The Codex Zacynthius is regarded as an crucial text in studying the development of the New Testament.
It features a sixth or seventh century script which has been partially scraped away and written over to make way for a 13th century entry.
Now scholars are hoping to uncover this hidden script after securing over £1 million to keep it at a British university.
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The Codex Zacynthius is regarded as an important text in studying the development of the New Testament as it features an seventh century script which has been scraped away to make way for a 13th century entry
The Codex Zacynthius’ future had been in doubt after the British and Foreign Bible Society, which has owned the volume for more than 200 years, decided to sell it to raise funds.
But the Cambridge University Library, which has housed the manuscript since 1984, has secured £1.1 million ($1.78 million) to buy it.
Dr Rowan Williams, the former archbishop of Canterbury who supported the fundraising campaign, welcomed the news, saying it would allow further study.
‘The discovery and identification of the undertext represents a fascinating detective story,’ he said.
‘By securing the manuscript, we hope that multi-spectral imaging techniques will enable scholars to recover fully the hidden text.’
The Codex Zacynthius showing the end of a chapter of the Evangeliarium, the undertext is clearly legible. Scholars hope to uncover hidden Bible secrets after raising funds to secure the future of the manuscript
WHAT IS THE CODEX ZACYNTHIUS?
Codex Zacynthius is a palimpsest: a manuscript from which the text has been scraped or washed off in order for it to be used again.
The recycling of manuscripts was common practice at a time when writing surfaces were precious and few books were produced.
The 176 leaves of Codex Zacynthius are made of vellum – treated animal hide.
The surface of the vellum was first used in the 6th or 7th century when it was inscribed in Greek with the text of Luke 1:1–11:33.
In the 13th century this was partially scraped away and written over with the text of an Evangeliarium, a book composed of passages from the Four Gospels’.
The palimpsest offers scholars a key to understanding the way in which the text of St Luke’s Gospel was transmitted as Christianity spread.
It measures 35 cm by 28 cm, is now in a 16th-century Greek-style goatskin binding that shows how the manuscript has been treasured over the centuries.
Tiny hand-stitched repairs secure tears in the goatskin and the cover bears traces of a cross and other decorations long since lost.
Although the undertext was first deciphered in 1861, it is believed to include errors and it is hoped modern techniques may shed new light on its contents.
The recycling of manuscripts was common practice at a time when writing surfaces were precious, few books were produced, and a tiny percentage of the population was literate.
Codex Zacynthius features 176 leaves of parchment – treated animal skin – first used at the end of the seventh century when it was inscribed in Greek with the text of Luke 1:1-11:33.
In the 13th century this was partially scraped away and written over with the text of an Evangeliarium, a book composed of passages from the four Gospels.
For centuries there was no definitive text of the New Testament until the formulation the Textus Receptus in the 16th century.
The codex was not used in this version which was based on only six manuscripts and was for centuries the standard printed edition of the New Testament, forming the basis of the original German Luther Bible, despite its known shortcomings.
‘The presence of the undertext, first discovered in the 19th century and critical to establishing the transmission of St Luke’s Gospel, places Codex Zacynthius among the top flight of Biblical manuscripts,’ said Lord Williams.
‘Furthermore, it is the oldest extant New Testament manuscript with a commentary alongside the text, making it a witness to both the development and interpretation of St Luke’s Gospel.’
The Codex Zacynthius features 176 leaves of parchment – treated animal skin – first used at the end of the seventh century when it was inscribed in Greek with the text of Luke 1:1-11:33
Its original place of composition is unknown but it takes its name from the Greek island of Zakynthos, also known as Zante, where it was discovered.
The library reached its target to secure the manuscript thanks to a £500,000 ($811,600) grant from the National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF).
‘The Codex Zacynthius has been part of the UK’s heritage for over 200 years and is a truly fascinating and unique object,’ said Fiona Talbott, head of NHMF.
‘Our trustees felt it was incredibly important that it should be safeguarded so future generations can explore its undiscovered secrets.’