SCHOLARS at the University of St Andrews are undertaking an historic research project of translating ancient Bible-like tales written by Jews, Christians and pagans, it was announced today.
The documents date from the third century BC to the beginning of the Middle Ages and are to be translated – many for the first time – by divinity scholars.
More than 30 international researchers will be involved in the project, which will see the ancient texts, some written in the name of Old Testament characters such as Moses and Enoch, translated into English.
The tales include legends about biblical characters, books of proverbs, sermons, magical and astrological handbooks and apocalyptic prophecies.
Often described as "quasi-biblical", the texts do not say more about the Bible or its history, but provide unique insights into the ways in which later people in the ancient church, synagogue, and pagan temples interpreted biblical stories.
Dr James Davila and Professor Richard Bauckham of the School of Divinity will head the research team and have been awarded an 84,500 research grant from the Leverhulme Trust.
The new translations will make the lost writings accessible to the modern Western world for the first time, since many of them have never before been translated into English.
"Some of these books are surprisingly unorthodox," Davila said. "We learn, for example, that some Christians and Jews enjoyed provocative stories about miscegenation between angels and human beings.
"Some wrote oracles in the name of a pagan prophetess, and some even ignored biblical laws against magic, making use of spells and incantations that were attributed to biblical characters and which even invoked pagan gods."
The 50 documents have been discovered in a variety of locations over the years by historians. Researchers are still actively exploring libraries in Russia, Greece and other countries for additional manuscripts.