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Medieval Gospel Made of Sheep, Calves, Deer … and Goat?

Laura Geggel reports: During medieval times, bookmakers fashioned the pages and cover of a rare copy of the Gospel of Luke out of five different types of animals: calves, two species of deer, sheep and goat, according to new research.

In addition, one more type of animal left its mark on the cover of this 12th-century book: Beetle larvae likely chewed holes into the leather binding, the researchers said.

Now, researchers are learning unexpected secrets about the manuscript by noninvasively testing the proteins and DNA on the book’s pages, the researchers told Live Science.

Rare books — such as this copy of the Gospel of Luke — are difficult to study because they’re fragile, prompting many librarians to bar any research that would harm such manuscripts or their pages.

This rule is all too familiar to Matthew Collins, a biochemist at both the University of York in the United Kingdom and the University of Copenhagen. He wanted to sample parchments — documents made from animal skins — as a way to determine how people have managed livestock throughout history.

When Collins and Sarah Fiddyment, a postdoctoral fellow of archaeology at the University of York, approached librarians at the University of York’s Borthwick Institute for Archives, “we were told that we would not be allowed to physically sample any of the parchment documents, as they are too valuable as cultural-heritage objects,” Fiddyment told Live Science.

But Fiddyment didn’t give up. She spent several months learning how librarians conserve rare parchments, and, surprisingly, found a new method that allows scientists to study these specimens without disturbing them — one that involves an eraser.

Typically, librarians “dry clean” parchments by gently rubbing a polyvinyl chloride eraser against them. This technique pulls fibers off the page, and the resulting debris is usually thrown away.

But Fiddyment realized this debris held valuable clues about the book. By isolating proteins and other biological fragments within the debris, and examining them with a mass spectrometer — an instrument that identifies different compounds by their masses — researchers could learn all kinds of information about the manuscripts, she found.

“This was Sarah’s brilliant idea,” Collins told Live Science in an email. “Oddly enough, I think we relished the challenge.”

It wasn’t long before Fiddyment put this technique into action. A historian bought the aforementioned Gospel of Luke at a 2009 Southeby’s auction. An analysis of its “prickly” style of script indicated that scribes at St. Augustine’s Abbey in Canterbury, in the United Kingdom, created it around A.D. 1120, Bruce Barker-Benfield, the curator of manuscripts at the Bodleian Libraries at the University of Oxford, told the journal Science.

To learn more about the gospel, the historian contacted Collins. Using Fiddyment’s method, Collins and his colleagues learned that the book’s white leather cover came from the skin of a roe deer— a common species in the United Kingdom. The book’s strap came from a larger deer species — either a native red deer or a fallow deer, an invasive species likely brought from continental Europe after the Normans invaded in 1066. Read the rest of this entry »

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He is Risen! What Christians Believe About Easter, and Why

EasterCrossAP

“Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.”

—Luke 24:5–6 (ESV)

For Breitbart.com writes:  “He is risen!” For centuries, it was proclaimed in the streets on Easter morning. It was a way that Christians identified each other on this day, as another Christian hearing it would respond, “He is risen indeed!”

Easter was the hope of an eternal existence, and one that has baffled scholars for centuries to explain. It’s hard to come up with a theory that explains it all away.

There was a sizeable group of men and women, whose leader claimed to be divine. They saw their leader arrested, tortured with a series of savage punishments that often proved deadly in their own right, nailed to a wooden cross through his hands and feet by professional executioners who crucified convicts on a regular basis, hung on that cross for hours until he was dead, then one soldier thrust a spear into his chest to confirm his demise before taking him down. The soldiers involved in this process would themselves be executed if a person handed over to them for termination was let go alive, so they tended to be thorough. After that point, his body was wrapped in burial clothes and he was put in a tomb under guard. His followers fled in fear and despair.

Then three days later they say they saw him, and spent time with him over a period of days. They said they spoke with him, ate food with him, and walked with him. Then they say he was taken up before their eyes into heaven. And for the rest of their lives, they would travel the known world heedless of any dangers, talking about Jesus Christ and writing the New Testament of the Bible. They were persecuted and executed one by one, yet still continued with unabated zeal for decades until their last breath. Read the rest of this entry »