The recent discovery of a “hidden chapter” of Biblical text is significant as it sheds light on the early translation of the Gospels. This newly found text, which is an interpretation of the Bible’s Matthew chapter 12, was originally translated as part of the Old Syriac translations around 1,500 years ago.
Until now, only two manuscripts containing the Old Syriac translation of the Gospels were known to exist, one in the British Library in London, and the other at St Catherine’s Monastery at Mount Sinai.
The researchers used ultraviolet photography to reveal the hidden text, which was buried under three layers of other text. The discovery of this chapter is important because it offers a unique insight into the early phases of the history of the textual transmission of the Gospels.
This is because it is the only known remnant of the fourth manuscript that attests to the Old Syriac version.
The newly discovered text also offers fresh insights into differences in information contained in translations.
For instance, the original Greek of Matthew chapter 12 verse 1 says, “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,” while the Syriac translation says, “…began to pick the heads of grain, rub them in their hands, and eat them.”
The researchers note that the dating of the Gospel book was produced no later than the sixth century. While there are limited numbers of dated manuscripts from this period, comparison with dated Syriac manuscripts allows the researchers to narrow down a possible time frame to the first half of the sixth century.
This information is significant because due to a scarcity of parchment in the region about 1,300 years ago, pages were often reused, mostly by erasing the earlier Biblical text.
The discovery of this hidden chapter highlights the importance of modern digital technologies in uncovering and preserving ancient manuscripts. As Claudia Rapp, director of the Institute for Medieval Research at the Austrian Academy of Sciences notes, “This discovery proves how productive and important the interplay between modern digital technologies and basic research can be when dealing with medieval manuscripts.”
The use of ultraviolet photography has enabled researchers to uncover texts that were previously hidden, opening up new avenues for research and understanding of ancient texts.
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