“New” Judean desert papyrus sold by an anonymous antiquities dealer?

Yesterday, Israel News Online and The Jewish Press have reported that a new papyrus “discovered recently in the Judean desert and purchased from an antique dealer” will be presented “next week at a conference on Innovations in the Archaeology of Jerusalem and its Environs, at the Rabin Jewish Studies Building on the Mount Scopus Campus of the Hebrew University.” The source seems to be another online journal, Makor Rishon (I’ve been unable to retrieve it).

The article, entitled “Discovery: ‘Jerusalem’ on Hebrew Papyrus”, written by journalist David Israel and published in both websites, explains that the papyrus “was examined by the Israel Antiquities Authority’s labs, and carbon dated. The results showed with certainty that the papyrus dates back to the 8th century BCE […]”

It seems that Professor Shmuel Ahituv (Ben-Gurion University of the Negev) is involved in the study of the manuscript and more details will be unfolded after the conference and the publication of the proceedings. Hopefully, whoever will present the text next week is going to be clearer about its provenance than the online report: from where the “antique dealer” retrieved the papyrus, which is said to have been discovered recently (!), remains unexplained so far.

I am not going to comment on technical aspects, since this is not my research field: I recommend reading Jim Davila’s blog on this. Rather I wish to draw attention on the constant flux of ancient written fragments said to come from the Judean desert brought to us by anonymous antiquities dealers who are still feeding relatively new collections (e.g. Martin Schøyen, the Museum of the Bible, and the Southwestern  Baptist Theological Seminary, Forth Worth Texas, collections). Some of these recently surfaced manuscripts are now suspected to be forgeries. (Cf. lately Nina Burleigh’s article on Newsweek, Owen Jarus on Live Science, and my blog post on a conference at University of Agder, which dealt with the problem in question from an academic perspective.) It should be brought in mind, since the article mentions it, that carbon dating in isolation does not prove unequivocal authenticity and secure dating of a papyrus manuscript.

Ironically, to illustrate the article the online newspapers seem to have used the picture of a Hebrew documentary papyrus, probably coming from a Judean desert cave and dating to the 2nd century CE, seized during a Israeli police operation in May 2006, according to a NBC news report of the time.

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Image of “document dated to the 2nd century A.D. seen a day after it was seized by Israeli police officers, in Jerusalem, Wednesday, May 6, 2009” appended to M. Friedman, “Israeli police bust Palestinians with ancient texts” http://www.nbcnews.com/id/30605650/ns/technology_and_science-science/t/israeli-police-bust-palestinians-ancient-text/

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Screen shot of the papyrus used by Israel News online to illustrate yesterday article, D. Israel, “Discovery: ‘Jerusalem’ on Hebrew papyrus http://israelnewsonline.org/discovery-jerusalem-on-hebrew-papyrus/

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