An ARC Discovery Projects grant has supported the translation of a key text containing narrative, dialogue and traditional stories of the Manichean religion’s oral traditions, which had been lost since antiquity.

The research team, led by Professor Iain Gardner, from the Department of Studies in Religion at The University of Sydney and Professor Jason BeDuhn, an expert in comparative religions now at Northern Arizona University, has been engaged in over 10 years of detailed restoration, analysis and translation of the precious papyrus—known as the ‘Dublin Kephalaia’.

The reconstruction of the text, which is held in the Chester Beatty library in Dublin, was particularly difficult and painstaking work, as it had been damaged by moisture and blackened by age to be almost unreadable. By looking at each papyrus leaf from different angles using ultraviolet light and computer enhanced photographic techniques, the researchers were able to slowly reveal its secrets, which included insights into society, government, religious pluralism, and cultural traditions in 3rd century Iran. The full text-edition with English translation and critical apparatus is now being prepared for publication in four volumes.

The text shines a new light on a vibrant society that existed at an ancient crossroads of Eastern and Western religious and philosophical thought.

Image (top): Autopsy of the Papyrus at the Chester Beatty Library (I. Gardner and J. BeDuhn).
Credit: The Chester Beatty Library, Dublin.
Image (bottom): Chester Beatty Kephalaia Codex plate 240 (image enhanced).
Credit: Daniel Boone and Ryan Belnap (Northern Arizona University IDEALab).