Various motivations can be deduced (with some certitude) for the production of forgeries. (1) Venality is certainly a component present in the production and sale of forgeries. Non-provenanced inscriptions routinely sell for four, five, and even six figures. Some recent non-provenanced inscriptions have been valued at seven figures. (2) Some forgeries are arguably the result of “sour grapes” (e.g., a student purged from a Northwest Semitic epigraphy program) or professional rivalry, with the forger hoping to “dupe” the “offender.” (3) Naturally, sometimes a forgery can be a prank. For example, the forger of the Hebron Documents was probably a prankster (or a dolt, or both). (4) Moreover, there is a certain amount of prestige associated with being the person who “collects,” “vets,” or “finds” a significant “ancient epigraph” from the market. Indeed, the public (and even scholars within the field) can sometimes lionize such people, often suspending critical mental faculties (and thus assessments of antiquity) because of “sensational” non-provenanced epigraphs. (5) Religion and politics are also strong motives for the production of a forgery. For example, there was arguably a strong religious motivation for the production of the Shapira Fragments (and the initial aura surrounding them). The fact that the Jehoash Inscription was “reported to have been found in the region of the Temple Mount” has political and religious overtones. Ultimately, forgers are arguably motivated by a combination of such factors, and, of course, with each success, hubris is fostered.
Finally, I should like to note that those who suggest that “knowledgeable people” would not engage in the production or vetting of a forgery are being rather naïve. The fact of the matter is that even gifted scholars have been implicated for the production of forgeries. For example, Metzger has stated that former Princeton classicist Coleman-Norton (Metzger’s Doktorvater) concocted an apocryphal story about finding a manuscript of a Greek translation of the Latin Opus Imperfectum in Matthaeum (in the North African town of Fedhala), and then published a detailed article about his sensational “find.” That is, to assume that bright, well-trained people are always characterized by professional ethics is belied by “epigraphic history.”
This post is a selection from my article in Maarav 10 (2003): 135-193…and from pages 191-193 in particular.