Scientists have uncovered a “hidden” chapter of the Bible written about 1,500 years ago in a manuscript stored in the Vatican Library.
The previously lost section represents one of the earliest translations of the Gospels, written in Old Syriac script, which long eluded scholars for a rather simple reason: the text had been erased over a millennium ago.
Per a report from The Independent, the practice of erasing and reusing manuscripts was relatively common during the Middle Ages. Parchment was scarce, so when scribes were tasked with updating translations of the Bible and other books, it often meant fully replacing the original text.
Grigory Kessel, a researcher from the Austrian Academy of Sciences, analyzed one updated script, utilizing UV light to reveal traces of the ancient Syriac text. He and his team then uncovered the long-lost Syriac interpretation of chapters 11 through 12 from Matthew.
“The tradition of Syriac Christianity knows several translations of the Old and New Testaments,” he said. “Until recently, only two manuscripts were known to contain the Old Syriac translation of the gospels.”
One of these manuscripts is kept in the British Library in London; the other is stored in St. Catherine’s Monastery at Mount Sinai. Fragments of a third manuscript were also recently found during the “Sinai Palimpsests Project.”
The project aims to use state-of-the-art spectral imaging processes to recover erased texts from old manuscripts being kept at St. Catherine’s, the world’s oldest continually operating monastery.
The most recently discovered Syriac manuscript fragments found by Kessel in the Vatican Library were actually hidden under three layers of the manuscript. In other words, the Old Syriac text had been erased and written over, and then the same was later done to that text.
“The Gospel text is hidden in the sense that the early 6th-century parchment copy of the Gospels Book was reused twice,” Kessel explained to The Daily Mail, “and today on the same page one can find three layers of writing (Syriac – Greek – Georgian).”