'Hidden' Bible Chapter Uncovered from 1,500 Years Ago - It Was Always There, But No One Could See It
Medieval scholar Grigory Kessel recently discovered ancient Gospel text hidden in an ancient manuscript fragment.
Kessel, a senior scientist at the Institute for Medieval Research of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, published his findings last month in the periodical, “New Testament Studies.”
According to the article, Kessel had been studying the “undertexts” of an old manuscript fragment known as “Vat. iber. 4,” when he discovered under layers of writing the Old Syriac translation of the Gospel book of Matthew, chapters 11:30 – 12:26.
He had been able to view the obscure text using ultraviolet photography, Phys.org reported.
According to British Library, Syriac was a major language during the early Christian period and was used by churches in Syria, Iraq and Iran from the first century until the Middle Ages. It was an Eastern Aramaic dialect — Aramaic being one of the languages Jesus spoke.
Kessel believes the Gospel document was produced no earlier than the first half of the sixth century, over 1,500 years ago.
“As far as the dating of the Gospel book is concerned, there can be no doubt that it was produced no later than the sixth century,” Kessel wrote. “Despite a limited number of dated manuscripts from this period, comparison with dated Syriac manuscripts allows us to narrow down a possible time frame to the first half of the sixth century.”
According to Kessel, Vat. iber. 4 was likely acquired by the Vatican Library sometime in the mid-20th century.
Though some scholars were aware of the manuscript’s existence since at least 1953, it had been considered lost since then, until rediscovered in 2010.
Kessel said the document was eventually digitized in 2020 — the natural and UV light images were sent to the Digital Vatican Library.
According to Kessel, Vat. iber. 4 is a “membrum disjectum,” or a fragment, of a Georgian manuscript shelf-marked as “Sin. geo 49” in Saint Catherine’s Monastery, Egypt.
“Until recently, only two manuscripts were known to contain the Old Syriac translation of the gospels. While one of these is now kept in the British Library in London, another was discovered as a palimpsest in St. Catherine’s Monastery at Mount Sinai,” Kessel reportedly said.
Sebastian Brock discovered a third manuscript in 2016, Kessel wrote.
Kessel discovered the fourth and said it is “the only known vestige of the fourth manuscript witness to the Old Syriac version.”
The text offers another glimpse into early Syriac Gospel texts which have subtle differences from the Greek translation.
One such difference, according to Phys.org, is that the Greek Translation of Matthew 12:1 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.”
But the Syriac text reads, “[…] began to pick the heads of grain, rub them in their hands, and eat them.”
Claudia Rapp, director of the Institute for Medieval Research at the Austrian Academy of Sciences, praised Kessel for his discovery.
“Grigory Kessel has made a great discovery thanks to his profound knowledge of old Syriac texts and script characteristics,” Rapp said. “This discovery proves how productive and important the interplay between modern digital technologies and basic research can be when dealing with medieval manuscripts.”
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