Sunday 15 March 2020

The MoB's forged Dead Sea Scroll Fragments and a Profile of the Forger

There is a detailed blog post about the Museum of the Bible's forged Dead Sea Scroll fragments and their of the forger by Prof Christopher Rollston (' The Forger Among Us: The Museum of the Bible Dead Sea Scrolls and the Recent History of Epigraphic Forgeries' Rollston Epigraphy, Ancient Inscriptions from the Levantine World 15 March 2020). I'd not come across this blog before but this post contains some points of great perception and interest. The post is conciliatory in tone regarding the Green Collection's acquisition of these items. To some extent he ignores Green's involvement and refers to the MoB as the acquirer of the trophy fragments (and was earlier quoted in Lizzie Wade's Science article 'Can the Museum of the Bible overcome the sins of the past?', Oct. 16, 2017 )*

The text is a little difficult to follow (chaotic section divisions) but has three main parts. The third - taking up the final quarter of the article - attempts to absolve the MoB for having them, by drawing attention to the way they have admitted post-fact the problems inherent in having them ("The thing that I wish to emphasize here is that the Museum of the Bible ultimately came clean"). That does not interest me here (I do not agree that this is the main issue), but I like the next bit:
They rapidly acknowledged that these scroll fragments might be modern forgeries and that the lore (and documents) associated with their origins might be a fabrication (indeed, I have long said that I put zero credence in any “statement about the antiquity” or “documentation” that is shown to me by an owner, collector, or dealer, as they have so many reasons to prevaricate).
NOBODY should be accepting from an owner, collector or dealer any “statement about the antiquity” or “documentation” that is not independently verifiable. But I am enthusiastic about the use of that word "lore" here, it seems to encapsulate precisely what the problem is with collection histories of many portable antiquities on the market.

The other two main parts of the article are both of much more interest than the repentance of the MoB. The first (two thirds of the text), after a bit dragging name-dropping prologue, is a concise but very informative (with bibliography) mini-history of some aspects of textual forgery ('it should be emphasized that textual forgeries have a very long history, going back to Ancient and Medieval times'). Cases are mentioned and then the author goes into the forger's motives. Well worth a read.

The second is, however, a bit of a bombshell. He gives a 'profile of the forger':
I believe that the forger of these Dead Sea Scrolls forged fragments is a trained scholar in our field, with access to actual ancient scrolls. I believe that the forger forged them during the course of a few months, or more likely, a couple years (this also accounts for some of the variation in the script). I believe that venality (indeed, outright and blatant greed) is a primary motivation (literally, netting the forger millions of dollars for these Museum of the Bible forgeries), but greed is not the only motivation. I believe the scholar of these forgeries is particularly hubristic, and assumed he (or she) could fool all other scholars (and also probably delighted in this assumption). [...] Clearly, I believe that the forger is amoral. Also, I believe that the forger worked primarily alone, but could have included a paid friend or associate who had at least a high-school level knowledge of chemistry (these forgeries are not sophisticated enough to have included the assistance of a trained scholar in chemistry). Also, I believe that a good investigative journalist should be capable, given the resources (e.g., several months of compensated work) of a good newspaper or learned society, should be able to discover the identity of the forger. I hope that the weight of all of the relevant national and international laws is brought forth against this forger (although, as a realist with regard to conviction rates, I suspect that the most that can be hoped is that the identity of the forger will be discovered).
Hmmm. Unfortunately, the evidence behind these assumptions is not given. Is the reason for "a few months" just the variability of the script? Did the forger him or herself get those "millions of dollars" (evidence)? I am not sure why there has to be an accomplice, as if a textual scholar never had A-level chemistry at school and cannot find a chemistry book in a local library. That 'paid accomplice' looks a bit dodgy to me. But I too look forward to a bit of good investigative journalism to reveal who was behind this.

The 16 Green/MoB fragments were bought as four separate lots from four different sellers between 2009 and 2014, but among them are pieces that were allegedly in the hands of the people involved in the 2005 "Ink and Blood" exhibition, and so therefore close to the "c. 2002"  date of the first emergence of the controversial DSS fragments on the global market (Årstein Justnes, 'A Lightly Annotated Chronological Bibliography of the Post-2002 Dead Sea Scrolls-like Fragments' [first version was published 19 August 2016]).

I wonder if Prof Rollston has his own tentative (venal, amoral, particularly hubristic), candidate among his colleagues? 

* He was also involved in an interesting controversy, being fired by the tiny Emmanuel Christian Seminary in Tennessee for writing in September 2012: 'Gender equality may not have been the norm two or three millennia ago, but it is essential. So, the next time someone refers to ‘biblical values,’ it’s worth mentioning to them that the Bible often marginalized women and that’s not something anyone should value' ooops (Robert Daniel Smith, 'Classics scholar, fired from last college for criticizing Bible, will help plan new major at GW', GW Hatchet Feb 17, 2014).

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