Saturday, July 16, 2005

The New Scroll

The new scroll fragments of Leviticus from the Wilderness of Judea provide a good opportunity for comments on the antiquities scene in Israel. Here's a quote from the AP story:

[Hanan] Eshel said he was first shown the fragments last year during a meeting in an abandoned police station near the Dead Sea.

A Bedouin said he had been offered $20,000 for the fragments on the black market and wanted an evaluation.

The encounter that both excited and dismayed the archaeologist who has worked in the Judean Desert since 1986.

"I was jealous he had found it, not me. I was also very excited. I didn't believe I would see them again," said Eshel, who took photographs of the pieces he feared would soon be smuggled out of the country.

But in March 2005, he discovered the Bedouin still had the scroll fragments. Eshel bought them with $3,000 provided by Bar Ilan University and handed them over to the Antiquities Authority, he said.

"Scholars do not buy antiquities. I did it because I could not see it fall apart," Eshel said.

Scattered thoughts: It's too bad the IAA or the Hebrew University or somebody doesn't offer a reward saying: "$1 MILLION TO THE FIRST PERSON TO DISCOVER A CAVE CONTAINING UNDISTURBED SCROLLS." A new bibliophorous (scroll bearing) cave would be worth more than any number of scraps.

It's too bad that the discoverer wanted the scholar's opinion only for authentication to make an illegal sale.

This scroll is not very sexy (c'mon — Leviticus?), and therefore it is probably authentic. A fake scroll would have mentioned Jesus or Paul and been offered for sale to the Israel Museum for $5 million, after a breathless article touting its importance had been published in BAR. But I'm glad they're doing tests on this one.

Where — and I mean exactly what cave? — was this discovered in? Why didn't Eshel just say, "Nice scroll. I'll give you your asking price if you can show me exactly where you discovered it. If not, hey, enjoy your Leviticus!"

How many other scrolls are being sold to collectors all the time by the Bedouin without publicity? Rumors abound.

UPDATE (7/17): Jim Davila asserts that Leviticus is indeed sexy, as anything biblical is sexy. Fair enough, and of course in the present state of biblical archaeology any unprovenanced article must be ipso facto under suspicion. I am wondering, though, if ancient animal skin suitable for forgery can be easily found. Other forgeries on stone, ceramic, or papyrus are less easily detectable since uninscribed ancient pieces of these materials are common. But truly ancient animal skin suitable for forgery must be rare (but I speak under correction). I agree that we should be cautious.

Speaking of unauthenticated scrolls, whatever happened to the so-called "Angel Scroll"?

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