The answer has lain, literally, “sub rosa” for almost four decades.
On the black cover of Viviane Dyer’s odd tome is an imprint of a flowering rose pierced by an arrow’s shaft. The back cover, bound to the front with three black laces, is also black, but devoid of markings.
Between the covers is 7.5 inches of handwritten pages, composed in an indecipherable text that has stumped academics and theologians at least since 1968, when Dyer, of Lisbon, acquired the mysterious “bible” in an auction in Farmington Falls.
Well, she didn’t really buy the book. What Dyer actually bought was a suitcase.
“Nobody else was bidding on it,” she explains. Dyer remembers needing a suitcase, so she bid $1 on a piece of attractive luggage when it came across the stage. “I went up on the stage to pick it up, and it was like bricks,” she says. “The auctioneer’s helper helped me get it to my seat, it was so heavy. There were quite a few books in there.”
Inside was an eclectic collection of religious texts, all hardcovers published in the 19th and early 20th century: the Quran; an English translation of the Tao Te Ching; essays on Zorastrianism, and several collections exploring Hindu thought and law, translated from the original Sanskrit.
And then, there was the book, with its hundreds of pages of meticulously handwritten foreign script.
The suitcase’s lineage began, and ended, at the auction. All Dyer knows is it was left behind inside a motel room in Massachusetts, long enough to be collected by the auctioneer. “Whoever left it there is a complete mystery to me, and the auctioneer,” she says.
“I was left with my mouth hanging open,” she remembers, about thumbing the book for the first time. “I thought, ‘What is that?’ ”
Her question has never been answered.
Dyer believes her book is biblical because of its inclusion with other religious texts, and because a Bible dealer told her the rose and arrow on its cover have religious implications. Aside from that, hard facts about her strange book have proven elusive.
Dyer has sent photocopies of its pages, handwritten in black ink and organized – apparently – into chapters, to scholars across the world. On every occasion, in many languages, the experts wrote her back, in defeat.
“Rest milady!” wrote A. Baillargeon, in a 1983 response to Dyer. His letter was postmarked from the Vatican. “This semantic usage is impenetrable to all but long-bearded (Indians) who have toiled a lifetime in deciphering these languages.”
Baillargeon told Dyer an archivist identified the flowing lettering as an obscure Indian dialect. Since his response, however, other scholars have said it’s derivative of ancient Greek or perhaps a Slavic tongue.
Pere Raymond Giguere, a Dominican priest in Montreal, analyzed the text in 1980. His correspondence included conclusions the text is possibly Russian, but with the additional possibility of African origin.
Giguere’s experts, to no avail, analyzed the book against 576 languages in which the British and French Bible Societies publish, he wrote. Its symbols seem to be derived mostly from Latin characters, the experts said, but with an apparent alphabet of 31 unique letters, as opposed to Latin’s 26.
None of the numerous other scholars Dyer has consulted have fared better. She sent copies to Brigham Young University, the Smithsonian Institution, University of Oklahoma, Harvard University, Wycliffe Bible Translators and even Reader’s Digest.
“This is a quite a challenge,” responded Pat Larsen, from the Center for Judaic Studies at the University of Denver, to Dyer’s 2002 query. “The manuscript will stay in my to-do stack until the mystery is solved. I have friends at other universities and colleges, and will continue to ask, ‘What do you think?’ ”
Dyer’s had nearly 40 frustrating years to think about it.
“I get so discouraged,” she says. “(People are) very amazed when they see it. They gather everybody around because it’s so different, but nobody has come up with the answer. No one.”
Five years later, Larsen wishes she could have helped. The Center for Judaic Studies receives a handful of inquiries every month from curiosity seekers, she says.
“I have been fielding these type of questions for 37 years,” says Larsen. “I have learned to tell the difference between mundane questions and people who truly need, or want, to know. Ms. Dyer’s quest for knowledge and answers touched me.”
In lieu of facts, Dyer has her own conclusions. She thinks it could be code, perhaps of something sinister, given its mysterious origins and fellow volumes inside the suitcase. The author, she says, must have been an intelligent person, perhaps an academic, like a language or religion professor.
Writing in cipher has been known to occur with intellectual eccentrics – writer Edgar Allen Poe is a notable example. And compulsive writing is diagnosed as hypergraphia, a condition triggered by epilepsy, from which author Fyodor Dostoevsky allegedly suffered. Experts consulted by Dyer have spoken of neither.
What’s clear, though, is the tome meant something to somebody.
“I think that it could be a bible,” says Dyer. “It would take a person with deep faith to write that great big book. To finish it, all handwritten. There’s a lifetime of work in there.”
Now the volume is her life’s work. She wishes more than anything to turn it into a book of revelations.
“It’s been a deep mystery all these years. I don’t have that many years left,” she says.
“I want to know the answer before I go.”