Monday, April 13, 2015

The Jubilees Palimpsest Project

TECHNOLOGY WATCH: Technology casts new light on old manuscripts (Todd R. Hanneken, San Antonio Express-News). The name sounds like a Robert Ludlum novel, but it's actually an exciting NEH-funded humanities project. Excerpt:
Today’s imaging technology exponentially improves the color range and resolution of the eye. Advanced processing of spectral signatures allows us to distinguish visually similar but different materials, such as brownish traces of ink on brownish discolored parchment. We can also capture high-resolution texture that allows us to see the corrosion of parchment where mildly acidic ink had once been.

Now scholars can read whole books from antiquity, whereas before one could barely tell there was erased text behind the visible writing.

What will we learn when this technology makes ancient writings freely available to scholars and enthusiasts around the world? As with past discoveries, it might teach us oddities of Jewish and Christian history and about the development of ideas that we now take for granted.

The St. Mary’s team is working on an erased manuscript, or palimpsest, of the book of Jubilees, originally written in Hebrew in the 150s BCE. It was eventually rejected by Judaism and most of Christianity, perhaps because of its fervent strictness.

The same erased manuscript also contains the only copy of what is likely the Testament of Moses, a Jewish text written around the time of Jesus describing some mysterious other Messianic figure. A third hidden text contains part of a commentary on the Gospel of Luke written by Christians who were eradicated as heretics because they believed that God the Son was younger than God the Father.
The project's website is here, where more details are available, such as:
The 144-page manuscript is often referred to as the “Jubilees” palimpsest in reference to its oldest text, eighty pages of a Latin translation of a Hebrew composition from the 150s BCE, fragments of which were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran. The codex also includes sixteen pages of a first-century CE Jewish work called the Assumption or Testament of Moses, and forty-eight pages of a fourth-century CE Arian commentary on the Gospel of Luke. All reflect major developments in Judaism and Christianity, and all were eventually suppressed. Jubilees was treated as scripture among those responsible for the Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran, and “Arians” represented a major form of Christianity in the fourth century. Scholars of Judaism and Christianity will be most interested in evaluating the images to determine the oldest form of the ancient texts, which are known best or only from this manuscript. The manuscript itself tells the story of the “erasure” of alternative views of the Law and Christ, and replacement with a view that retained dominance, namely an anthology of Augustine's writings.

This manuscript, now at the Ambrosiana Library (Biblioteca) in Milan, has not been thoroughly edited since 1828 (Commentary on Luke) and 1861 (Jubilees and the Assumption or Testament of Moses). ...
Bit by bit, a letter at a time, whatever it takes. Until we're done.

Cross-file under Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Watch.

UPDATE: Dead link now fixed. Sorry!