Saturday, February 25, 2012

The antique Syriac Bible

There have been many news reports about an antique Syriac Bible. We're told here that:

it's connected with smugglers
it's 1500 years old
may contain the gospel of Barnabas
is worth some vast sum (e.g. $28,000,000)
even photocopies of its pages are worth $1,700,000

Sounds like the photocopies are worth more than the original!

[and don't forget that the Vatican is involved -- a vital ingredient for all tasty conspiracy stories]

But hang on. How many gold letter Syriac Bibles are there sloshing round smuggling rings in Turkey and Cyprus? Haven't we seen this before?

Anyway, those who want some facts can look at the images in this news report.

The photo starts by homing in on the word 'Amen' halfway down the left hand page. As it scrolls over the wording above it is clear that it is Matthew, we get the sequence:

[dn]trwn klm' dpqdt[kwn]...
'n' 'mkwn 'n' kl[hwn]
[yw]mt' 'dm' lšwlm[h]

that they should keep all that I have commanded [you]
I am with you all
[da]ys until the end [of]

It's just plain Peshitta.

Now are my eyes deceiving me or does the last line of the colophon they show say something about 'in the year 1,500 of our Lord'?

bšnt' 'lp' whmšm' dmrn

If so, the media dating is only out by a millennium, but I'm not sure of my reading at this stage.

The pointed Nestorian script is the giveaway that we're not dealing with something 1,500 years old.

It is puzzling that if the end of Matthew is on the left hand page, the right hand page should be blank. Also with only two verses appearing on this page of Matthew (28:19-20) there is certainly no way this manuscript has enough pages to contain the four gospels and no way that the whole of Matthew could occur to the right. Moreover, it's odd that all the writing is grouped on the right hand side of the page. These are features which would make me think of it as a modern forgery. Why go to the effort of using gold and yet have the appearance on the page so irregular and the margins so uneven?

Anyway, anyone who would pay $28,000,000 for this ought to consider doing the world a favour by buying up some toxic debt instead.

Any more observations?

I see that Michael Law got there first on reading the '1,500 years' and in suspecting a forgery.

Possible arguments in favour of forgery could be failure to distinguish beth and kaph; the angle of the nun in 'year', the page layout, the line spacing, the gold, the criminal context, the release with such hype. This sort of thing could happen when someone is copying a text without really knowing the language.


  1. A new bailout plan for Greece: invest 28 million on the manuscript and sell photocopies.

  2. What is up with the gold ink? Do we have any authentic manuscripts from the first millennium in gold ink? My guess is that Turkish forgers favor this ink, because it is visible on their leather pages which are so dark. For 'parchment,' they are apparently taking remnants from old couches and jackets, and running them through the washing machine a few times. In this case, however, it appears that their Syriac script (although anachronistic) is at least somewhat skillfully executed.

  3. I saw this over at Christian Post a couple of days ago. It's clearly not from the 500's. Perhaps we are seeing two things here:

    (1) A side-effect of a growing awareness (on the part of forgers)that someone wealthy is building a huge collection of Bibles and Bible-related stuff.

    (2) The infiltration of Islamic apologists into some news-organizations that accept freelance work. (What else explains the reference to the "Gospel of Barnabas"?) This is not the first thing I've seen that could be considered evidence of what appears to be a campaign by Islam-supporting writers, disguised as journalists, to cast aspersion upon the NT text by announcing news of discoveries that are supposed to somehow draw it into question (and thus vindicate Islamic claims that the Injil has been corrupted, blah, etc., blah).

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

  4. Some questions:

    1) Are there any authentic examples of Syriac dating using a "year of our Lord" formula?
    if 'yes':
    2) Do the Syriac churches of Eastern Turkey retain manuscripts (or did they, before hooligans made off with them) that could have served as exemplars?

    Has anyone bought up any of these supposed Syriac-on-coat-leather relics yet (I can't imagine they would--at these prices--but maybe they go on sale)?

  5. AD dating is late, but is possible by this stage (AD 1500). Greek era dating is being used for the first millennium.

    Yes, there are plenty of uncatalogued mss in Eastern Turkey.

  6. According to a comment on Michael Law's website, the colophon identifies the place of composition as a church in Mosul, Iraq.

    Although the name "Iraq" does date to the 7th century, Mosul was part of a greater Eastern empire known as the Aq Qoyunlu Khanate. Iraq as a distinct political entity didn't come along until 1920.

  7. CA: For 'parchment,' they are apparently taking remnants from old couches and jackets, and running them through the washing machine a few times.

    Sounds to me like Andreas Juckel needs to add another category of material to the Syriac MSS written on Papyrus, Parchment, and Paper.

    I suggest Nh (= Naugahyde).

  8. I think the phrase you've pulled out should actually be translated "1,500 years ago, by god." Thus, the media reports are correct!

    And it's clearly divinely inspired, since how could the writer have known how long it would be before the text would be rediscovered?

  9. You are right, the last line on the left hand page says clearly:
    b-shetta (sh.n.t.â) h.amshama d-māran =
    "in the year 1500 of our Lord" = 1500 AD (Julian calender, I suppose).

    I read the date exactly like this beSfore I found your texte here!
    Ismail Mohr, Berlin