Mt. Sinai: Hipparchus’ coveted star map discovered in St. Catherine’s Monastery manuscript

Mt. Sinai, Egypt, October 20, 2022

Sequence of spectral imaging by the Early Manuscripts Electronic Library and the Lazarus Project.

(This cross-fade montage shows a detail of the palimpsest under ordinary lighting; under multispectral analysis; and with a reconstruction of the hidden text.Credit: Museum of the Bible (CC BY-SA 4.0). Photo by Early Manuscripts Electronic Library/Lazarus Project, University of Rochester; multispectral processing by Keith T. Knox; tracings by Emanuel Zingg.)

Scholars have been searching for what is believed to be the first map of the nighttime sky for centuries, and now they have finally found the medieval parchment hidden beneath Christian texts from the library at St. Catherine’s Monastery on Mt. Sinai.

James Evans, a historian of astronomy at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington, describes the discovery of the astronomer Hipparchus’ star catalogue as “rare” and “remarkable,” reports

The astronomer’s work “illuminates a crucial moment in the birth of science, when astronomers shifted from simply describing the patterns they saw in the sky to measuring and predicting them,” Evans explained.

In 2017, a 6th century AD manuscript containing recipes of the “father of medicine,” the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates, was discovered in the St. Catherine’s library.

The manuscript with the newly discovered astronomical text came from St. Catherine’s Monastery, though most of it is now owned by the Museum of the Bible in Washington, DC. The codex is a palimpsest, where parchment is scraped clean of older text so it can be reused. The star catalogue was discovered underneath 10th-11th century Syriac texts.

Interestingly, the text was discovered by Cambridge students studying the pages as part of a summer project, when one of them spotted a passage in Greek often attributed to the astronomer Eratosthenes. The pages were then reanalyzed using state-of-the-art multispectral imaging, which revealed the astronomical material.

Previously, the only surviving antique star catalogue was from Ptolemy in Alexandria, in the second century AD. Hipparchus was active in the second century BC.

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james11/3/2022 8:10 pm
is there an actual cartographic map or is it just descriptive text? If a map has been found, can it be viewed, and if so, where?
Jesse Dominick10/25/2022 9:47 am
John, you have seriously misread the article. It literally says the star catalogue was found underneath Syriac texts - not under a pile of manuscripts, but under layers of Syriac texts later written on the same parchment. The sentence right before says: "The codex is a palimpsest, where parchment is scraped clean of older text so it can be reused." And not sure why the mention of Hippocrates confuses you - we're simply noting that another interesting discovery was made a few years ago from the Mt. Sinai library.
John10/24/2022 2:36 am
This is a very carefully written article that lacks information and is extremely misleading. The picture shows Aramaic writing with Greek letters placed over the Aramaic! Then the article simply “forgets” to mention the origin of the manuscript, but instead refers to a “ Greek physician Hippocrates“ and very subtlety states that the manuscript was found in a pile of “Syriac documents”. To me, it seems that there is an attempt to purposely mislead the reader into thinking the document is greek, and not Aramaic or “Syriac” as the greeks like to call the language of Christ, and to re-write history. If this is true, then we have reached a very sad day for the Orthodox Church. May God help us!
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