According to a study published last month in the journal New Testament Studies, an Austrian scholar has translated a “hidden chapter” of the biblical text that is thought to be 1,750 years old.
Under three text layers in a manuscript, medievalist Grigory Kessel of the Austrian Academy of Sciences used ultraviolet photography to examine the Syriac translation of Matthew chapters 11 and 12.
“The tradition of Syriac Christianity knows several Old and New Testaments translations,” Kessel stated.
Only two manuscripts were known to include the Old Syriac translation of the gospels until recently.
When manuscripts were erased throughout the Middle Ages because parchment was a rare commodity, paper was often used instead. According to Phys.org, a scribe in Palestine reportedly destroyed a manuscript containing a Syriac text some 1,300 years ago because of this absence.
The text was copied in the sixth century after what is thought to have been its creation in the third.
The disputed document was reportedly already well-known to academics in 1953. But in 2020, it was digitalized after being unearthed in 2010. The Digital Vatican Library then included the photos taken in daylight and ultraviolet light.
The Old Syriac translation of the gospels is only found in two extant manuscripts. One is kept at the British Library in London, and the other is at Mount Sinai’s St. Catherine’s Monastery, the world’s oldest continuously running monastery.
The Sinai Palimpsests Project has discovered a third manuscript by using imaging methods to find deleted texts from manuscripts in the St. Catherine’s collection.
The discovery made by Grigory Kessel is now referred regarded as the “fourth textual witness.”
Matthew chapter 12, verse 1, according to Phys.org, reads in the original Greek, “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.”
However, the recently found Syriac translation reads, “[…] began to pick the heads of grain, rub them in their hands, and eat them.”
Claudia Rapp, the head of the Austrian Academy of Sciences’ Institute for Medieval Research, praised Kessel’s findings in a statement.
Rapp praised Grigory Kessel for his “profound knowledge of old Syriac texts and script characteristics,” which led to this important discovery.
The author continued that this result demonstrates the value and effectiveness of combining basic study with contemporary digital technology when working with medieval texts.