April 18, 2005

Unknown treasures

I think they buried the lede in this short story about a new technique that may allow scholars for the first time to read ancient manuscripts whose fading ink had rendered them illegible. The story ends with this sentence:

The thousands of remaining documents, which will be analysed over the next decade, are expected to include works by Ovid and Aeschylus, plus a series of Christian gospels which have been lost for up to 2,000 years.

Posted by Ideofact at April 18, 2005 12:12 AM

Interesting spin-off of space technology. It almost smacks of the "invisible ink" scenes in spy-movies, or in National Treasure.

I've gotta say, it would be interesting to see what comes out of the gospels section of the researches.

There are several possibilities: we could have another collection like the Dead Sea Scrolls (scripts much older than our current "oldest copy", with nearly-identical contents), or the Nag Hammadi scrolls (documents that excite lots of speculation about the history of the gospels).

Posted by: talon karrde at April 18, 2005 02:32 PM

It is a fairly trivial point, but the Nag Hammadi texts were not scrolls, but papyrus codices (codexes, if you prefer) -- recognizable predecessors of medieval and modern bound books.

As codices, they represent a technological change which the Christian Churches (Orthodox or not, and apparently including Gnostics) seem to have embraced fairly early.

Jewish authorities preferred the traditional scroll form, but seem to have turned quickly to the equally revolutionary material of "Pergamene" membranes (parchment), instead of papyrus or simple leather. This decision survives to the present, in Torah scrolls only, as a liturgical requirement.

Posted by: Ian Myles Slater at April 18, 2005 08:33 PM

I think the Gospels referred to are St. Thomas. The Nag Hammadi find was a more complete text of St. Thomas, but was not as new. So this new technology will allow comparisons between Oxyrhynchus and Nag Hammadi to see how the text evolved in the intervening years.

Posted by: Stygius at April 19, 2005 10:24 AM