“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.


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/


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/

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

  1. I love how the ‘2nd century’ fragment ‘discovered’ in 2009 has become an ‘8th century’ manuscript now. I guess if you can’t sell a fraud that’s real old you have to say that it’s even older.

  2. Thanks for passing the publication information. The editors report that the document was seized by the police in 2006 and propose the Cave of the Tetradrachm as finding spot, adding that “unauthorized excavations took place in this cave also in the course of 2008–2009.” Depressing…

  3. Though I’m not qualified to assess paleo-Hebrew paleography, and I’ll assume the ink was examined under a microscope to see if it was written after folding to check if the pen caught on the right of highs (and is that a collesis?) and less on the right side of lows, here are a few of my questions:
    If there was writing above the two extant lines, as ink (and perhaps the shape of the piece, from a bottom (?) of a scroll, Shapira-like (?)) may indicate, does that suggest it was broken off?
    If it was tied with a cord (of what material?) when found (by whom?), why would it be damaged in this way?
    If it was sent to a king, why did it not name the king?
    If this was a shipment of wine, why not inscribe the containers instead?
    If it was sent (or intended to be sent) to Jerusalem from a place on the border between Ephraim and Benjamin, why would it be (said to be) found in Nahal Hever?

  4. https://www.thecrimson.com/article/2016/11/11/papyrus-christianity-divinity-school/ for a claim that a new *proposed* method of ink dating–about which some doubt has been expresses and for which I know of no peer-reviewed publication (please correct me if so)–dates “Jesus Wife” ink as (circa) 200 AD.

    Commentary on the Harvard Crimson “…Frenzy Distracts…” article, “The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife redux,” by Harvard Classics Prof. Emeritus Christopher Jones:
    academia.edu/29812018/The_G … o=download

    On the recently-published “Jerusalem papryus.” It’s been noted that possibly “too good to be true” aspects may (or may not) be a confirmation of a King in First-Temple Jerusalem (not that I doubt such a king then and there) and an attestation of a highly-ranked woman. Perhaps also that the place from which wine was intended to be sent (one not famous for wine, as, more or less, David Stacey noted at rollstonepigraphy.com comments) is a location in Judaea called by some, these days, the West Bank?

  5. 1) Correcting myself, there is a publication on the new, proposed method of ink dating:
    Sarah Goler, James T. Yardley, Angela Cacciola, Alexis Hagadorn, David Ratzan and Roger Bagnall. “Characterizing the age of ancient Egyptian manuscripts through micro-Raman spectroscopy.” Journal of Raman Spectroscopy. Article first published online: 6 MAY 2016 DOI: 10.1002/jrs.4945. And now (apparently) in paper vol. 47 issue 10, October, 2016, pages 1185–1193. ISSN 1097-4555

    2) Michael Langlois discussed the “Jerusalem papyrus.” Among other things, he suggested a partly alternative translation: “…. I provisionally propose to read “from his cave” or “from To-Maarat” until I can examine the fragment itself.” For context:

  6. Speaking of forgery and San Antonio, a reminder of a proposed–not proven, as far as I know!–hint of a forgery source, here’s a link to discussion of the faked Demotic version of parts of the Gospel of Thomas supposedly reprinted from an 1875 New Orleans publication and offered to Discussions in Egyptology in 1990:
    Robin Lane Fox, in his second Financial Times article (linked at the above) promptly acknowledged the hoax and hinted at a potential source:
    “There is, however, a clue: the editress who received his first letter happens to have kept the envelope. Its stamp is post-marked San Antonio, Texas, on November 16 1990. Batson’s letters have never mentioned a Texan connection. San Antonio happens to be the home town of the journal by which the next article by Batson is supposed to have been accepted: is it a coincidence or somehow a clue to the fake’s academic home? A rivalry, perhaps, between scholars or editors or their periodicals, with Oxford receiving a Texan time-bomb?”
    This (unproven) hint apparently suggests the hoaxer was someone associated with Varia Aegyptiaca, edited and published in San Antonio by Charles Cornell van Siclen III.
    Is this true or false?

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