Wednesday, September 06, 2017

St. Catherine's monastery delivers again

At the base of Mount Sinai in Egypt there is a very ancient monastery, St. Catherine's, which may have been patronized by Constantine's mother Helena and was apparently built by the emperor Justinian.  The monastery is best known for its collection of manuscripts, which include some of the most important sources for the text of the Bible.

The most famous manuscripts from St. C's were discovered and studied in the 19th century, while other mss (=manuscripts) were found in caves in the 20th.  Now scholars are using advanced technology to read the original texts of reused mss. The Independent explains:
Monks originally wrote their texts down on parchments which were later scrubbed off and used to write the Bible by future generations who spoke more modern languages. But a new technique developed by researchers allows them to see the original text hidden from the naked eye in a development hailed as “new golden age of discovery”.
Researchers took photographs of the material using different parts of the light spectrum and put the electronic images through a computer algorithm.
The method allows them to see the first writing laid down on the parchments, which at the time were highly valuable, before they were re-used in later years.
The scholars seem to be most excited by finding writings in obscure  or dead languages, like the one spoken in Caucasian Albania (not the same as the Albania next to Greece).  But I find this mindblowing:

“I don’t know of any library in the world that parallels it,” said Mr Phelps [from the Early Manuscripts Electronic Library in California]. “The monastery is an institution from the Roman Empire that continues operating according to its original mission.”

Image: By Berthold Werner - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12215773

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