Monday, July 05, 2010

Garima Gospels: recent discussions in the news

The Daily Telegraph reports today that carbon dating tests have dated the Garima Gospels (an illustrated manuscript of the Gospels in Ethiopic) between 330 and 650 AD (previously dated to the eleventh century). They say:

A manuscript found in a remote Ethiopian monastery could be the oldest illustrated Christian work in the world, experts have claimed.

There is a fuller report by Martin Bailey about the dating here (not perhaps as conclusive as one could wish). There is a brilliant report with some great photos of the restoration work here.

Links: David Thomson (from whom I copied two pictures), Ethiopian Heritage Fund (with more pictures)


  1. From the 11th cen. to the 4-7th: that's a rather large discrepancy!

  2. Assuming that the pages depicting the doves and pillars represent the usual stylized decor surrounding the Eusebian Canon tables, I would ask what known dating do we have for the earliest appearance of these stylized features in the canon tables of other known MSS (Greek, Latin, or otherwise)?

    That might help move matters toward a more precise dating, more probably at the latter end of the potential carbon-dated range (and of course the parchment could have been earlier than the text copied thereon, but that is another matter).

  3. Dr. Robinson,
    Given that it's not a palimpsest, how much older could the parchment reasonably be than the writing?

  4. Probably not much, though it remains possible that already-prepared sheets of parchment could have existed for some time and/or that it in fact could be a palimpsest if extreme scraping and obliteration had occurred to the point where the original writing was totally removed.

    However, I remain far more inclined to accept the later carbon-date range (7th century) as reasonable.

    My primary question remains the earliest known date for the standardized decoration of the Eusebian Canon tables (birds and columns).

  5. Precise issues of dating aside, this is a fascinating set of articles you've linked to Peter. Thanks for the post.
    --Rod Mullen

  6. SC:
    "From the 11th cen. to the 4-7th: that's a rather large discrepancy!"

    No one is dating the mss to the 4th century. That's simply the early end of a rather large range for the lifespan of the quadruped(s) who provided the parchment. The earliest reasonable date is the last quarter of the 5th century, which nicely lines up with the midpoints of the Carbon-14 dates for both samples.

    The 11th century dating was apparently based as much on a disbelief in the reliability of the manuscript's oral history as any scientific consideration.

  7. The interesting question is how will this affect the dating of other such manuscripts, if at all, and how will this affect the known history of transmission :)

  8. I can't see that this carbon dating is particularly decisive without a discussion that takes in codicological and palaeographical data. The codices are clearly composite, there is some existing discussion about the relationships between the pictures and the text and the Eusebian sections pages and the text. From this collection two small pieces of parchment fall out, someone pockets them and has them carbon dated - it is odd to use a scientific method of dating in such an obviously un-scientific manner.

  9. In case anyone is wondering: in 1980 Metzger mentioned the testimony of the Garima Gospels (the old one) at the end of Mark: Mark 16:9-20 follows 16:8. The "Shorter Ending" does not intervene.

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

  10. I agree with Peter that paleographic and stylistic investigations have to be made to date the parchments precisely. It would be a novelty to have an Ethiopic gospel from before the 2nd millennium AD, but it is not impossible. The first Ethiopic inscriptions with Bible quotations from the Old and New Testament are from the 6th/7th centuries. So we have to wait until more investigations can be made.

  11. Not very surprisingly no expert seems to accept the fact that the oldest illustrated Christian scriptures were made in black Africa. The previous dating was set on the 11th century because French specialist Jules Leroy found it hard to believe that Ethiopians could have produced such a book any earlier. Like it or not, the fact is that Abba Garima, arrived in Ethiopia from Constantinople in 494 AD and the Monks themselves have said that the books were made during his lifetime. Now the carbon dating confirmed it by placing the date between 487 and 488.

  12. Is there a link where one can see digital images of Garmin Gospels anywhere?