Faith-Inspiring Biblical Discovery
When police raided suspected antiquity smugglers in Cyprus, they hit gold. Reuters reports that they found what authorities believe is an ancient version of the Bible written in Syriac, a dialect of the native language of Jesus Christ. The manuscript, which has excerpts of the Bible written in gold lettering on vellum, is about 2,000 years old. The pages are loosely strung together. On one of the pages is a drawing of a tree and eight lines of Syriac script. Jesus spoke Aramaic, and Syriac is a dialect of that. Once widely spoken across much of the Middle East and Central Asia, Syriac is still used in the Syrian Orthodox Church in India, while Aramaic is still used in religious rituals of Maronite Christians in Cyprus.
However there are two big questions: From where did the manuscript come? And is it an original? The answers to those questions mean it could be a priceless religious relic--or a complete fake. Experts said the use of gold lettering on the manuscript is one way to date it. "I'd suspect that it is most likely to be less than 1,000 years old," leading expert Peter Williams, warden of Tyndale House at the University of Cambridge, told Reuters.
In addition, J.F. Coakley, a manuscripts specialist at the University of Cambridge library and fellow of Wolfson College, told Reuters, "The Syriac writing seems to be in the East Syriac script with vowel points, and you do not find such manuscripts before about the 15th century. On the basis of the one photo...if I'm not mistaken some words at least seem to be in modern Syriac, a language that was not written down until the mid-19th century."
So where did the manuscript come from? Charlotte Roueche, a professor of Byzantine studies at King's College London, told Reuters, "One very likely source could be the Tur-Abdin area of Turkey, where there is still a Syriac speaking community." Also found along with the manuscript was a prayer statue and a stone carving of Jesus that is thought to be from a church in northern Cyprus, as well as dynamite. The police have charged the detainees with smuggling antiquities, illegal excavations and the possession of explosives.