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Egypt: Rare Manuscript Discovered in Saint Catherine Monastery | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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St. Catherine’s Monastery. (photo credit: SETH J. FRANTZMAN)

Cairo- Egypt has announced the discovery of a rare manuscript dating back to the fifth or sixth century at the Saint Catherine Monastery in southern Sinai.

Minister of Antiquities Khaled El-Enany said the manuscript was uncovered by monks during restoration works carried out at the monastery’s library.

The minister highlighted the discovery’s importance, as it features medical texts written by the renowned Greek physician Hippocrates, along with three other texts by an anonymous writer.

The monastery has a library containing 6,000 manuscripts, among them 600 manuscripts written in Arabic, Greek, Ethiopian, Coptic, Armenian and Syriac dating back to the 4th century AD. It also includes many decrees from Muslim caliphates.

The monastery is considered among the oldest in the world and is enlisted as one of Egypt’s monuments from the Byzantine era. It is also on the UNESCO world heritage list since 2002.

The Ministry of Antiquities organized a ceremony in Cairo that was attended by many figures including Greek Minister of Digital Policy, Telecommunications and Media Nikos Pappas, the Archbishop of Saint Catherine’s Monastery, Egyptian Cultural Minister Helmy El-Namnam, Egyptian Minister of Communication and Information Technology Yasser El-Kadi, Egyptian Minister of Tourism Yehia Rashid, and South Sinai Governor Major General Khalid Fouda.

Mohammed Abdel-Latif, assistant minister of antiquities for archaeological sites, explained that the discovered document is one of those known as “Palmesit” manuscripts, dating to the 6th century AD. The manuscript is written on vellum and bears parts of herbal remedies from a Greek recipe missing before 1200 AD. He also noted that the second layer of the book features extracts from the Bible known as “Sinaitic manuscript” from the medieval eras.

Archeology-related sources said the Saint Catherine Library is considered the most important worldwide and comes after the Vatican’s library. It contains rare manuscripts, and a unique collection of religious and historic documents that highlight the concept of tolerance among religions.

The library preserves the oldest version of the Torah in the world, the Greek version known as “Codex Sinaiticus” written in 331 AD at the order of Constantine’s emperor. This version was discovered at the monastery by a Russian scientist.

Ahmed Al-Nimer, supervisor of Coptic archeology documentation at the ministry, said the manuscript is formed of two layers. The first one, he explained, was previously erased in order to be re-written.

For his part, Prof. Michael Philips, director of e-manuscripts library in Greece, said: “We recently received two pages of the manuscript. After the review, we found a drawing of medical herb with a small old Greek text accompanied with an Arabic text.”

“With a modern adaptation, we read a Greek text that dates back to the sixth century. The manuscript, which contains three medical texts, will be enlisted among the oldest and the most important manuscripts in the world.”

In the same context, the Egyptian culture minister said this manuscript dating back to the fifth century, with its medical recipes asserts that Egyptians had a leading position in science.