Scientists have found a long-lost “hidden chapter” of Biblical text nearly 1,500 years after it was first written.
The lost section represents one of the earliest translations of the Gospels, according to the study published recently in the journal New Testament Studies.
Ultraviolet photography was used to find the chapter hidden underneath three layers of text by researchers, including Grigory Kessel from the Austrian Academy of Sciences.
“Until recently, only two manuscripts were known to contain the Old Syriac translation of the gospels,” Dr Kessel said.
One of these is in the British Library in London and another was discovered in St Catherine’s Monastery at Mount Sinai.
Researchers said the newly discovered text is an interpretation of the Bible’s Matthew chapter 12 that was originally translated as part of the Old Syriac translations about 1,500 years ago.
They said the fragment is so far the only known remnant of the fourth manuscript that attests to the Old Syriac version, offering a “unique gateway” to the early phase in the history of the textual transmission of the Gospels.
The text also offers fresh insights into differences in information contained in translations.
For instance, while 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,” the Syriac translation says, “…began to pick the heads of grain, rub them in their hands, and eat them.”
“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,” scientists wrote in the study.
“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,” they added.
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.
“This discovery proves how productive and important the interplay between modern digital technologies and basic research can be when dealing with medieval manuscripts,” said Claudia Rapp, director of the Institute for Medieval Research at the Austrian Academy of Sciences.