Scientists uncover previously unknown Bible chapter written 1,500 years ago in the Vatican library

A recent discovery by scientists has revealed a “hidden chapter” of Bible text that was written over 1,500 years ago.

This newly found page contains chapters 11 through 12 from the Gospel of Matthew, offering additional details not present in the standard Gospel text known today.

The breakthrough was made when researchers used ultraviolet light to examine a manuscript on ancient Christian stories and hymns that is housed at the Vatican Library.

The researchers have not yet disclosed a full translation of the ancient Syriac text, but they have shared some details. In the Greek version of Matthew chapter 12, verse one, it 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.’

However, the recently discovered Syriac translation reads, ‘[…] began to pick the heads of grain, rub them in their hands, and eat them.’ This provides additional insight and nuances to the original text.

The initial text was written around the third century but was subsequently erased by a scribe in Palestine, which was a common practice due to the scarcity of animal skin paper at the time. This discovery sheds light on the historical practices of manuscript production and preservation during that era.

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Grigory Kessel, the one who made the discovery of the Gospel text in the reused manuscript, revealed to that the text found in this manuscript contains the Old Syriac translations of the Gospels, which often differ from the standard Gospel text known today.

Scientists have been using UV light to uncover secret documents, as the hidden text absorbs the light and emits a blue glow. This is possible because parchment absorbs ink, so even when reused multiple times, the original writings are still imprinted on the paper.

Kessel explained to that the Gospel text is hidden because the parchment, originally from the 6th century, was reused twice, resulting in three layers of writing on the same page – Syriac, Greek, and Georgian.

The Old Syriac translation of the scriptures, known as ‘Peshitta,’ became the official translation used by the Syriac Church in the fifth century.

Kessel and his colleagues discovered that the parchment was initially reused for the Apophthegmata patrum in Greek, which translates to ‘Sayings of the Fathers.’

The desert fathers, who were early Christian hermits practicing asceticism in the Egyptian desert around the 3rd century, eventually formed the foundation of Christian monasticism.

The Apophthegmata patrum, a collection of over 1,000 stories and sayings of the desert fathers, dates back to the late fifth and early sixth centuries.

The next time the page was erased and reused, it was to copy the Iadgari of Mikael Modrekili, a Georgian manuscript from the 10th century that included a collection of hymns.

‘The tradition of Syriac Christianity knows several translations of the Old and New Testaments,’ stated Kessel.

‘Until recently, only two manuscripts were known to contain the Old Syriac translation of the gospels.’ 

This Syriac translation predates the oldest surviving Greek manuscripts by at least a century, including the Codex Sinaiticus, a fourth-century Christian manuscript of the Greek Bible.

Claudia Rapp, Director of the Institute for Medieval Research at the OeAW, praised Kessel’s discovery, stating: ‘Grigory Kessel’s profound knowledge of old Syriac texts and script characteristics has led to a significant discovery.’

‘This discovery proves how productive and important the interplay between modern digital technologies and basic research can be when dealing with medieval manuscripts.’ 

In May, one of the oldest surviving biblical manuscripts, a nearly complete Hebrew Bible that is estimated to be 1,100 years old, will be auctioned at Sotheby’s in New York, with experts estimating it could fetch between $30 million and $50 million.

If the winning bid exceeds the $43.2 million paid for a first-edition copy of the Constitution of the United States, it could become the most expensive historical document ever sold at auction.

Known as the ‘Codex Sassoon,’ this leather-bound, handwritten parchment book was radiocarbon dated to have been created between the years 880 and 960. Its writing style suggests that it was made by an early 10th-century scribe in Egypt or the Levant, but the exact time and place of its creation remain unknown. This remarkable discovery comes on the heels of the recent announcement about this extraordinary biblical manuscript being up for auction, adding to its significance and intrigue.