5th century Syriac Bible texts discovered at St Catherine’s

09-07-2017 10:44 AM

Sanaa’ Farouk


A recent discovery at the library of St Catherine’s Monastery in Sinai has created a lot of excitement in antiquity and religious circles. The discovery, announced in Cairo by Antiquities Minister Khaled al-Enani, consists of a 5th – 6th century manuscript that includes Bible texts in the Syriac language from the famed Codex Sinaiticus, the 4th century handwritten Greek Bible.
Attending the ceremony during which Dr Enani announced the discovery were South Sinai Governor Major General Khalid Fouda, Greek Minister of Digital Policy, Telecommunications and Media Nikos Pappas; Bishop Damianos, abbot of Saint Catherine’s; Egypt’s Culture Minister Helmy al-Namnam; Minister of Communication and Information Technology Yasser al-Qadi; and Tourism Minister Yehia Rashid.

The manuscript was discovered during restoration works in the monastery’s library. Archaeologist Abdel-Rahim Rihan, Director General of Research, Studies and Publishing in Sinai and chief of the research team of the Antiquities Ministry, confirmed that the manuscript is one of those known as “Palmesit” manuscripts and is the oldest known version of the Bible in Syriac language. It is thought to have been translated from Greek in the second century AD.
Palmesit manuscripts, Dr Rihan explained, are a very well-known type of manuscript written on leather and formed of two layers. The first, he said, would be erased in order for a new text to be written on the leather again. This was done owing to the high cost of leather at that time.

Muhammad Abdel-Latif, assistant minister of antiquities for archaeological sites, said that the recently discovered manuscript is written on leather and bears parts of a medical recipe of the renowned Greek physician Hippocrates (c 460 – 370BC). It has also three other medical recipes written by an anonymous scribe, one of which contains drawings of medicinal herbs of the Greek recipe.
The second layer of writing found on the manuscript is the text of the Syriac Bible.

The library of the almost 1500-years-old Saint Catherine’s includes a number of Palmesit manuscripts as well as some 6,000 manuscripts, among them 600 manuscripts written in Arabic, Greek, Ethiopian, Coptic, Armenian and Syriac. They are mainly historical, geographical, and philosophical manuscripts; the oldest dates back to the 4th AD century.

Watani International
8 July 2017

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