Home » Archaeology, Bible, Epigraphy » The New ‘Jerusalem’ Papyrus: Not so Fast…

The New ‘Jerusalem’ Papyrus: Not so Fast…

26 October 2016

Here are some things to remember, as this Jerusalem Papyrus garners attention:

I. The fact that the papyrus itself has been carbon dated to the 7th century BCE certainly does not mean that the writing on the papyrus is ancient In fact, it really means nothing. After all, ancient papyrus is readily available for purchase online (check the web and see!), thus, no modern forger worth his or her salt would forge an inscription on modern papyrus. Rather, he or she would purchase some ancient papyrus online and then write a text on it. It happens fairly often (the Marzeah Papyrus is a good example of this, as is the Jesus Wife Papyrus). In short, for anyone to conclude that this (or any) inscription must be ancient because the papyrus is ancient is quite naïve (For similar statements about inks, see VII, below). Thus, Caveat Eruditus.

II. There are some palaeographic and orthographic anomalies and inconsistencies in this papyrus inscription that are concerning and may suggest that it is modern, not ancient. Thus, again, Caveat Eruditus.

III. Modern forgers often use sensational content….after all this *raises* the price and it *lowers* the critical thinking capacity of those who very much wish for something to be true (e.g., the Jesus Wife Papyrus, the James Ossuary, and Jehoash Inscription, Moussaieff Ostraca, etc.). The content of the Jerusalem Papyrus is certainly sensational…and it is ever so convenient that on this piece with so few words such sensational content was found.

IV. The Jerusalem Papyrus is from the antiquities market and it has been floating around on the market for a few years now. It was not found on an actual archaeological excavation. I saw some good images of it a few years ago in Jerusalem.

V. There are many modern inscriptional forgeries on the market, as I have argued in various publications, for some fifteen years now (most of these articles are available via www.academia.edu). The money that modern forgers and dealers can make on modern forgeries is astronomical, consistently in the five and six figure range. The motivation is strong. In this case, this papyrus was seized, but that does not mean that it could not have been produced in the modern period with the intent of marketing it.

VI. Forgeries are often reported to have “been found here, or there, at some specific location. This has been the case since long before the Shapira Forgeries of the mid to late 1800s. And it was the case with the Hebron Philistine Inscriptions, the Jehoash Inscription, the Ivory Pomegranate, the James Ossuary and so many others. In short, I’m sure that some story will surface about the purported “find spot” of this papyrus inscription. I would urge caution, though, as forgers and dealers have a strong vested interest in attempting to dupe.

VII. Regarding ink, it is also worth emphasizing, as I did long ago in my first Maarav articles on forgeries (2003, and 2004) that the chemical composition of inks has been the subject of study for some time (note, for example, that in the editio princeps of the Lachish Ostraca, published in 1938, there is reference to the chemical composition of the ink). Thus, forgers have the capacity to know that which they must replicate (in terms of chemical composition of the inks) for an ink to be the same, or virtually the same, in chemical composition to actual ancient inks. Furthermore, the core component of carbon-based inks is ancient carbonized remains….and such remains are readily available (e.g., on excavations and the antiquities market) in the form of burnt wood and so the capacity is present for faked inks to be produced in the modern period that yield an ancient C-14 date. Moreover, of course, a clever forger might simply purchase some ancient inscription on the antiquities market (e.g., one with mundane content and so not a high-value inscription) and then carefully scrape the ink from that inscription and then mix that (dry) ink with water and then use that ink in a ]modern-forgery with sensational content. Using such methods, a forged, modern inscription could pass all the lab tests. In short, this is a game of cat and mouse and modern forgers have substantial motivation for producing modern forgeries with ink that can “pass all the tests.” Again, caveat eruditus [NB: the material in this paragraph, that is, VII, was added on October 27, 2016, a day after my initial post].

VIII. In short, to those wishing to declare that the letters on this papyrus inscription are ancient, I would say: ‘Not so fast!’

IX. Ultimately, I believe that there is a fair chance that although the papyrus itself is ancient the ink letters are actually modern…that is, this inscription is something that I would classify as a possible modern forgery.

X. Recently, I signed a contract with Eerdmans Publishing for a volume (almost entirely completed at this time) entitled _Forging History in the Ancient World of the Bible & the Modern World of Biblical Studies_. The Jerusalem Papyrus inscription will be in that volume…

Dr. Christopher A. Rollston, George Washington University

Archaeology, Bible, Epigraphy

20 Comments to “The New ‘Jerusalem’ Papyrus: Not so Fast…”

  1. However, there is indirect (but solid) evidence for the use of papyrus in Judah in the 7th C BCE: AvigadNahman: Hebrew bullae from the time of Jeremiah: remnants of a burnt archive. 139 pp. Jerusalem: IES., 1986: https://www.cambridge.org/…/FCF4EA23AD7A446F3EA001D3AF3….

  2. Thank you, Chris!
    The world is going insane too often lately.

  3. […] ago. Nice images. It wasn’t in some cave three years ago,” he wrote in an email. In a post on his blog, he said that the papyrus “is from the antiquities market and it has been […]

  4. Thanks for sharing your expert opinion with us again so promptly! For the record, I tend to agree with you on this one. I sensed a lack of scholarship when the IAA released the statement, “…extremely rare evidence of the existence of an organized administration in the Kingdom of Judah.” LMLK handles alone provide ample evidence of that, not to mention true rarities such as cuneiform documents mentioning Judahite kings.

  5. The Jerusalem Papyrus inscription will make a fine addition to your new book; along with the Jehoash Inscription and the James Ossuary. But remember, to err on the side of caution may be still to err.

  6. Looking across a range of publications on the Jerusalem Papyrus the one thing that concerns me and that has not yet (as far as I can determine) been discussed – if it was deposited in a cave then why was it deposited?
    An ancient person depositing a MS in a cave presumably did so with a reason. Perhaps the MS had economic value such as a deed to land. Perhaps the MS has some sentimental value. Perhaps the MS was of religious significance and was hidden to avoid desecration. But unless there was much more to this MS that has not survived, or it was part of a larger cache that has not yet come to people’s attention, then it presumable is either not from a desert cave or not ancient

  7. Thanks for this Christopher. Not exactly what I was expecting to hear concerning this papyrus, but truth is truth after all. I apprecu=iate your insight.

  8. Well, that’s interesting but it does not say how you would differentiate a real inscription on Papyrus from a forged one. If the forgers are so talented, nothing can be really labeled as ancient.

  9. As for ancient charcoal being readily available, when the IAA conducted a search of one of the people involved in the 7 year long trial of the James ossuary, they found among the materials in the lab of the collector, ancient charcoal. For anyone working in field or visiting an excavation it can be easily found. All one has to do is to know the date of the strata if one wishes to recycle it and give a C-14 date which will throw off scientists who will use it to authenticate a modern object.

  10. Great post. Thank you. Looking forward to the book.

  11. 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?

  12. Dr. Rollston: Your cautious appraisal of this find is very interesting. I will admit from the outset that I’m not by any stretch of the imagination an expert in these areas, so I apologize in advance if my questions appear foolish. With that caveat, I was wondering whether would you share at least some examples of the paleographic and orthographic anomalies and inconsistencies that you mention? Your comments on what makes them anomalous or inconsistent would be helpful.
    Secondly, based on your explanation of the relative ease of acquiring ancient parchment and recreating ancient inks, you raise an issue that needs to be addressed: unless the forger scraped and reused the ink from the papyrus (is there any evidence of this? I would assume micrograph you could uncover modern scrapings), the forger would need to know the age of the papyrus so as to conform the writing. Absent carbon dating, which I understand is not something that can be done cheaply or easily “at home”, how did the forger guess correctly at what appears to be the papyrus’ approximate age?
    Finally, would it be correct to say that your position is that absent finding a parchment in situ, it is impossible to ever conclude that a given parchment is authentic?
    Thank you.

  13. Many thanks for this warning. Some points I would like to hear your opinion about:
    1/ a papyrus for appending to two bags wine?
    2. the opening. Am I right in questioning the margin before the insertion of the [‘]/ reading [‘]mt? i thought the lack of letters is related to damage to the writing material, but here no damage is visible.
    3. the address: TR$LMH – a place rather than a person? That means: not the destination is addressed but the carrier?
    4 the place of origin: north, with accusative/directional he, like in poetic language?
    5 the differences in thickness of the downward strokes.
    6 What is your about the different he’s and yod’s
    Many thanks,

  14. […] The Israel Antiquities Authority recently announced the find of a new papyrus apparently dated to c. 700 BC, which seems to mention the delivery of wine to the king in Jerusalem. While the IAA declared it genuine, I still have my doubts. And leading epigrapher, Christopher Rollston, does too. He has ten points that should make us pause and re-evaluate. You can find his brief blog article HERE. […]

  15. Apparently some wine had been shipped from near Jericho to Jerusalem. Were grapes, requiring considerable irrigation, have been grown in the rift valley in IA? Grape wine would surely have been a product of the hills around Jerusalem. In Josephus we learn that date wine was a specialty of the Jericho region in the Second Temple era. Is there evidence for date wine in IA?

  16. […] le document. Or ces deux méthodes ne sont pas infaillibles et l’éminent épigraphiste Christopher Rollston soulève quelques objections, qui semblent d’ailleurs être des objections de […]

  17. I find the idea that a forger could undetectably scrape enough ink from a single papyrus for reuse on the same papyrus to be unconvincing; surely they would get a bunch of similarly-aged papyri and get the ink from all of them combined for use on a piece of clean papyrus. But that’s presuming the technique would work, in the first place, and that it would be thought necessary: C14 tests at present work with the papyrus itself, not the (far more valuable and far rarer)ink in an inscription.

    Anyway, as you point out, it’s not hard to get carbon of the correct date. I don’t expect it would even even need to have been carbonised in the correct era: C14 tests reflect the date the organic material grew, not the date it was burned. The forgers could simply char some waste papyri and use those! They’d still need to come up with an appropriate binder, though: that might be a genuinely insoluble problem, if you will forgive the expression.

  18. […] to him back in 2013. Rollston is currently writing a book about antiquities forgeries, and has said that this papyrus will be included in his […]

  19. […] the text on the papyrus. These suggested to a number of commentators, notably Christopher Rollston (here, with follow-up here), that it could be a […]

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