A medievalist from the Austrian Academy of Sciences has made a super cool discovery using a technique that’s been around for ages! They found a layered Palestine manuscript that was thought to have been written in Syriac text 1,500 years ago, but Grigory Kessel used Ultraviolet photography to uncover one of the earliest translations of the Gospels from the 3rd century, copied in the 6th century. “Until recently, only two manuscripts were known to contain the Old Syriac translation of the gospels,” Kessel explains.

It is considered to be ‘an important piece of the jigsaw puzzle in New Testament history’. Credit: Vatican Library

Although the researchers couldn’t reveal a complete translation of the newly found chapter, they did share some of their findings. For instance, after examining the original Greek of Matthew chapter 12, verse 1, which 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,” they discovered that the Syriac wording actually translates to “[…] began to pick the heads of grain, rub them in their hands, and eat them.”

Claudia Rapp, the Director of the Institute for Medieval Research at the OeAW, praised Kessel’s discovery, saying that “this discovery proves how productive and important the interplay between modern digital technologies and basic research can be when dealing with medieval manuscripts.”

As far as the dating of the Gospel book is concerned, the scientists wrote in the study that “there can be no doubt that it was produced no later than the sixth century,” despite a limited number of dated manuscripts from this period. However, comparison with dated Syriac manuscripts allows us to narrow down a possible time frame to the first half of the sixth century.

Rapp adds that the newly-discovered text will now be studied and analyzed by religious scholars. “It goes without saying that a discovery of a new witness to the Old Syriac version, and specifically its remarkable agreement with the Curetonianus, deserves to be studied in the context of the transmission history of the Gospel text in Syriac,” she said. “The earliest surviving manuscripts with this Syriac translation date from the 6th century and are preserved in the erased layers, so-called palimpsests, of newly written parchment leaves.”