Friday, July 6, 2018

The Sinaitic Syriac: Now in Color!

The old black and white photos of the pages of the Sinaitic Syriac
show that there is writing (including much of the Gospels)
underneath the more recent writing. 
In the new MSI-enhanced images,
the older text can be not only detected, but read.
          The Sinaitic Syriac manuscript, one of the most important non-Greek manuscripts of the Gospels, is online at the Sinai Palimpsests Project website.
            This fifth-century manuscript has already been online for a while, in black and white photos at the website of the Library of Congress.  Those old photos, however, mainly show only the upper, most recent layer of writing.  While that may be quite interesting for people who can read Syriac and have an interest in the lives of various female saints and martyrs, it’s not as interesting as the Syriac Gospels-text which (along with the texts of a few other compositions) was on the parchment that was recycled in the 700s to provide writing-material for a collection of biographies of female saints and martyrs.  
            Many other Syriac manuscripts are at Saint Catherines monastery but this one is the earliest and most important one.  It was brought to the attention of Western researchers in the 1890s by Agnes Smith Lewis, who edited and published its contents; her English translation of the text, with an informative introduction, was published in 1894.  (This was one of several important contributions made to New Testament research by Agnes Smith Lewis and her sister Margaret Dunlop Gibson.)  It has been prominently cited in compilations of the Greek New Testament ever since.  
               Now it is online, in full-color digital page-views, with multi-spectral imaging enhancement tools that allow Syriac-readers to read the ancient Syriac Gospels-text in the lower writing.  The text of some recycled pages from an ancient Greek Gospels-codex (with text from the Gospel of John) can also be read in the lower writing (just look for the slanted uncial Greek lettering on fol. 142, 144, 147, and 149).
               The Sinaitic Syriac manuscript is somewhat famous (or infamous) for being the only Syriac manuscript that ends the Gospel of Mark at the end of 16:8.  The last page of Mark in the Sinaitic Syriac manuscript (in the lower writing) is 23v; after you have applied for and received admittance to the images-gallery at the Sinai Palimpsests Project, you will need to find manuscript Syriac 30, explore its page-views, and rotate the page-view for 23r until it is upside down, and then use the MRI-selection tools to see the lower writing (in two columns).
             Before you explore the images, it is highly recommended that you thoroughly explore the manuscript-description and the sub-menus, especially the  Undertexts descriptions, to get some idea of what texts in what languages are on what pages.
            Hopefully in a few days, I shall post more about the Sinai Palimpsests Project and share some details about a few of the Greek New Testament manuscripts that are lurking in the lower writing of the palimpsests, along with some tips on how to navigate the site.


  1. Hi Sir,
    May you explain a bit about lower writing please?

  2. Hi Sir,
    May you explain a bit about lower writing please?

  3. Ali B,
    By "lower writing," the writing that appears underneath the more recent writing is meant. For example, picture a manuscript of the Gospels, written in Greek, stored for many years at a monastery where, eventually, no one at the monastery read Greek, only Latin. And suppose that someone at the monastery took the Greek Gospels-manuscript apart, washed off the ink, and re-used the parchment, writing on it some other composition, in Latin. The relatively young Latin writing would then be the "upper writing." The older Greek writing would be the "lower writing."

    Some manuscripts have been recycled more than once, and in such cases more specific terminology is needed, but for most cases, just the distinction between "lower writing" and "upper writing" is sufficient.

  4. is the lower writing clear enough to get an exact reading?

    Sorry I'm a novice but interested

  5. Unknown,
    Tricky question - *is* is about the present. But when the Sinaitic Syriac was studied, most of its text could be read.