Monday, October 31, 2016

Jerusalem papyrus: the IAA responds

JERUSALEM PAPYRUS UPDATE: IAA refutes authenticity accusations of ‘Jerusalem’ papyrus inscription (Daniel K. Eisenbud, Jerusalem Post). The IAA didn't exactly "refute" them, they denied them. Despite the unfortunate tendency these days to water down the meaning of "refute," this is not the same thing. Refute means to demonstrate or prove that something is incorrect.

That curmudgeonly grumble aside — key quote from the article:
Asked to respond to the allegations of impropriety, Prof. Gideon Avny, head of the Antiquities Authority’s Archaeological Division and a lecturer at the Hebrew University’s Institute of Archaeology, said the onus of disproving such a rare find falls on Maeir and Rollston.

“We cannot say that the accusations are false, but on the other hand they cannot prove in any way that this is a forgery,” Avny said by phone.

Conceding that doubt could arise because the relic was apprehended on the black market and not during a normal excavation – compounded by the fact that it is difficult to accurately analyze the date of ink – he nonetheless reasserted its authenticity as genuine.

“Yes, we didn’t have an archeologist [on site] testifying that it came out of [an excavation], but at the same time, if someone wants to say it is fake, they need to bring some kind of proof,” Avny said.
The burden of proving an unprovenanced object to be an ancient artifact is on those arguing it to be an ancient artifact. I think we need more than has been offered so far to say that that has been done. The conference paper has been released, apparently in a formal publication. That's good. (Has it been peer-reviewed? It would speed up dissemination if an English translation were made available.) But the lab reports on the carbon dating and other tests need to be released. More details need to be released on how the object was acquired and the state it was acquired in. A full paleographical analysis also needs to be published. Then substantive objections and alternate interpretations will need to be evaluated in the peer-review literature.

Now don't get me wrong. The IAA has made a good start here and the initial case looks promising to me, as I have already stated. But some skepticism is still warranted and the IAA still has work to do before it dismisses the current concerns about the object's authenticity. But I agree with Professor Avny that objections also need to be substantive and specific — once the IAA has itself presented the case fully.

Let us remember that we were once at the stage that the Gospel of Jesus' Wife had strong materials-testing verification in its favor: both the papyrus and the ink tested as ancient. [Later - okay, consistent with an ancient, or at least very old, origin. See link for details.] But it still turned out to be a forgery. That doesn't mean that the Jerusalem papyrus is also a forgery. I hope it isn't. But it could be. Let's take our time and figure it out.

Meanwhile, Aren Meir summarizes his response to the Ahituv, Klein, Ganor conference paper: My take on the Jerusalem Papyrus. There you will also find a link to the Hebrew conference paper itself, which has been posted on Thanks to Joseph Lauer for both links.

Background here and links.