Letter to Brill on the Museum of the Bible’s Dead Sea Scrolls Fragments: A Positive Outcome

In 2016 Brill published the edition of thirteen Dead Sea Scrolls fragments as part of their series dedicated to the Museum of the Bible collections (Dead Sea Scrolls Fragments in the Museum Collection, Publications of Museum of the Bible, Volume 1). Since its appearance, the volume raised serious concerns because nothing was said about the chain of ownership through which the fragments arrived in Washington D.C. in 2009-2010. In the autumn of 2018, the Museum itself had to admit that according to scientific and philological analysis at least five of the manuscripts in question were in fact modern forgeries. After the announcement, a group of academics wrote an open letter to Brill, asking for higher standards in documenting provenance and authenticity in their publications. As recently argued by archaeologists Dennis Mizzi and Jodi Magness in a very important article (published in a Brill journal), forgeries are more often than not connected with undocumented provenance, and academics must always deal first with acquisition circumstances and collection history, and later eventually address the issue of authenticity.

The letter was subscribed by over 100 academics and endorsed by the Board of Directors of the Society for Classical Studies. Brill’s reaction was immediate and positive. As a result of constructive conversations led by Brill brilliant Loes Schouten and Suzanne Mekking, I am pleased to report that Brill has decided to add a specific paragraph about provenance and authenticity in its Publication Ethics document, available on line: https://brill.com/fileasset/downloads_static/static_publishingbooks_publicationethics.pdf. This binds authors to follow the policies of international academic associations in relevant fields (e.g., ASOR, AIA, SBL and SCS).

The integration of a section on these issues is a crucial step forward. It will tie anyone working with the publisher in question, from authors to editorial boards, to current professional policies. As Brill is the publisher of major journals and volumes in our fields – including classics, biblical studies, archaeology and many more – in terms of quality and quantity, their initiative can really make a difference. Hopefully their document will lead the way, and other publishers will also adopt similar measures.

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