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Hidden in Plain Sight: Ultraviolet Light Uncovers 1,500-Year-Old Bible Passage

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Hey! Have you heard? Scientists have recently found a secret version of a Bible passage that was hidden for over 1,500 years beneath a previously discovered section. How did they do it? By using ultraviolet lights.

Historian Grigory Kessel of the Austrian Academy of Sciences disclosed this amazing discovery in an article written back in March 2023 in the New Testament Studies academic journal. The journal is published by the Cambridge University Press.

Unveiling An Ancient Treasure: The Hidden Rendition Of Matthew 12

Kessel mentioned that they discovered an ancient rendition of Chapter 12 in Matthew’s gospel account contained in the Bible. This rendition had been concealed beneath a layer of text for over 1,500 years.

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This remarkable discovery sheds light on one of the earliest translations of the Gospels, thought to have originated in the 3rd century and replicated in the 6th century.

Parchment Scarcity: The Tale Of Repurposed Manuscripts

The initial text, etched around the third century, met its fate at the hands of a scribe in Palestine. This was a common practice at the time because the parchment made from animal skin was scarce. 

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Kessel, dubbed the Palimpsest Maestro, recounted, “The Gospel text found in this reused manuscript contains the so-called Old Syriac translations of the Gospels.” This translation, he explained, often offers insights differing from the standard Gospel text known today.

Medieval Manuscripts Meet Modern Tech: Claudia Rapp On Kessel’s Discovery

“This discovery proves how productive and important the interplay between modern digital technologies and basic research can be when dealing with medieval manuscripts,” Claudia Rapp, director of the Institute for Medieval Research at the Austrian Academy of Sciences (OeAW) said in a press release.

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She added that Grigory Kessel owes his discovery to his “profound knowledge of old Syriac texts and script characteristics.”

The Method Behind Kessel’s Discovery

Kessel detailed the method through which he was able to uncover the ancient, hidden text. He described how he employed advanced ultraviolet photography techniques to peer through the layers of writing. 

Source: X/grigory_kessel

The manuscript, known as a palimpsest, had been reused multiple times, with new text written over the older one. Through meticulous examination, Kessel was able to uncover the hidden words buried beneath three layers of subsequent writings, unveiling a glimpse into the past that had remained concealed for centuries.

Manuscript Offers ‘Unique Gateway’ For Researchers

Kessel mentioned in the press release that the manuscript offered a “unique gateway” for researchers to explore ancient Syriac translations.

Source: X/grigory_kessel

“The manuscript offers a ‘unique gateway’ for researchers to understand the earliest phases of the Bible’s textual evolution,” Kissel said. “It shows some differences from modern translations of the text.”

Syriac Translation Unveiled: Examining Matthew 12:1

Though the complete translation written in ancient Syriac has not been unveiled Kessel did share some details. He cited the example of Matthew Chapter 12 verse 1, where the original Greek reads, “At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath, and his disciples became hungry and began to pick the heads of grain and eat.” 

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The new Syriac translation, however, states, “[…] began to pick the heads of grain, rub them in their hands, and eat them.”

UV Light: A Popular Choice Amongst Researchers

The use of UV light has become a beacon of hope for scientists who seek to delve into the depths of secret documents as the hidden text absorbs the light and glows blue. This ingenious method captures hidden text by exploiting the parchment’s ink-absorbing properties, preserving the original writings beneath layers of reuse.

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‘The Gospel text is hidden in the sense that the early 6th c. parchment copy of the Gospels Book was reused twice and today on the same page one can find three layers of writing (Syriac – Greek – Georgian),’ Kessel said.

Examples Of Scientists Illuminating History With UV Light

One notable example of a scientist who explored the use of UV light in uncovering hidden mysteries in ancient text is Roger Easton. He pioneered the use of multispectral imaging techniques, including UV light, to reveal hidden text in ancient manuscripts such as the Dead Sea Scrolls. 

Source: X/librarycongress

Another example is Sarah Fiddyment, a researcher who used UV light to find out the contents of previously illegible text on medieval manuscripts, shedding light on historical events and cultural practices.

The Peshitta: A Testament Of Time And Translation

The Old Syriac translation, known as ‘Peshitta,’ became the official scripture of the Syriac Church by the fifth century. Kessel and his team revealed that the parchment’s first reuse was for the Greek 

Source: X/grigory_kessel

“Apophthegmata patrum” or ‘Sayings of the Fathers.’ These desert fathers, Christian hermits who practiced asceticism in Egypt around the 3rd century, laid the foundation for Christian monasticism.

The Evolution Of The Manuscript: From Desert Wisdom To Georgian Hymns

The “Apophthegmata patrum” collection, comprising over 1,000 stories and sayings, dates back to the late fifth and early sixth centuries. 

Source: X/CambUP_Religion

Subsequently, the parchment was repurposed to copy the “Iadgari of Mikael Modrekili,” a 10th-century Georgian manuscript containing hymns.

Discovering The Treasures Of Syriac Christianity

“The tradition of Syriac Christianity includes various translations of the Old and New Testaments,” Kessel said.

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Until recently, only two manuscripts were known to contain the Old Syriac translation of the gospels. This Syriac translation predates surviving Greek manuscripts, including the Codex Sinaiticus, a fourth-century Christian manuscript of the Greek Bible.

The Codex Sassoon: A Biblical Manuscript Of Unprecedented Value

The discovery of this ancient treasure comes hot on the heels of another remarkable announcement: the upcoming auction of one of the oldest surviving biblical manuscripts, the “Codex Sassoon.” 

Source: Verlag der ÖAW

The manuscript is expected to fetch between $30 million and $50 million at Sotheby’s in New York. This would make the nearly complete 1,100-year-old Hebrew Bible become the most expensive historical document ever sold at auction. 

The Enigmatic Origins Of Codex Sassoon

Radiocarbon dating places its creation between the years 880 and 960, with its unique writing style offering hints of an early 10th-century scribe from Egypt or the Levant. 

Source: X/grigory_kessel

Yet, the exact origins of this remarkable artifact remain shrouded in mystery, adding to its allure and historical significance.

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Mary Scrantin

Written by Mary Scrantin

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