Coptic Old Testament Book of Ruth


This twofold-written manuscript on parchment originated in the monasteries of Scetis in Lower Egypt and was used on two occasions: In the 7th century CE, the original manuscript contained Coptic biblical texts from the Old Testament including the Books of Joshua, Judges, Ruth, Judith, and Esther. Three centuries later, the codex was rewritten in Syriac with a selection of sayings and writings of the Church and Desert Fathers.

As the codex stands today, it does not maintain the original order of the Coptic text. The scribe who wrote the later Syriac text erased the original writing and reassembled the parchment without any regard of the former page sequence. Nonetheless, even in this erased and disorderly fashion, the Coptic text that survives in Add. 17183 is immensely valuable for studies on the Coptic Old Testament, as this codex includes several Old Testament Books that survive in very few ancient copies.

Therefore, the technique of multispectral imaging employed by the British Library to make the underlying handwriting visible is noteworthy. Spectral imaging allows extraction of additional information the human eye fails to capture with its receptors for red, green and blue. By fading out the Syriac text, now the original Coptic text is visible, legible, and possible to be edited. Multispectral imaging made it possible to transcribe this rare witness, which would have been very difficult or even impossible without this remarkable technology.

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Coptic Old Testament Book of Ruth
7th century CE, Egypt
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