Friday, April 28, 2017

More on the latest (?) "ancient" Torah from Turkey

AND THE JERUSALEM POST YAWNS: 1,500-YEAR-OLD TORAH RECOVERED FROM TURKISH SMUGGLERS. In addition to the Torah, many other historical artifacts belonging to the Hellenistic and Seljuq periods, including statues, stone rubbings, jewelry, and coins were recovered (Daniel K. Eisenbud et al., Jerusalem Post).
An ancient Torah estimated to be 1,500-years-old was seized from smugglers in Ayvalik, a western resort town in Turkey, the Anadolu news agency reported on Tuesday.

In addition to the Torah, many other historical artifacts belonging to the Hellenistic and Seljuq dynasty periods, including statues, stone rubbings, jewelry, and 200 ancient bronze and silver coins were recovered.

Turkish law enforcement detained two suspects and later released them on probation, and believe the smugglers brought the artifacts from Istanbul and Bingol, an eastern Turkish province.

The Torah, inscribed on leather, was handed over with the other artifacts to the Balikesir Museum Directorship.

I assume that this is the same "gold-plated" ancient Torah that was reported by Turkish media earlier this week (see here). Or maybe it's another one. There's no mention of gold-plating on this one and no date was specified for that one. But it would be a bit rich if there were two in one week.

In any case, I'm calling Bullgeschichte. I don't doubt that the Turkish police have seized some antiquities from smugglers, and well done to them for doing so. And there may well have been a Torah scroll among them, but I don't believe it was 1,500 years old. That would be the oldest complete Torah scroll in existence by many centuries. The oldest ones verified so far are in the range of 700 to 800 years old (see here and here). The oldest complete Torah manuscript is the Leningrad Codex (a little after 1000 CE) and the oldest substantially preserved but incomplete one is the famed Aleppo Codex (c. 930 CE). For more on both, see here and links.

If this scroll were actually 1,500 years old, i.e., from c. 500 CE, it would be a monumental discovery not much less significant than the recovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. This would be true even if it were badly damaged but still recognizable as a scroll. But the reports just say this is a leather scroll and give no indication it is damaged. And there is still no photograph. Yes, the Jerusalem Post article has a photo, but the caption explains that it is of a different, much more recent scroll. Always read the fine print.

Sadly, the probability of a 1,500-year-old leather Torah scroll surviving relatively unscathed to the present is pretty close to zero. Now, yes, it is possible that some smugglers found such a scroll in Turkey in a jar in a cave or something and the police caught them and we won the lottery. But given the track record of reports coming out of Turkey about massively significant biblical antiquities finds, that's not the way to bet.

The really disappointing thing about this Jerusalem Post report is its ho-hum attitude, as though there's nothing particularly significant about the claim of the recovery of a Torah scroll from 500 CE. That indicates that the writers have no sense of the field or what counts as an extraordinary claim. And no biblical scholar was consulted to comment on the story. How much effort would a phone call or two have taken? Daniel K. Eisenbud normally does good reporting on stories about antiquities, but I'm not impressed this time.

As always, no one would be more delighted than I to learn that my skepticism this time was unwarranted. If a real 1,500-year-old Torah Scroll has really just been discovered in Turkey, then let's have photographs and let's set scholars loose on it. Bring it on. But I shall be very surprised indeed if that's where this story goes.

Past posts on dubious reports of biblically-related antiquities finds in Turkey have been collected in the previous post on (I assume) this one here.