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AS Christian contacts with Sinai

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I have just been sent this link with shows the links between the Anglo-Saxons and Christians in Sinai.

Crumbs, thanks for that David.  Trying that multispectral imaging/ MSI on the manuscripts sounds ever so exciting.  As a member of the Mars Society, I first came across MSI in space exploration, used by probes to scan a planet’s surface.  Then, as an offshoot, I read that it was to be tried on those petrified scrolls from that villa near Heracleon, preserved by the Vesuvius eruption.

The presence of Anglo-Saxon scholars in Sinai lends credence to Prof Brown’s hypothesis that Celtic sites like Skellig Michael, far off the west coast of Ireland, show evidence of the influence of Eastern monasticism.

Yes indeed.  I’m under the impression that the jury is out amongst scholars as to whether the similarities between early cenobitism/ early Egyptian monasticism and later Celtic monasticism were merely apparent or stand on any real historical evidence.  Old English involvement could be the ‘smoking gun’ if I’m right to guess that, in whatever form putative lines of transmission took, most on them would usually traverse Old English territory. 

The only downside is that it doesn’t seem to exactly say that the Old English scribes were at St Catherine’s in person, or whether ( as I  expect ) work in their hands came there in the pre-Conquest period.

Also I wonder if the “obscure ancient languages” will include any Phoenician?  When I last knew anything about it, Phoenician was known to Augustine of Hippo, Martianus Capella ( who may have been partly or wholly of Phoenician stock) and “the Desert Fathers” of Egypt.  If memory serves, it was still a spoken language on southern shorelands and several islands of the Mediterranean until at least 1066, nautical terms of Phoenician origin lasted longer, and davit may be one of them if you find a Phoenician etymology more likely than the alternative, Hebrew.

A funny co-incidence is that, visiting some relatives the other week, I got to see some highly attractive footage of Skellig Michael.  The children were watching some film set in the ‘world’ of Star Wars.  Not a world I’d want to bring children into, but it seems these filmmakers used Skellig Michael as a setting and put the visual drama of the place to good effect.  Just ignore the dismal sci-fi tosh and enjoy the scenery, I say.

( Now I’m off a-googling to see how MSI of that library at Heracleon is getting on...)


Well, the plot thickens.

Fellow ġeþīsas may wish to know the results of that googling I expected to interest only me about the scrolls from the villa buried by the Mount Vesuvius eruption at Herculaneum.   A third of the lost work On Nature by Epicurus has been recovered, already.

Besides the Wiki entry I dug up two magazine articles about ongoing scientific projects to read more.  One article was by John Seabrook from The New Yorker late in 2015.  Besides the fact that it is Herculaneum and not Heracleon ( that’s a sunken city off the coast of Egypt, tee ::) hee) I learned that Brent Seales is “a software engineer who is the head of the computer-science department at the University of Kentucky” and how he is developing ways “of ‘virtually unwrapping’ the scrolls, using a combination of molecular-level X-ray technology, spectral-imaging techniques, and software designed by him and his students at the university”. In his own words, “The idea is that you’re not just conserving the image digitally – you can actually restore it digitally.” Seabrook goes on, “The potential struck him in 1995, when he was assisting Kevin Kiernan, an English professor, on a digital-imaging project involving the only extant copy of Beowulf, the medieval masterwork... The manuscript was damaged in a fire in 1731” and, as newbie ġesīþas may not know, was singed round the edges.  Modern transcriptions have to rely on a fair copy which, by mere luck, was made before the Cotton Fire that all good Anglo-Saxonists would rather not dwell upon.  If memory serves, the Cotton Tiberius MS of Beowulf, was chucked out the bleedin’ window...

So has anyone heard tell of Seales’ work yielding any amendments to the text of Beowulf, yet?

Initially Seales did all this by adapting NASA’s MSI or multispectral imaging technique I’d read about the Mars probes using.  Yet Searle went on to refine the technique using “King Alfred the Great’s Old English translation of The Consolation of Philosophy” no less.  This development takes into account the crinkling and shrinking of the substrate the ink causes, then ‘reverse engineers’ it to make legible the illegible. “Seales was able to virtually smooth out the manuscript, making some letters visible for the first time”, writes Seabrook.

Now the bad news is this.  The main stumblingblock the experts encountered with the Herculaneum scrolls was that ancient ink, seemingly, proved not to contain iron.   This has thrown the possibility of recovering the Herculaneum scrolls back into doubt.

However, the good news is that the ink of medieval scribes does contain iron. “Line by line, Archimedes’ original writings began to come to life,” Uwe Bergmann, a physicist at Stanford University is quoted as saying when they tried a thirteenth-century palimpsest, “literally glowing on our screens. It was the most amazing thing.”

Dare anyone say... “This could be good?” Lost works by Bede may even be recovered from St Catherine’s.  :P  !!!! :D Or works from the Old English community that grew up in Constantinople ( we know that one copy of King Alfred’s version of History against the Pagans by Orosius, with the updated material about Scandinavia and the Baltic, came into the hands of one Byzantine emperor).  Or, since we know King Alfred’s diplomatic correspondence extended to Jerusalem, why not Old English correspondence at St Catherine’s? Or a version of Arculf’s pilgrimage to the Holy Land only with all sorts of juicy information added ( he visited Mount Sinai), maybe?

What kind of diplomatic gifts might high-status Old English pilgrims leave at St Catherine’s, can anyone guess?  Bede’s lost translation of the Gospel of St John?

Does anyone have a wish list, or is a lost work by Bede what we all hope for?

( Also, I wonder if this technique involves any time-consuming donkey work that non-experts could do, on a ‘crowd sourcing’ basis?  Might Ðā Engliscan Ġesīþas make some official enquiry to this effect, if others besides me would be willing to help out?)

The moral right of the author identify Dan Brown, coming from Barcelona this time, has been asserted.


The project now has its own website:

( Wonder if any Qumran material will come to light?  Imagine what Arculf would make of the War Scroll?)

So far the Sinai Palimpsest Project has found some new Greek medical texts, what are now the earliest known passages of Hippocrates’ material and passages written little-known ancient languages.

So, nothing relating to the Old English yet but “The age of discovery is not over,” according to Michael Phelps of the Early Manuscripts Electronic Library in California.

The other good news is that the ISIS threat to the monastery seems definitely to have receded.

Still nobody has a ‘wants’ list?  Anything from Bede’s lost works would do me.

Fellow Stoics will be glad to learn that, “A new historical work by Seneca the Elder was discovered among the unidentified Herculaneum papyri only last year, thus showing what uncontemplated rarities remain to be discovered there.”  The UK’s national synchrotron facility has teamed up with the University of Kentucky to have another go at reading these, using some new AI-guided X-ray machine that goes ping. 

One that doesn’t depend on ink having iron in it.

I’d pop my cork if anything verbatim from Pliny the Elder’s German Wars came to light, with more information about Weleda.


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