... 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.