Stolen 1200-Year-Old Bible with Gold-Encrusted Motifs Recovered in Anti-Smuggling Raid in Turkey
A rare 1200-year old bible has been seized from a group of antiquities smugglers in Turkey. In recent years there have been a sharp spike in the numbers of historic artifacts smuggled into the country from neighboring Syria. The seizure of the precious sacred text shows the persistent problem of antiquity smuggling because of the Syrian civil-war.
The Turkish government has become increasingly concerned with the amount of antiquities that have been smuggled into the nation in recent years. These artifacts are then taken out of the country and sold on the global stolen antiquities black market. In order to stop this illegal trade, the government in Ankara has set up a number of anti-smuggling patrols to arrest smugglers and to retrieve stolen antiquities so that they can be returned to their original owners. The Independent reports that “thousands of anti-smuggling operations are carried out across Turkey every year’’. The Turkish government has published a list of stolen items that should not be purchased by any person or business.
A dedicated anti-smuggling unit recovered the item in the city of Kayapınar, which is in the south-east of Turkey. According to Hurriyet Daily News the team ‘’seized the Bible while three suspects were attempting to sell it’’. The local governor’s office in Diybakir announced that three more people were arrested later in what sounds like a significant blow to local smugglers.
The recovered bible
The bible is believed to be between 1,100 and 1,200 years old. The Independent reports that the ‘’the Biblical text was written across 34 pages of leather with gold-encrusted religious motifs’’. There is a gold encrusted Crucifix on the front cover and a Star of David on the back cover. The bible is in poor condition. No further details of the text have been provided but it is believed that it will be examined further by local experts.
The looting of antiquities in Syria
The antiquity is believed to have originated in Syria. There have been many rare artifacts that have been looted throughout the country during the almost 8-year civil war. Islamic State have been particularly active in stealing historic artifacts and selling them on the black market in order to raise funds for their campaign of violence and terror.
There is no information yet as to who are the owners of the antiquity. The biblical text was probably owned by a Christian or was kept in a Church, before it was looted or stolen. Christianity has a long tradition in Syria dating back to St. Paul and still has a very large Christian population in cities such as Antioch and Damascus.
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There are many Christian denominations in Syria, the main ones are the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch and the Melkite Catholic Church. The various communities have suffered greatly during the civil war and were persecuted terribly in the territories that were once-controlled by Islamic State. However, as Islamic State or ISIS has been pushed back, many Christians who were once refugees have returned to the country.
The bible that was recovered by the Turkish anti-smuggling team was probably created by a Christians who lived under the Abbasid or Umayyad Caliphate, over a millennium ago. Many Christians churches continued to flourish under Muslim rule for centuries. The Syrian Churches developed a unique culture and sacred art when they became separated from the rest of the Christian world.
Further investigations of the Biblical text may be able to identify its provenance, and this would allow the relevant authorities to return it to its original owners. The seizure of the bible demonstrates the Turkish authorities’ determination to crack down on antiquities smuggling in the country. However, the scale of the problem is enormous, and many antiquities continue to be stolen and smuggled into Turkey every year.
Top image: The ancient bible recovered from smugglers in Turkey. Credit: Diyarbakir Governor's Office
By Ed Whelan