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Recently, a new chapter of the Bible has been discovered that was concealed inside a translation of the Gospel of Matthew that is 1,750 years old.

Grigory Kessel, a medievalist, used ultraviolet photography on the manuscripts that were housed in the Vatican Library in order to unveil the missing chapter.

The text showed up when illuminated by UV light. Image credit: © Vatican Library

It was found as part of the Sinai Palimpsests Project, research aimed to recover texts that were erased and written over scribes in the 4th-12th centuries CE. Palimset manuscripts – where earlier text has been washed or scraped off, then reused – were fairly common due to the scarcity of writing materials. Centuries later text can be uncovered by illuminating the manuscripts with fluorescence or different wavelengths of light.

Researchers and scholars were aware of the manuscript in 1953, it was rediscovered in 2010 before being digitized in 2010. The natural light and UV images were added to the Digital Vatican Library.

The translation – first written in the 3rd century CE and copied in the 6th century CE – has not yet been released in full, but offers slightly more detail than the Greek translation of Matthew chapter 12. In verse 1 of the Greek translation, a sentence 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,” while the Syriac translation discovered by Kessel ends “began to pick the heads of grain, rub them in their hands, and eat them.”

“Grigory Kessel has made a great discovery thanks to his profound knowledge of old Syriac texts and script characteristics,” said Claudia Rapp, Director of the Institute for Medieval Research at the Austrian Academy of Sciences.

“This discovery proves how productive and important the interplay between modern digital technologies and basic research can be when dealing with medieval manuscripts,” she adds.