Thursday, December 22, 2016

Schiffman on the Jerusalem papyrus and forgeries

PROFESSOR LAWRENCE H. SCHIFFMAN: JERUSALEM PAYPYRUS “PROVES” JEWISH CONNECTION TO TEMPLE MOUNT. BUT IS IT A FORGERY?. A thoughtful new article by Professor Schiffman in Ami Magazine. Background on the Jerusalem papyrus is here and links.

In that article Professor Schiffman also tells an instructive little tangentially-related anecdote which is worth quoting:
Hearing these accusations reminded me of an experience I had last summer when I was in Yerushalayim. I had gotten an email from a woman who was an investigative reporter for a Canadian French-language news program; she had attached scans of a supposedly antique Jewish magical amulet. The reporter asked me to call her in Beirut. Sitting in my hotel room in Israel, I was soon speaking with her.

She had already been told by another scholar, an expert in Jewish magical texts, that what she had scanned was a forgery. Strangely, the amulet was a mixture of our standard Hebrew script, ksav Ashuri—Assyrian or square script—and ksav Ivri—the old Hebrew script (paleo- Hebrew), which went out of general use in the time of Ezra and Nechemiah, around 450 BCE. Ksav Ivri was only used later for nationalistic reasons on Jewish coins and in the writing of some Biblical manuscripts found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Kusim (Samaritans) continue to use the old script for their Torah scrolls and mezuzos today.

The combination of the scripts in one sloppily written, nonsensical text showed clearly that it was forged. The reporter explained that she was actually investigating an influx of forged Judaica currently being marketed as having been smuggled into Beirut from Syria and Iraq, where antiquities thieves have been having a field day. So I was in no way surprised when questions about the authenticity of the Jerusalem papyrus were raised.
Mixed scripts with sloppily-written, nonsensical text are features characteristic of forgeries. That doesn't necessarily mean every text with those features is a forgery, but the combination should make us consider the possibility carefully.