A European researcher has uncovered a 1,500-year-old fragment of the Gospel of Matthew written in Syriac that he says agrees with other Syriac texts and was discovered only due to modern technology.
Grigory Kessel of the Austrian Academy of Sciences used ultraviolet photography to read text that had been written on parchment in the sixth century but erased and reused centuries later. Kessel wrote about his find in the journal New Testament Studies, which is available online.
The fragment is from what is known as the Syriac Gospel. It is from Matthew 12.
“The tradition of Syriac Christianity knows several translations of the Old and New Testaments,” Kessel said, according to Phys.org. “Until recently, only two manuscripts were known to contain the Old Syriac translation of the gospels.”
Despite the small size of the extant fragment, what distinguishes this witness is its total agreement with the Curetonianus (as far as one can judge based on the extant text).You can read more in my just-published article which is available in open access: https://t.co/OCbUKTNeJi pic.twitter.com/IjGU2sae3N— Grigory Kessel (@grigory_kessel) March 8, 2023
One of those translations is the Curetonian Gospels. Kessel says the newly uncovered Matthew 12 fragment is nearly identical to that Syriac Bible translation.
“Despite the small size of the extant fragment, what distinguishes this witness is its total agreement with the Curetonianus,” Kessel said.
It “can be dated to the first half of the sixth century,” he wrote in his paper.
Phys.org, an online science and research website, painted this picture for what may have happened to the original fragment: “About 1,300 years ago a scribe in Palestine took a book of the Gospels inscribed with a Syriac text and erased it. Parchment was scarce in the desert in the Middle Ages, so manuscripts were often erased and reused.” Kessel “has now been able to make the lost words on this layered manuscript, a so-called palimpsest, legible again.”
Claudia Rapp, the director of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, called the discovery significant.
“Grigory Kessel has made a great discovery thanks to his profound knowledge of old Syriac texts and script characteristics,” Rapp said.
Ultraviolet photography, the academy said in a statement, provides “a unique gateway to the very early phase in the history of the textual transmission of the Gospels.”
Photo credit: ©Getty Images/FotoDuets
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.