A “hidden chapter” of biblical text written more than 1,500 years ago could provide important insights into how the religious text has changed over time, experts say.
The new text contains parts of Matthew 11-12 in the New Testament, written in the old Syriac language, and provides more detail than the current standard Gospel text.
Scientists discovered the writing after applying UV light to a manuscript of ancient Christian stories and hymns in the Vatican library.
The text had been scraped off the parchment, a common practice so that new text could be written over it, but the text left traces detectable by UV light.
Speaking to MailOnline, Dr Garrick Allen, senior lecturer in New Testament studies at the University of Glasgow, said the discovery provides insight into early translations of the Bible.
The manuscript is chapters 11 through 12 in Matthew. Experts applied UV light to a document and revealed that the Bible text had been masked behind two layers
“This discovery is very interesting, but not groundbreaking in itself, especially since the newly identified text is only fragments of Matthew 11-12,” Dr. All to MailOnline.
“The Syriac translation of the Bible is important in its own right as one of the earliest translations from the Greek.
Ancient Syriac Bible Translation Reveals Hidden Details
Original Greek of Matthew chapter 12, verse 1: “At that time Jesus went on the sabbath through the wheat fields, and his disciples were hungry, and began to pluck the ears of corn and eat.”
Syrian translation: “At that time Jesus went on the sabbath through the wheat fields, and his disciples were hungry, and began to pluck the ears, and rub them in their hands, and eat them.”
“It gives us insight into the earliest stages of the text of the Bible and the communities that made these translations.”
Justin Brierley, a Christian author, broadcaster and radio host, called the discovery “fascinating.”
“The discovery of this new fragment of a Syriac copy of the Gospels is yet another example of how rich the New Testament manuscript tradition has been over many centuries,” he told MailOnline.
It is also fascinating to note the variation in some of the wording of Matthew’s Gospel compared to our received version of the text.
“I often come across critics who question whether the Bible has changed over time, but the science of textual criticism, aided by discoveries like this, helps historians form an extremely accurate picture of what the original Gospels said .’
Professor Hugh Houghton of the University of Birmingham’s Department of Theology and Religion called it a ‘genuine and important discovery’.
“Until a few years ago we only knew of two manuscripts attesting to the Old Syriac translation of the Gospels and now we have four,” he told MailOnline.
“The value of the early translations is that they were made from Greek manuscripts which have not survived, and may be one of the earliest proofs of certain readings.”
Professor Houghton continued: ‘The find is important to Christians, as the evidence from this document will be included in editions of the Greek New Testament and used by editors to reconstruct the earliest form of the text.
“Since few first-century manuscripts have survived, all the pieces are welcome in reconstructing the jigsaw puzzle of the text’s history.”
Meanwhile, Dr Peter Williams of Cambridge’s Faculty of Divinity said: ‘It’s an exciting discovery. The team that did this is top of the line.”
The new text was discovered by Grigory Kessel of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, who has not yet revealed a full translation into Old Syriac, but has shared some details.
In the Greek version of Matthew chapter 12, verse one reads: “At that time Jesus went on the sabbath day through the wheatfields, and his disciples were hungry and began to pluck ears of corn and eat.
The more detailed Syriac translation reads: “(…) began to pluck the ears, rub them in their hands, and eat them.”
Scientists from the Austrian Academy of Sciences found the manuscript in the Vatican library (pictured). The document is written on parchment that has been reused three times. This was common because paper made from animal skins was scarce
The original text was written around the third century, but was erased by a scribe—a person employed to make copies of documents before the invention of printing—in Palestine.
This was common because the paper made from animal skin was scarce and had to be reused.
Writing over scraped text creates palimpsests—manuscripts with multiple layers of writing.
UV light has become popular among scientists hoping to discover secret documents, as the hidden text absorbs the light and glows blue.
It can capture hidden text because parchment is soaked with ink. And no matter how many times it is reused, the original writings remain imprinted on the paper.
“The Gospel text is hidden in the sense that the early 6th-century parchment copy of the Gospel book was reused twice and three layers of writing can be found today on the same page (Syriac – Greek – Georgian),” Grigory Kessel of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, which made the discovery, told MailOnline.
The Old Syriac translation of the scriptures was called ‘Peshitta’ and became the official translation used by the Syrian Church in the fifth century.
Kessel and his colleagues said the parchment was first repurposed for the Apophthegmata patrum in Greek, translated to “Sayings of the Desert Fathers” — a title that refers to early Christian hermits practicing asceticism in the Egyptian desert.
They did so around the 3rd century and eventually formed the basis of Christian monastic life.
The Apophthegmata patrum is a collection of over 1000 of their stories and sayings and dates from the late fifth and early sixth centuries.
The Hidden Bible Chapter was a palimpsest discovered by Grigory Kessel of the Austrian Academy of Sciences (pictured)
The next time the page was cleared and reused was to copy Mikael Modrekili’s Iadgari, a 10th century Georgian manuscript containing a collection of hymns.
The Syriac translation was written at least a century before the oldest surviving Greek manuscripts, including the Codex Sinaiticus—the 4th-century Christian manuscript of the Greek Bible.
Dr. Nic Baker-Brian of Cardiff University’s School of History, Archeology and Religion called the new text a “remarkable discovery” and said its significance lies in a small number of variants.
“The example already cited – Mt. 12.1-2 – of the disciples “rubbing the ears of corn in their hands” is not attested in the Greek manuscripts before Matthew,” he told MailOnline.
The presence of different readings in the manuscript emphasizes the diverse nature of early Christianity and reinforces an emerging consensus that ancient Christianity was not fixed and monolithic, but that different versions of stories about Jesus circulated in the early church.
“Its existence should remind modern Christians of the diverse history and nature of their religion.”
The findings are published in the journal New Testament Studies.
The Utah school district can ban students from reading the BIBLE
A Utah school district is considering banning students from reading the Bible after a complaint was filed about the holy book containing “inappropriate and pornographic” content.
Schools across the state are using a conservative Utah law passed in 2022 to challenge dozens of books that parents, students, teachers and board members find potentially offensive.
A complaint was filed on Dec. 11 about the religious text, which is just one of 81 books Davis School District is considering removing.
While it is not clear exactly which passages the complainant has marked, there are several mentions of violence throughout the Bible.