prentiss Sharon James relates the story of this virtuous pastor’s wife in a way that will bless you as you seek to grow in your love for God. For over one hundred and forty years Christians have been given hope by the words of Elizabeth Prentiss through her hymns and her writings. She truly lived for Christ and has inspired many to do the same.


—  Prentiss, Elizabeth, Stepping Heavenward,  (The Bible People, USA, 2014).

stepping heavenwardElizabeth Prentiss wrote many books and poetry. Her children’s stories were very popular in the mid nineteenth century. “Stepping Heavenward” is one of the books that remains popular today. Elizabeth’s hymn, “More Love to Thee” expressed all that she wanted for her life. That message is timeless and many Christian women have been drawn closer to God while reading this book.

Published in 1869, within thirty years more than 200,000 copies were sold. “Stepping Heavenward” relates the theme of the centrality of our love for God in the form of a story. It appears as a diary of a woman who gives the day to day events of her life as she prepares for eternal life with God.

There are many editions of “Stepping Heavenward”. The one referenced above also contains study questions that may be used by women’s Bible studies.


—  Kent, Deborah, Dorothy Day: Friend to the Forgotten, (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, 1996).

Deborah Kent presents this story beginning with Dorothy’s early memories of her Dorothy Daymother’s aid to the destitute and homeless after the great San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906, through the devastation of the depression, the aftermath of World War II, and the demonstrations for worker’s rights in the 1970’s, and many other causes.

Dorothy Day’s life was one of service to others for over four decades. She is well known as the leader of the Catholic Worker Movement. She was committed to social justice because of her love for Christ. Her Bible was her main solace.

Dorothy believed that the best way to get people to behave well was to set the example of Christian living. This she did until her death. Many people today are following in her path of caring for the poor with food, shelter, and love.

This edition of the biography of Dorothy Day is part of a series written for young people entitled, “Women of Spirit”. Most of these volumes seem to be out of print but if you can find them it will be rewarding. They tell the stories of women who made great contributions to society while highlighting their faith.

If you cannot find this edition, get any good book on Dorothy Day because her example of how to truly “walk the walk” and not just “talk the talk” is what made her so endearing to those around her.


—  Lutz, Lorry, When God Says Go: The Amazing Journey of a Slave’s Daughter (Discovery House Publishers, Grand Rapids, 2002).

eliza davis george bookGrowing up a “poor little black girl” in Texas, Eliza Davis George learned about Jesus and then chose to serve Him by taking the Gospel to her ancestors in western Africa. She served in Liberia and lived to the remarkable old age of 100. Many hundreds of Liberians called her “Mother Eliza” as she rescued girls from forced marriages to old men and provided education for tribal peoples.

When the official leaders would not support her mission, she raised the funds herself. Mother-Eliza-Davis-GeorgeShe went to Africa with very little money but she knew God had called her and she went trusting in Him to care for her. When she returned to the States she raised money for Africa.

This feisty little woman will want to make you cheer as you read how she overcame so many obstacles to love people with the love of Jesus.

Lorry Lutz’s book reads like a novel and you will really enjoy it! You will be so blessed by this indomitable woman – one that I truly cannot wait to talk to when I get to Heaven!


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In the course of Agnes’s life she had on many occasions blessed a Greater Providence, but never more ardently than when she stumbled across this blackened wodge of text. How fortunate that her brother-in-law had prevented her from visiting St. Catherine’s six years earlier. How glorious now that former disappointment! Had she and Grace not been stopped at Suez by Gibson’s telegrams, they might have made the desert crossing and passed some time pleasantly enough with the monks, but as tourists – nothing more! She would not have read Rendel Harris’s description of the ‘dark closet’ or have studied Syriac. Nor would she have had any connection to the University of Cambridge, or the interest of its scholars in directing her enquiries; and of course no signed and stamped letter of introduction from the vice-chancellor to ease her progress in Cairo. She would not have had the faintest idea about cameras or the general familiarity with antiquities and manuscripts gained simply from having been married to Samuel Lewis, the keep of the Parker Library. *


(Continued from Part 1, February 23, 2016)

st catherine's monasteryAgnes Lewis and Margaret Gibson set out on the difficult and dangerous journey to St. Catherine’s monastery at the foot of Mount Sinai in 1892. They had longed for nearly ten years to be able to return to St. Catherine’s Monastery and view the Syriac manuscripts that were supposed to be hidden away in a dark closet. Circumstances, including their brief but happy marriages precluded them from fulfilling their dream.

Agnes and Margaret would later reflect that had they set out any earlier on this adventure they might not have been successful. They believed in a providential God and realized that going on the trip had to wait until His perfect timing.

During their wait, God was preparing them in ways they didn’t understand before they could set out. Agnes was disappointed when her brother-in-law, James Gibson sent her warnings not to go to Sinai because he thought it was too dangerous. She honored him and returned home. Later, she and her husband, Samuel Lewis, would travel to other places. She never lost her desire to see the Holy Land.

It is very exciting to see how the sisters would accomplish the desire of their hearts. They were in mourning as widows but did not sit around for long.  Agnes and Margaret would later understand the reasons why they were chosen to find the Sinai Palimpsest even though many men had failed and even though they had to wait. God granted them the success where others had failed.

In the first place, the monks at St. Catherine’s Monastery did not trust European scholars any more. In 1859 the famous Constantin von Tischendorf visited the monastery in search of the Codex Sinaiticus, one of the oldest known copies of the Bible ever found, predating other copies by almost 600 years. It seems that von Tischendorf told the monks that he wanted to “borrow” the manuscript so he could copy it. The generous monks believed him. Von Tischendorf made off with the manuscript to eventual worldwide fame. After publishing a facsimile of the valuable manuscript, von Tischendorf “loaned” it to the Tsar of Russia who had financed his trip. The Tsar took it as a gift.

The monks were wary of most visitors but they trusted a Quaker scholar named Rendel Harris. Harris had received a warm welcome at St. Catherine’s and he had been allowed to study a valuable work, a full text in Syriac called, “Apology of Aristides”. This find was important because it dated to early fourth century and proved once again that a completely developed Christian theology existed before the liberal scholars were willing to concede any developed Christian thought.

Secondly, while at St. Catherine’s Harris had been told about a dark closet off of a chamber beneath the archbishop’s rooms where more manuscripts were kept. He had not had a chance to look at them but he knew that Agnes and Margaret were planning a trip to Mount Sinai. After returning home from his own find, Rendel Harris rushed to Castlebrae, the twins’ home, and told them about his trip, his warm welcome by the monks, and what he suspected about the existence of other important manuscripts. He admired the twins and knew that they had the abilities necessary to be welcomed by the monks. He encouraged them in their dreams of visiting Sinai.

Thirdly, one of the reasons that Rendel Harris got along with the monks was because he could speak modern Greek. This impressed the monks and Rendel Harris knew that the ability to speak the language fluently would give the twins a warm welcome that could be refused to others. He also advised Agnes to brush up on Syriac so that she could positively identify the manuscripts that he believed were hidden away at St. Catherine’s. Agnes applied herself to learning this ancient language that was a variation of the Aramaic spoken by Jesus in the first century. God was getting this remarkable woman ready to identify one of the oldest copies of the Gospels in existence.

Fourthly, through her happy but brief marriage to the Cambridge scholar Samuel Lewis, Agnes was introduced into Cambridge society. She made many friends there. A traveler can’t just go waltzing into St. Catherine’s Monastery without letters of introduction and credentials. Agnes and Margaret were able to get an introductory letter from Cambridge and permission from the Archbishop in Cairo. This would not have been possible ten years before.

Fifthly, the sisters knew that they would not be able to take manuscripts away from the monastery. So these remarkably gifted women learned photography! They traveled with photographic equipment including 1000 film exposures. Later they would develop most of the pictures themselves. Again, God was preparing them to find and reveal the oldest copy of the Gospels then known to the world in the only way available at the time.

At last the day came for them to travel to Egypt. Ready now with command of Greek and Syriac, letters of introduction and permission, cameras, medicine, courage, and experience Agnes and Margaret set out to fulfill their dream of finding manuscripts that would prove that the Bible was written earlier than skeptics said.

When the sisters reached the monastery they were welcomed by the monks who had heard about them and were expecting them. The monks were delighted with these intelligent women who spoke perfect Greek. It also happened to be the custom of the monastery to welcome women pilgrims for their protection. The twins pitched their tents in the convent gardens and made friends with the monks. They began to work in the library the next day.

Agnes spotted a manuscript of dirty vellum. It seemed to be at first glance a collection of stories of women saints, but looking closer Agnes could see writing in columns underneath. This document was a “palimpsest”, containing pages where the old writing had been scraped down and new writing put on top. Agnes could see words such as “Of Matthew” and “of Luke” and realized that she was looking at possibly the oldest copy of the Gospels ever found. Agnes thanked the Lord for His providence in preparing her in every way to be the one to find this document.

Agnes and Margaret made photographic copies of their find and returned home. The Sinai Palimpsest (also called the Lewis Codex) proved to be from the fourth century. More remarkable still, it was a translation of a copy of the Gospels that dated to around 170 A.D. This was proof that Christianity was much older than the skeptics had said.

The scholars in Cambridge refused to acknowledge the find as significant. The sisters were ignored until scholars Robert Bensly and Francis Burkitt finally got a proper look at the photographs. They were excited and even frantic to get to the monastery to make a copy of the manuscript before anyone else could do it.

Agnes and Margaret put together another trip to Sinai with the three world famous scholars, Robert Bensly, Francis Burkitt, and their friend Rendel Harris and went back to St. Catherine’s to transcribe the manuscript. They were welcomed by the monks who gave them every assistance. When the work was finished the three returned home where most of the publicity centered around the sisters.

Dr. Agnes LewisAgnes and Margaret were finally accepted into scholarlyDr. Margaret Gibson circles. They were denied degrees by Cambridge which did not grant women degrees until 1948, but other institutions were willing to honor the sisters as they should be. They received honorary degrees from St. Andrews and Heidelberg, Trinity College and Halle.

Agnes and Margaret went on traveling and exploring. The sisters were welcomed by professors for their expertise in ancient manuscripts. The twins were instrumental in the founding of Westminster College in 1899. Margaret died in 1920 and Agnes passed away in 1926. Agnes wrote several books describing their travels and especially the journey to Sinai to St. Catherine’s.

Even in our day the Bible is criticized as a work entirely of humans containing errors. Unbelievers are always looking for ways to ignore the fact that the Scriptures are the very Word of God. God has protected His Word over the centuries. How wonderful that he used two women to find a lost manuscript that would help boost the veracity of Christianity.

It is so ironic that the men at Cambridge refused to accept the testimony of Agnes Smith and Margaret Gibson because they were women. And yet, because they were women they were allowed to do what many men before them could not do. Because they were faithful women they were allowed to handle the manuscripts at St. Catherine’s and give a great gift to the world.

But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong… (I Corinthians 1:27)


*Soskice, Janet, The Sisters of Sinai: How Two Lady Adventurers Discovered the Hidden Gospels. (Vintage Books, A Division of Random House, Inc., New York, 2010) page 126.




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