13 of The Most Mysterious Books Ever Discovered

 

 

The Voynich Manuscript

The Voynich manuscript is an illustrated codex hand-written in an unknown writing system. The vellum on which it is written has been carbon-dated to the early 15th century (1404–1438), and it may have been composed in Northern Italy during the Italian Renaissance. The manuscript is named after Wilfrid Voynich, a Polish book dealer who purchased it in 1912.

Some of the pages are missing, with around 240 still remaining. The text is written from left to right, and most of the pages have illustrations or diagrams. Some pages are foldable sheets.

The Voynich manuscript has been studied by many professional and amateur cryptographers, including American and British codebreakers from both World War I and World War II. No one has yet succeeded in deciphering the text, and it has become a famous case in the history of cryptography. The mystery of the meaning and origin of the manuscript has excited the popular imagination, making the manuscript the subject of novels and speculation. None of the many hypotheses proposed over the last hundred years has yet been independently verified.

The Voynich manuscript was donated by Hans P. Kraus to Yale University's Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library in 1969, where it is catalogued under call number MS 408.

 

The Dead Sea Scrolls

The Dead Sea Scrolls, in the narrow sense of Qumran Caves Scrolls, are a collection of some 981 different texts discovered between 1946 and 1956 in eleven caves (Qumran Caves) in the immediate vicinity of the Hellenistic-period Jewish settlement at Khirbet Qumran in the eastern Judaean Desert, the modern West Bank. The caves are located about two kilometres (1.2 miles) inland from the northwest shore of the Dead Sea, from which they derive their name. The consensus is that the Qumran Caves Scrolls date from the last three centuries BCE and the first century CE. Bronze coins found at the same sites form a series beginning with John Hyrcanus (135–104 BCE) and continuing until the First Jewish–Roman War (66–73 CE), supporting the radiocarbon and paleographic dating of the scrolls. Manuscripts from additional Judean desert sites go back as far as the 8th century BCE to as late as the 11th century CE.

The texts are of great historical, religious, and linguistic significance because they include the third oldest known surviving manuscripts of works later included in the Hebrew Bible canon, along with deuterocanonical and extra-biblical manuscripts which preserve evidence of the diversity of religious thought in late Second Temple Judaism. Biblical text older than the Dead Sea Scrolls has been discovered only in two silver scroll-shaped amulets containing portions of the Priestly Blessing from the Book of Numbers, excavated in Jerusalem at Ketef Hinnom and dated c. 600 BCE. A piece of Leviticus housed in a synagogue burnt in the 6th century CE analyzed in 2015 was found to be the fourth-oldest piece of the Torah known to exist.

Most of the texts are written in Hebrew, with some in Aramaic (in different regional dialects, including Nabataean), and a few in Greek. If discoveries from the Judean desert are included, Latin (from Masada) and Arabic (from Khirbet al-Mird) can be added. Most texts are written on parchment, some on papyrus and one on copper.

The scrolls have traditionally been identified with the ancient Jewish sect called the Essenes, although some recent interpretations have challenged this association and argue that the scrolls were penned by priests in Jerusalem, Zadokites, or other unknown Jewish groups.

 

The Rohonc Codex

The Rohonc Codex (Hungarian pronunciation: [ˈrohont͡s]) is an illustrated manuscript book by an unknown author, with a text in an unknown language and writing system, that surfaced in Hungary in the early 19th century. The book's origin and the meaning of the text and illustrations have been investigated by many scholars and amateurs, with no definitive conclusion — although many Hungarian scholars believe that it is an 18th-century hoax.

The name of the codex is often spelled Rohonczi, according to the old Hungarian orthography that was reformed in the first half of the 19th century. This spelling has spread probably due to the book of V. Enăchiuc. Today the name of the codex is written in Hungarian as Rohonci-kódex.

 

The Oera Linda Book

The Oera Linda Book is a manuscript written in Old Frisian. It purports to cover historical, mythological, and religious themes of remote antiquity between 2194 BCE and 803 CE.

The manuscript first came to public awareness in the 1860s. In 1872, Jan Gerhardus Ottema published a Dutch translation and defended it as "genuine". Over the next few years there was a heated public controversy, but by 1879 it was universally recognized that the text was a recent composition. Nevertheless, a public controversy was revived in the context of 1930s Nazi occultism, and the book is still occasionally brought up in esotericism and "Atlantis" literature. The manuscript's author is not known with certainty, and it is hence unknown whether the intention was to produce a hoax, a parody or simply an exercise in poetic fantasy.

Goffe Jensma published a monograph on the manuscript in 2004, De gemaskerde god ("the masked god"), including a new translation and a discussion of the history of its reception. Jensma concludes that it was likely intended as a "hoax to fool some nationalist Frisians and orthodox Christians", as well as an "experiential exemplary exercise" by Dutch theologian and poet François Haverschmidt.

 

Prodigiorum ac Ostentorum Chronicon 

This book was written in 1557, by Konrad Lykosthenes in Basel (A town in Switzerland). Prodigiorum AC Ostentorum Chronicon is a book that is unique and mysterious.

This book contains a collection of signs and portents that stretches European history, from ancient Greece and Rome to contemporary nurbuat. It is also described and depicted various creatures, both real and realistic. 

Otherwise known as the Chronicle of Portents and Prophecies, this book was written in 1557 by the French humanist Conrad Lycosthenes. Laid out like an encyclopedia, the book transcribes otherworldly happenings since the time of Adam and Eve. But while the encyclopedic Codex Seraphinianus was a book of fantasy, Lycosthenes’s Chronicle was relatively factual—at least in the sense that it covered actual reports. Sandwiched in between well-documented disasters, floods, and meteor showers (including Halley’s comet) are descriptions of sea monsters, UFOs, and various biblical themes.

The Chronicle was incredibly detailed and contained over 1,000 original woodcut illustrations of the phenomenon described. There are still several copies floating around, usually on rare book websites, where they sell for several thousands of dollars.

 

Codex Seraphinianus

Originally published in 1981, this is an illustrated encyclopedia of an imaginary world, created by the Italian artist, architect, and industrial designer Luigi Serafini during thirty months, from 1976 to 1978. The book is approximately 360 pages long (depending on edition), and written in a cipher alphabet in an imaginary language.

The book is an encyclopedia in manuscript with copious hand-drawn, colored-pencil illustrations of bizarre and fantastical flora, fauna, anatomies, fashions, and foods. It has been compared to the still undeciphered Voynich manuscript, the story "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius" by Jorge Luis Borges, and the artwork of works of M.C. Escher and Hieronymus Bosch.

The illustrations are often surreal parodies of things in the real world: bleeding fruit; a plant that grows into roughly the shape of a chair and is subsequently made into one; a lovemaking couple that metamorphoses into an alligator; etc. Others depict odd, apparently senseless machines, often with a delicate appearance, kept together by tiny filaments. There are also illustrations readily recognizable as maps or human faces. On the other hand, especially in the "physics" chapter, many images look almost completely abstract. Practically all figures are brightly coloured and rich in detail.

 

The Book of Soyga 

A 16th-century Latin treatise on magic, one copy of which is known to have been possessed by the Elizabethan scholar John Dee. After Dee's death, the book was thought to be lost until 1994 when two manuscripts were located in the British Library (Sloane MS. 8) and the Bodleian Library (Bodley MS. 908), under the title Aldaraia sive Soyga vocor, by Dee scholar Deborah Harkness. The Sloane 8 version is also described as Tractatus Astrologico Magicus, though both versions differ only slightly.

The Bodley 908 MS consists of 197 pages including Liber Aldaraia (95 leaves), Liber Radiorum (65 pages), and Liber decimus septimus (2 pages), as well as a number of shorter and unnamed works totaling approximately ten pages. The final 18 pages of the MS contain 36 tables of letters. The Sloane 8 MS consists of 147 pages, mostly identical to the Bodley MS, with the exception that the tables of letters appear on 36 pages, and the Liber Radiorum is presented in a two-page summarized version.

Amongst the incantations and instructions on magic, astrology, demonology, lists of conjunctions, lunar mansions, and names and genealogies of angels, the book contains 36 large squares of letters which Dee was unable to decipher. Otherwise unknown medieval magical treatises are cited, including works known as liber E, liber Os, liber dignus, liber Sipal, and liber Munob. 

 

  The Smithfield Decretals

This collection of canonical law, ordered by the 13th century Pope Gregory IX, could have been fairly common for its time and probably rather boring. Instead, the bizarre illustrations that accompanied the decretals lifted this illuminated manuscript to a mystical status.

The book features many scenes of homicidal giant rabbits, a medieval Yoda, bears fighting unicorns, and strange human and animals practices. Maybe the monks drawing these had something in their water or knew there would someday exist a digital network connecting people who'd love to share such images for giggles and likes.

 

The Ripley Scrolls

The alchemical scrolls which are associated with George Ripley are unusual manuscripts which illustrate the pursuit of the Philosophers' Stone. Ripley was a canon of Bridlington in Yorkshire who lived from about 1415 to 1495.

When Isaac Newton began delving into the mystical world of alchemy, he turned largely to the works of Sir George Ripley, a 15th-century writer who created some of the longest-lasting works on the subject. His most enduring is without a doubt the enigma that has come to be known as the Ripley Scrolls. The scrolls are a picture-book recipe for creating the elusive philosopher’s stone, a fictional material supposedly able to turn lead into gold.

Although the original version of the Ripley Scrolls has been lost to time, a handful of artists in the 16th century created reproductions of the alchemical work, and 23 of those remain. Each one is slightly different, since all the reproductions were made by hand. The largest scroll is a massive 6 meters (19.5 ft) long, with a dense patchwork of illustrations covering the majority of it.

 

The Story Of The Vivian Girls

The entire time Henry Darger was working as a janitor in downtown Chicago, nobody knew that he was secretly writing one of the most bizarre and intricate storybooks of all time. When he died in 1973, Darger’s landlord discovered a 15,000-page manuscript entitled The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion.

The book was immense, a sprawling epic composed of more than nine million words and over 300 watercolor illustrations, most of which were made by juxtaposing images from magazines and newspapers and tracing over them. Some of the final illustrations were laid out on massive sheets of paper over 3 meters (10 ft) wide. Nobody really knows how long Darger worked on the book, although it’s believed to have been decades. He lived in the same cramped, single-room apartment for over 40 years, and he never spoke a word of his lifelong dream to anybody. 

 

Codex Mendoza

The history of the Codex Mendoza reads like the plot to an adventure novel. Following the long and bloody conquest of the Aztec Empire, the Spaniards claimed their region of Mexico as property of the Spanish king, and they instated Antonio de Mendoza as the new empire’s first viceroy. One of Mendoza’s acts as ruler was to commission a history of the Aztec people, which he sent via ship back to Spain.

On the way, French pirates seized the Spanish ship, killed everyone on board, and plundered its storage hold. Lost in the mix, the Codex Mendoza was carried to France, where it was found by one of the king’s advisers in 1553. For the next hundred years, the Mendoza floated around Europe, surfacing here and there before its final plunge into obscurity. It wasn’t until 1831 that the document was found in a storage room at the Bodleian Library.

Intricately detailed, the Codex Mendoza is broken into three sections. The first one gives the lineage of the Aztec kings, the second one lists all the Mexican towns that paid taxes to the Aztec empire, and the third is a description of everyday Aztec life. The images were hand painted by Aztec slaves under the command of the Spanish empire. Brought together, the Mendoza gives us the single largest glimpse into the Aztec empire, which is especially important since the Spanish burned nearly everything else the Aztecs had.

 

The Popol Vuh

A corpus of mytho-historical narratives of the Post Classic K'iche' kingdom in Guatemala's western highlands. The title translates as "Book of the Community", "Book of Counsel", or more literally as "Book of the People". Popol Vuh's prominent features are its creation myth, its diluvian suggestion, its epic tales of the Hero Twins Hunahpú and Xbalanqué, and its genealogies. The myth begins with the exploits of anthropomorphic ancestors and concludes with a regnal genealogy, perhaps as an assertion of rule by divine right. It encompasses a range of subjects that includes creation, ancestry, history, and cosmology.

As with other texts (e.g., the Chilam Balam), a great deal of Popol Vuh's significance lies in the scarcity of early accounts dealing with Mesoamerican mythologies. Popol Vuh's fortuitous survival is attributable to the Spanish 18th century Dominican friar Francisco Ximénez.

 

Prophecies of Nostradamus

This popular book of predictions and prophecies has been a bestseller for over 400 years, rarely going out of print since its initial publication in 1555. At the time, collections of omens and predictions were in high demand. Nostradamus — or Michel de Notredame, as he was known — began his career as an apothecary and plague doctor. Perhaps it was his work in the midst of bubonic plague outbreaks that gave him his particular interest in apocalyptic visions of the future.

The collected Prophecies lay out, in rhyming quatrains no less, predictions of various disasters. Various urban legends and myths about him abound. Claims that he predicted everything: 9/11, both World Wars, the death of Princess Di, the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. If an event made headlines for more than a few weeks, rest assured that someone, somewhere, is holding up a copy of Nostradamus’ 400 year old tome and claiming that he knew it would happen all along.

 

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