Iconic books are texts revered as objects of power rather than just as words of instruction, information, or insight. In religious and secular rituals around the globe, people carry, show, wave, touch and kiss books and other texts, as well as read them. This blog chronicles such events and activities. (For more about iconic books, see the links to the Iconic Books Project at left.)

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Stolen Syriac Gospel seized

The Assyrian International News Agency is reporting that Cypriot authorities have seized a rare Syriac Gospel book from smugglers:

... The bible, estimated to be worth around €2 million, was seized during a raid at the Famagusta bus terminal last Friday where smugglers were seeking to sell it to buyers in the north. It is thought Turkish Cypriot police had been tipped off about the impending sale.

Although the north's 'antiquities department' refused yesterday to comment on the bible, because it was "the subject of an ongoing inquiry", a statement from police said it was bound in deerskin, written in gold letters in the Syriac language, and believed to be around 2000 years old. The bible may have come from the heartland of the Syrian Orthodox community in southeastern Turkey, where a small community remains, despite often being caught in the crossfire between Kurdish rebels and the Turkish military.

"It is very likely to come from the Tur-Abdin area of Turkey, where there is still a Syriac speaking community," Dr Chalotte Roueche, professor of Late Antique and Byzantine Studies at King College, London told Reuters yesterday. ...

Of course, Roueche went on to challenge the dating to a more reasonable range of the 4th century to the middle ages. The book, however, is not (yet?) available for scholars to inspect.

This story illustrates how two aspects of an old Bible's iconic dimension come into conflict: the high monetary value on the (black) market of an old copy of scripture on the one hand versus its iconic value as an identity marker for the Syrian / Assyrian Christian communities of Turkey on the other. In both contexts, the book functions as a relic and relics have always been the subject of controversy and conflict.

1 comment:

Trevor Dunen said...

Two Australian men have purchased a papyrus from a deceased estate in Western australia which turned out to be real, from the tomb of Tchaenhoy 1100BC. In effect a lost treasure. The papyrus was found with another tourist papyrus which had been specifically drawn to hide the real papyrus when placed over the top of it in a frame. The papyrus was also found with a painting by Vlase Zanalis called "The Miner" which turned out to be a famous painting owned by Claude de Bernales a famous Mining entrepeneur from France who supplied the finance to the Kalgoorlie gold mines in Western australia in the early 1900's. Claude de Bernales father was a Basque General living in France in the mid 1800's, the French military controlled all Egyptian antiquities at the time and somehow this piece came into his hands and ended up in his sons estate. See the pictures of the real thing at http://viewmorepics.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=user.viewPicture&friendID=434946894&albumId=846273. The original "Book of the dead"- "Judgement Scene" of Tchaenhouy has had a signature added and two false cartouches at either end to hide it and to make it seem like a tourist item. The other fake papyrus was drawn to hide it, the cartouches at either end fit into each other as do the heiroglyphics within them, also the male and female figure in the main scene exactly cover all the figures and heiroglyphics at the top in the main scene of the real Tchaenhouy papyrus. Tchaenhouy was a Pharoah around 1100 BCE and ruled between the 2oth and 21st dynasty. This find was reported in "The Sunday Times" in Western Australia in March 2007. The find is being examined and tested forensically by Dr. R. John Watling of the University of Western Australia