The Museum of the Bible has found a medieval New Testament manuscript that mysteriously went missing from the University of Athens in 1991.
The text, which is called "Manuscript 18," will be on display in the museum before being returned to the university. It was written in Greek and contains four canonical gospels copied by a monk in the 1100s.
So, where has the 12th century Bible been all these years? In 2014 the private Green Collection donated the manuscript to the Museum of the Bible. However, the text was first sold at a London auction in 1998 and has since been owned by several private collectors before being donated to the museum.
When the museum received the text it notified the Institut für neutestamentliche Textforschung in Germany about the manuscript's new location. This information was then posted to the institute's public online database.
The next year, Professor Theodora Antonopoulou of the University of Athens discovered that Manuscript 18 had been mysteriously missing from her university's library since 1991. After finding information about the text on the German institute's online database, she contacted Museum of the Bible and confirmed that the text indeed belongs to the Athens University.
The Museum of the Bible and the University of Athens have agreed to display the manuscript at a temporary exhibit that runs through Oct. 1 in Washington D.C. The museum will also post images of the text on its website so anyone can study it.
"It is with great pleasure that we are announcing the return to the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens of an important manuscript, a unique Gospel book of the 12th century that went missing three decades ago from one of our libraries and whose whereabouts had remained unknown," said Professor Antonopoulou with the university's department of philology. "The manuscript is a witness to the original Greek text of the gospels and to its use in medieval times in the Byzantine Empire. Its return is of paramount importance for the unity of the manuscript collection of the university, to which it had been bequeathed by a distinguished former professor of our university and once prime minister of Greece, Spyridon Lambros, as well as for scholarly purposes and reasons of cultural heritage.
The discovery also comes after the museum undertook a major project to analyze the origins of more than 3,000 items in its collection.
"For several years, Museum of the Bible has been undergoing an intensive review of all holdings in its collection and items on loan from more than 40 lending institutions and collectors from around the world," said Museum of the Bible Chief Curatorial Officer Jeffrey Kloha, Ph.D. "With the assistance of Thomas R. Kline, an attorney with Cultural Heritage Partners whom we engaged in 2017, our staff have painstakingly researched some 3,200 objects and artifacts in our collection and on exhibit at the museum. Our intent has been to verify the provenance of these items and confirm they meet our acquisition policies and museum association guidelines. If not, we follow cultural heritage practices and, in a case like this, return them to the owner so they can be cared for and studied in their original setting."