Lost ancient texts including story of early Christian martyr, unknown poem from ancient Greece on Zeus recovered [PHOTOS]

Sinai Palimpsests Project
Sinai Palimpsests Project. UCLA Library

A five-year collaboration supported by the Arcadia Fund and including researchers and scholars with support from UCLA Library, St. Catherine's Monastery and the Early Manuscripts Electronic Library, unearthed some obscured historical material. Most of these materials have re-emerged for the first time in centuries. This collaboration is the largest effort of its kind.

Previously unknown classical Greek mythological and medical works, newly discovered classical scientific texts which are in Syriac translation, religious writings in extinct and dead languages, an ancient Christian poem consisting of Old Testament figures in Homeric style and detailed illustrations of plants, buildings and people have re-emerged for the first time through the project, also called the Sinai Palimpsests Project.

Seventy-four palimpsests having some 6,800 pages in 10 languages contain layers of writing which were erased at some point in time. These writings date back to fifth and 12th centuries.

Sinai Palimpsests Project
Gospels in Arabic translation, late eighth century. The oldest surviving copy of the Gospels in Arabic translation. UCLA Library

St. Catherine's Monastery is the oldest and the continuously inhabited Christian monastery in the world. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is situated in a region which is sacred to the Christians, Jews and Muslims. The collection of this monastery stands second only to the Vatican Library. Access to its collection has always been difficult due to the built up tension in the political climate of the place. Apart from revealing the hidden content of the monastery, the project has also preserved materials which are fragile.

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Sinai Palimpsests Project
Hippocrates, De morbis popularibus (Epidemiae), Sixth century. The oldest surviving copy of this ancient scientific text. UCLA Library
The Codex Armenicus Rescriptus
The Codex Armenicus Rescriptus is a parchment originating at the Monastery of St. Catherine at Mt. Sinai. Wikimedia Commons

The palimpsests are basically texts in Ethiopic and Latin which speak of the monastery's position in the world of Christianity in the medieval era. These include previously unknown texts written in the extinct Christian Palestinian Aramaic language. The research states that it includes a tale of an early Christian martyr and some unknown biblical texts written in numerical.

The list also includes several earliest surviving copies of Hippocratic medical treatises. Interestingly, a previously unknown mythological poem from ancient Greece that narrates the story of Zeus, Hades, Hera, Hermes and Persephone has also been found. Apart from the oldest surviving illustration in a secular Latin manuscript, illustrations of medicinal herbs, human faces and figures and portions of buildings are also present. This discovery might change the course of the history and culture of the world. Digital technology such as the spectral imaging process has been used to study and preserve the ancient and medieval data.

 Wall painting at Partrishow
Wall painting at Partrishow, The Apostles' Creed. Wikimedia Commons

Michael Phelps, EMEL project director, states that the project which also included the monks of St. Catherine's Monastery, led to the revelation of "recovered individual texts of historical significance" and of pieces of literature which were almost lost.

Anthea Case, the principal adviser to the Arcadia Fund, said that authorities were proud to be a part of the project at St Catherine's Monastery.

"By revealing these long-hidden materials and preserving them for future generations, this project makes possible advanced research and scholarship by scholars around the world," said UCLA Norman and Armena Powell University Librarian Ginny Steel.

This article was first published on December 26, 2017