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New Biblical Text Discovered

Thanks to a grant from the German Research Council (DFG - STU 469/1-1), multi-spectral imaging has revealed never-before-seen Ethiopic text in a palimpsest at the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin.

Among the manuscripts catalogued by August Dillmann in his 1878 Verzeichnis der abessinischen Handschriften in the Royal (now State) Library of Berlin is one of the few known Ethiopic palimpsests, Petermann II Nachtrag 24, the upper writing of which, datable to the 17th century, includes a commentary on the Book of Revelation. Via funding from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (project no. STU 469/1-1, Textkritische Ausgabe und Übersetzung des 1 Henoch) and with the gracious support of the Orientabteilung of the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin (Curator, Christoph Rauch), it was possible to conduct multi-spectral imaging of the manuscript from 24. October to 4. November 2016.

This work has enabled significant sections of the undertexts to be read, revealing fragments from at least nine earlier codices, the majority of which date to the 14th century and before; several texts contain archaic linguistic features attested in only the earliest stratums of Ge'ez material evidence. Manuscripts represented include Enoch, Acts, an Old Testament lectionary, a homiliary, and multiple hagiographic codices.

The project marked a coming together of several specialist teams:

(a) the Early Manuscript Electronic Library under the direction of Michael Phelps, along with Damianos Kasotakis and image processing specialists Dr. Keith Knox and Prof. Roger Easton (Rochester Institute of Technology);

(b) Mega-Vision, headed by Ken Boydston;

(c) BAM Bundesanstalt für Materialfoschung und –prüfung and Centre for the Study of Manuscript Cultures (Universität Hamburg), represented by Prof. Ira Rabin and Ivan Shevchuk; and

(d) Chair of New Testament in the Protestant Faculty of Theology of Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, Prof. Loren Stuckenbruck, together with research assistant Ted Erho, who brought expertise to the study of the Ethiopic texts.

The video, produced by Ken Boydston of Mega-Vision, provides a beautiful example of results from the photography and imagining of this remarkable palimpsest.