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Researcher Discovers Fragment of 1,750-Year-Old Translation of Gospel of Matthew

Austria’s Academy of Sciences has discovered a fragment containing the earliest known writing of the biblical text of Matthew’s gospel, using ultraviolet photography to reveal the ancient transcription hidden underneath three layers of text. The so-called palimpsest is a manuscript that was erased and reused as parchment was scarce. The text discovered dates back to the 3rd century and was produced no later than the sixth century. Only three manuscripts from this period contain Old Syriac translations of the gospels, one of which resides in the British Library and another of which was discovered at St. Catherine’s Monastery in Mount Sinai.
Medievalist Grigory Kessel led the research team in discovering the Syriac language fragment which was one of the earliest translations of the Gospels up to the beginning of the Middle Ages. The fragment is the only known fragment of the fourth manuscript that attests to the Old Syriac version and offers a unique gateway to the very early phase in the history of the textual transmission of the Gospels. Significantly, the Syriac translation was produced at least a century before the oldest Greek manuscripts that have survived.
W. Brent Seales at the University of Kentucky and Paul Dilley at the University of Iowa are also using modern technology to decode ancient manuscripts that have been lost to history. Using a newly developed X-ray scanner, Sealesand and Dilley have decoded a badly damaged manuscript believed to be the biblical Book of Acts. Additionally, scholars believe it likely contains another text that would help fill in the gaps in understanding the formation of the New Testament. The manuscript, being too fragile to be opened, was unreadable due to water and heat damage, and its extremely warped nature only added to the difficulties in extracting the text for analysis.

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