Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Salvaging the Shapira Scroll script? A proposal (updated and corrected).

THE SHAPIRA SCROLL FRAGMENTS may be lost forever. If we're lucky, some may turn up some day. But meanwhile, photo images of at least a couple of the strips do survive. Here is one photo from Wikimedia Commons. (Click on the image for a larger version.)

By Christian David Ginsburg - The British Library; Additional manuscripts 41294 “Papers Relative to M.W. Shapira’s Forged MS. of Deuteronomy (A.D. 1883–1884).”, folio 33, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=67064589

This one has a lot of glare and poor resolution. It may be clipped from a larger photo that includes both sides and part of another strip. You can see it here on Wikimedia Commons. I don't know whether there are others.

The problem with these images, of course, is that the leather is blackened and the writing is invisible. In the nineteenth century people could see the writing on close inspection of the originals. That's how we got the drawings of the inscriptions.

The poor quality of the photos means our access to the Hebrew writing is only through bad hand drawings of it by people who were not twenty-first century paleographers. They did not know what to look for. Efforts to authenticate the texts though paleography founder, because we don't know how close the drawings are to the actual Hebrew script. Likely, not close.

But a thought occurs to me. I may as well share it here.

Those nineteenth-century photographs surely contain a lot more information than is obvious to the naked eye. Has anyone ever tried applying computer enhancement to them? Could someone, say the West Semitic Research Project, get in touch with JPL and see what they can do with the photo(s)? If we could get clear images of some words or partial lines of the text, paleographers could decide pretty rapidly whether the script was ancient or fake.

As far as I know, no one has suggested this before. Perhaps it's worth a try.

For background on the Shapira affair and the two recent books arguing for the authenticity of the Shapira Scroll fragments, start here and follow the links.

UPDATE: Thanks to James Tabor, I have seen some of the other images in British Library; Additional manuscripts 41294. They were taken with different exposures. At least one (page 83) shows considerable readable Hebrew text as is. I'm sure it could be enhanced to bring out more.

CORRECTION (26 March): It develops that the image on page 83 with readable Hebrew text is of a drawing by Christian Ginsburg. It is not a readable photograph. Please excuse the mixup.

My original point stands: it may be worth applying computer enhancement to the photographs of the Shapira Scroll in the archives of the British Library. They look completely illegible, but there may still be important information in them.

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