Courtesy of the Schøyen Collection

Norwegian collector Martin Schøyen holds open one of the prizes of his collection—a palimpsest from the library of the monastery at Mt. Sinai. A palimpsest is a manuscript that has two layers—a lower layer of writing has been scraped off the parchment so later writing can reuse it. (Parchment was scarce and expensive; its reuse was common.)

Five different texts, including books of the Old and the New Testament, have been identified in the underlying layer of this volume. They include the earliest known texts in Christian Palestinian Aramaic. New Testament writings in Aramaic, Jesus’ native tongue, are rare and of special scholarly interest. Based on the form of their letters, these underlying texts have been dated to the sixth century A.D. The later, overlying texts include a lectionary of Biblical readings from the New Testament in Georgian, and letters with instructions for monks who wish to lead an ascetic life. A colophon identifies the scribe as a certain Johannes Zosimos, and includes a table of contents as well as a date and place—979 A.D. at Mt. Sinai.