Ancient Bible Written in Syriac Found in Cyprus

An ancient Bible written in Syriac, a dialect of Jesus' native language, was found in Cyprus earlier this month.

Turkish Cypriot police who performed a raid on suspected antiquity smugglers had found the Scriptures in the northern Turkish-controlled part of Cyprus, according to Reuters. The police testified in court that they believe the ancient holy text could be as old as 2,000 years.

In the undated photo released by authorities, the Bible is shown with a drawing of a tree and eight lines of Syriac text in gold. Scholars are unsure if the manuscript is an original, which would make it priceless. But some experts noted the use of gold lettering would likely make the Bible significantly less than 2,000 years old.

A manuscript specialist at the University of Cambridge library, J.F. Coakley, suggested that the discovered Bible could have been written later than the 15th century. "The Syriac writing seems to be in the East Syriac script with vowel points, and you do not find such manuscripts before about the 15th century," Coakley said to Reuters.

"On the basis of the one photo...if I'm not mistaken some words at least seem to be in modern Syriac, a language that was not written down until the mid-19th century," he added. Investigation on the nine people suspected of smuggling the Bible is still ongoing regarding. They have been detained for further questioning while police search for more people involved in the case.

Authorities have also connected a stolen prayer statue and a stone carving of Jesus believed to be from a church in north Cyprus to the suspected smugglers. Many religious icons from the small Mediterranean island of Cyprus, which is divided into two with Turkey occupying the north, have been stolen and auctioned off around the world. More than 15,000 portable religious icons and relics have been stolen and sold, some at prestigious auction houses such as Sotheby's in New York, according to the Republic of Cyprus.

Cyprus is the land where Apostle Paul took his first missionary journey, dating its Christian heritage back 2,000 years. The island boasts of some of the finest collections of Byzantine art in the world. But after Turkey invaded Cyprus in the 1970s and took control of the northern third of the country, churches began to be pillaged and destroyed. Several cases of stolen religious icons from Cyprus have been brought before U.S. courts after dealers were accused of attempting to illegally sell Cypriot cultural artifacts. U.S. courts have helped to return these artifacts to the Republic of Cyprus, but tens of thousands of other ancient pieces have been lost.

The United States has recognized Cyprus' endangered cultural heritage, and in 1999 and 2003 the U.S. Treasury Department issued emergency import restrictions on Byzantine Ecclesiastical and Ritual Ethnological Materials from Cyprus. The Republic of Cyprus, the southern part, is over 80 percent Christian. Although its population is only 800,000, the Republic of Cyprus draws over 2 million tourists a year.