Recovering Erased Texts in the World’s Oldest Library.
St. Catherine’s Monastery of the Sinai, though isolated in the rugged interior of the Sinai Peninsula, has been a destination for dauntless pilgrims and travelers since the fourth century. Throughout seventeen centuries it has maintained an unbroken spiritual heritage, and today is a place of peace between Christians and Muslims.
The Monastery’s library, one of the world’s oldest, preserves manuscripts dating from the 4th to the 19th century. Among its treasures are numerous palimpsests, that is, manuscripts written on recycled parchment where an older layer of writing has been erased. The prospect of discovering unknown ancient texts among the erased layers of palimpsests brought scholars to the Monastery beginning in the late 19th century. Though they made every effort to read the erased texts, some texts seemed lost forever.
Beginning in 2011, the Monastery worked with a team of scientists and scholars assembled by the Early Manuscripts Electronic Library (EMEL) to use multi-spectral imaging to render the erased texts legible. To date, the team has recovered more than 300 erased texts. They are written in ten languages and range in date from the 5th to the 12th century. The recovered texts include previously unknown Christian, Jewish and classical texts, notably lost works of ancient science, philosophy and mythology. The University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) is hosting the results of the project online as part of a digital library of the Monastery’s palimpsests – sinai.library.ucla.edu.
Father Justin Sinaites
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