The Sisters of Sinai: How Two Lady Adventurers Discovered the Hidden Gospels

In the 19th century, two high-society sisters take their inheritance on a journey to explore the Holy Land in Janet Soskice's The Sisters of Sinai: How Two Lady Adventurers Discovered the Hidden Gospels.

Traveling to exotic lands, riding camels, finding lost treasure and ancient texts: sounds like a real-life Indiana Jones story, doesn’t it? Twin English sisters Agnes and Margaret Smith did all these things and more. At the end of the 19th century, when ladies were supposed to act like, well, ladies, the sisters turned their lives into an adventure. After the death of their father, when they were middle-aged, they became very wealthy and they took off on the first of their Middle Eastern travels. They journeyed through such places as Egypt, Syria, and Greece at a time when few Westerners did, living in tents and interacting with locals, learning the languages so they wouldn’t need to rely on a translator. Their greatest achievement was helping to recover one of the earliest-known versions of the Gospels (which they also helped transcribe), a find that would greatly influence New Testament studies. They also founded Westminster College at Cambridge, despite the fact that, as women, they were excluded from higher education in Great Britain.

It is an interesting story but one told dully by Janet Soskice, whose well-researched book may appeal only to biblical or women’s studies scholars with the incentive to slog through the slow-paced prose. The Smith sisters deserve a book that makes their adventures come alive on the page. But The Sisters of Sinai is, unfortunately, as staid as the well-mannered society people they spent their lives escaping.