Thursday, October 29, 2015

Another "priceless" Syriac manuscript seized in Turkey

SYRIAC WATCH: Thou shalt not sell priceless artefacts: Thousand-year-old Bible found in Turkey after bungling smugglers try to sell it to undercover police
  • Turkish police caught smugglers with priceless 1000-year-old Bible
  • Written in old Assyriac, it is illustrated with motifs made of gold leafs
  • Three men arrested in Tokat, central Turkey, truing to sell the Bible
A 1,000-year-old Bible has been uncovered by police in Turkey after smugglers tried to sell the priceless book to undercover officers.

Police in the central Turkish city of Tokat confiscated the ancient Bible together with other priceless artefacts after catching the smugglers red-handed.

Three men have who were attempting to sell the Bible, written in the old Assyriac language, to undercover police officers have been arrested.


We have been down this route before. First there was the bogus Gospel of Barnabas manuscript that turned out to be, at best, an early modern manuscript of the Gospel of Matthew, and this possibly even a forgery. That story still keeps surfacing. Then there was the "priceless 300-year-old religious manuscript in Syriac" recovered from smugglers in 2013, on which see here and here. Plus earlier that year the Turkish authorities recovered a Hebrew Torah scroll from smugglers and then promptly announced that it was 1,900 years old. No. (See here and here).

All that, of course, does not make this story erroneous, but I see some warning flags. The Mail reporter obviously did not run the story by any specialists or they would have told her that there is no "Assyriac" language. This is a non-word, an amalgamation of "Syriac" and "Assyrian," both of which actually are Aramaic dialects. No reason is given for regarding the manuscript to be 1,000 years old. And I have noted before that a number of fake manuscripts with gold lettering have turned up in recent years. That so-called Gospel of Barnabas manuscript also has gold lettering. That's not exactly the same as gold decoration, but it is worrisome. I know of a few real Syriac manuscripts that have gold lettering, but none earlier than the thirteenth century.

This particular manuscript is in poor condition, either because it is old, or because it is young but has been stored poorly (e.g., in a damp environment), or because a forger has treated it to make it look old. The script seems to be Syriac, but the photo is too poor to make much out. There are plenty of illuminated (i.e., with pictures) Syriac manuscripts from antiquity up to the present, so it's hard to say anything about the picture. I am skeptical about the supposed great age and value of the manuscript, but I'll reserve judgment until I hear definitively from Syriac paleographers and art historians.

Meanwhile, even if the Turkish authorities sometimes get a little carried away about the value and importance of the manuscripts they recover, they deserve praise for keeping up the pressure on smugglers.

UPDATE: Seen on Facebook: 1000 year old Bible found in Turkey's Tokat. A video that gives a reasonably good view of each page of the manuscript.

UPDATE (5 November): More here and here.