Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Update on smuggled Turkish Torah scroll


Leather Torah captured after thrilling police operation

ISTANBUL (Hurrieyt Daily News)

Police carefully planned and carried out a special operation Dec. 25 to capture a 1,900-year-old Torah from alleged smugglers before it was sold in the Mediterranean province of Adana.

Police apprehended four people in Adana who were attempting to sell an incredibly old leather Torah. Four suspects were released by a local court pending trial and the leather Torah was sent to Ankara for analysis following the operation.

After receiving information regarding the entrance of an artifact to Adana through illegal means from Syria amid the nation’s civil war, police discovered through additional research that an attempt would be made to sell a 2-millennia-old leather Torah for $30 million.

A geography teacher, T.N., searched for a buyer for the 8.78 meter-long and 44 centimeters-wide leather Torah by describing it as the "only original text of the Torah in the world."
Props to the Turkish police for intercepting what appears to have been an antiquities smuggling operation. They certainly did not stint on the cloak and dagger aspect of the arrests:
Police infiltrated the hotel to catch the alleged smugglers in the act disguised in the uniforms of waiters and valets after learning the location of the sale.

When T.N. entered to the hotel, he was arrested by a police officer in a waiter’s uniform in silence.
Police efficiency and enthusiasm aside, the claims made about the scroll sound pretty silly. Also setting aside the bit about "only original text of the Torah in the world" as meaningless salesmanship twaddle, we are still left with the claim that the scroll is 1900 years old. No authentication has been offered, and it sounds as though this geography teacher was the scholarly source for their evaluation of the scroll, which is not good.
"We bought it from an antique store and brought it to a geography teacher to ask what was written on it," one of the suspects told police.

"One of my friends called me to meet and he asked me to analyze a leather scripture they had", T.N. has said in defense of himself.
The scroll pictured is longer and considerably taller than even the Temple Scroll. It is extremely well preserved, unbelievably so for such a supposed age, and the leather looks modern. I can't get a good enough look at the script to judge its age. The claim of great age sounds very implausible on all counts.

If it is a modern scroll, the case for the smuggling of antiquities may collapse, although there does remain the question of to whom the scroll actually belongs and how the arrested men happened to come into possession of it.

Via Dorothy Lobel King on Facebook. Background here.

UPDATE: Well, well, lots of antiquities-smuggling news from Turkey today. Two items sent to me by readerJerry Rosenberg:

Israeli millionaire to buy Torah copy in Turkey (Vestnik Kavkaza).
An anonymous israeli millionaire plans to buy a Torah manuscript found by Turkish police officers for hundreds of thousands or maybe millions of dollars.

The Torah copy is aged about 500 years. The police arrested the four people who brought the copy to an antique shop, suspecting them of theft. It is believed to be a manuscript of Jews fleeing Spain in 1490.
There's a photo as well, by implication (but not explicitly) the Torah scroll in question. The photo is not of the same scroll as the one above. It appears that this is a different confiscated Torah scroll.
1,500-year-old handwritten Bible kept in Ankara, ministry confirms

23 February 2012 / FATMA DİŞLİ ZIBAK, İSTANBUL (Today's Zaman)

The minister of culture and tourism on Thursday confirmed media reports suggesting that a 1,500-year-old Bible that was discovered by Turkish police during an anti-smuggling operation in 2000 is being kept in Ankara today.

According to media reports on Thursday, the Bible was seized from a gang smuggling artifacts during a police operation in southern Turkey in 2010 and reportedly preserves its originality and many traces of the period in which it originated.

The gang was reportedly convicted of smuggling various items seized during the operation, including the Bible, and all the artifacts were kept in a safe at an Ankara courthouse. The Bible, which was reportedly kept at the courthouse for years, was only recently handed over to the care of the Ankara Ethnography Museum.

Some of the above may be true, but if so, you wouldn't know it by all the hokum in the rest of the article. It repeats that the manuscript—and even a photocopy of some of its pages—may be worth millions, then veers off into the whole long-debunked story about it being a pre-Islamic copy of the very late Gospel of Barnabas. As I summed up the situation back in March of 2012:
So instead of being a pre-Islamic copy of The Gospel of Barnabas with predictions of Muhammad in the mouth of Jesus, the manuscript dates itself to 1500; it appears to contain a canonical Gospel; it is suspiciously poorly copied; and paleographic concerns indicate it may be much later than even 1500.

The weird thing is that the manuscript itself does not seem to be promoting the narrative being circulated about it. If it is a forgery, it's a forgery of a 600-year-old manuscript of a canonical book, not of an an ancient copy of an apocryphal one.
If only the Turkish media would start reading some reputable blogs, they might learn some things.