Codex Climaci Rescriptus (CCR) is a 292-page manuscript, three of whose physical leaves (folios) have been carbon dated to the fifth or sixth centuries. Owned by Museum of the Bible in Washington DC, the codex contains a Syriac translation of writings by John Climacus, head of St Catherine’s Monastery of the Sinai in the seventh century. However, this upper text was written on the recycled pages of a number of older codices, whose original (lower) text was erased to create a blank canvas for the new writing. Using multispectral imaging, scientists can now scan the pages to reveal the erased text, allowing many of the more difficult parts to be read for the very first time by modern scholars.
Multispectral imaging captures information not visible to the naked eye. The technique works by photographing the manuscript with different combinations of light: using wavelengths from ultraviolet through infrared, including various colour filters, and illuminating each page from below. The diverse information captured in these multiple shots is then mathematically combined by image-processing specialists to provide greater clarity.
A portion of the text that was found underneath the Syriac writing constitutes one of the world’s most significant records of Aramaic in a dialect close to the one that Jesus would have spoken. Studying this writing allowed Dr Phillips to identify eight words that were previously unknown to 21st-century academics, and which can now be added to the Aramaic dictionary.