Israel’s Big New Find a Hoax

As expected, the Netanyahu government reacted to the UNESCO decision in the only way it knows how, with diplomatic tantrums, political threats and state violence. Incredibly, it produced, almost out of thin air, a “unique 2,700-year-old papyrus” which it claims is evidence of a connection between the city of Jerusalem and the period when the Kings of Israel were on their relatively unimportant throne. This was taken immediately as a green light to intensify excavation activities beneath Al-Aqsa Mosque. Yisrael Hasson, Director of the Israeli Authority of Antiquities, announced that it has agreed with the government that it will become mandatory for every Israeli youth to take part in the excavation works.

The IAA has strenuously objected to any questioning of the papyrus’s authenticity: (just like the Holocaust™) “If someone wants to say it is fake, they need to bring some kind of proof,” said the head of the IAA’s archaeology division.

There was a time, perhaps, when this was the case.

But given the increasing number of forgeries being produced, and the growing attention being paid to issues of provenance, much of the scholarly community is turning the situation around: when a new discovery is announced, the burden of proof falls on those who seek to demonstrate its authenticity—especially when the artifact is acknowledged to lack provenance and to have come from the black market of antiquities. 

Last week, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced the discovery of an ancient papyrus, dating to the seventh century BCE, that prominently mentions the city of Jerusalem. The text is fragmentary, but a few words are clearly visible. The scholar who has been studying the papyrus, Shmuel Ahituv, translated it as follows: “From the female servant of the king, from Nahrata, two wineskins to Jerusalem.”

The content seems rather banal—this is not a biblical text, or some previously unknown ancient narrative. It is, rather, a shipping manifest, a plain old economic document, of a type known from plenty of other examples. Why the fuss, then?

What makes this papyrus exciting, in theory, is that it seemingly confirms the existence of Jerusalem as a royal capital in seventh-century Israel: “It underscores the centrality of Jerusalem as the economic capital of the kingdom in the second half of the seventh century B.C.,” proclaimed one IAA official.

Though most people familiar only with the Bible might take this for granted, the question of whether there was really a kingdom centered around Jerusalem at that point in history is a common one in scholarship. This papyrus would provide at least some evidence that the biblical story—the story that stands behind much of the nationalistic mythology of the modern state of Israel—is grounded in historical reality.

 It is telling that the announcement of the papyrus came when it did: just after UNESCO issued resolutions regarding the Temple Mount, the center of the old city of Jerusalem. The UN committee declared that Israel, by refusing to allow UN conservators access to the site, is endangering its future conservation; perhaps more problematically, the resolutions uniformly refer to the site by its Arabic name, Haram al-Sharif.

For Israelis and supporters of the state of Israel, this was a direct provocation: Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minster of Israel, declared the UNESCO position to be an “absurdity, which harms not only the historical truth and the truth of the present, but also harms in my opinion the U.N. itself.”

The newly-announced papyrus seems to be a response to attempts to dissociate the Temple Mount from Jewish history: the Israeli minister of culture said that the papyrus proves that Jerusalem “was and will remain the eternal capital of the Jewish people.” 

This is a lot of weight for a scrap of text to bear, but it illustrates just how politicized antiquities discoveries have become. But the Jerusalem papyrus is also an example of another danger when it comes to the world of antiquities: the problem of publicizing, promoting, and publishing texts that are unprovenanced. 

Unprovenanced artifacts are those for which the origin and chain of custody are unknown. Unprovenanced texts have become a hot topic recently, and not only in the insular world of academia. The now-famous case of the “Gospel of Jesus’s Wife,” which made national and international headlines, drew attention to the risks that are entailed when working with ancient texts that lack a clear origin.

Initial scientific studies of the “Gospel of Jesus’s Wife,” including carbon dating, affirmed that the materials used to make the document were indeed old, but a later investigation revealed that not only the text itself, but also its letters of provenance, had been forged by a former Egyptology graduate student named Walter Fritz. The case highlights the two major problems with artifacts that lack proper documentation.

The first and most obvious, especially in light of the “Gospel of Jesus’s Wife,” is the risk that the text in question may simply be a modern forgery. The IAA and Ahituv are convinced that the Jerusalem papyrus is authentic: they have done laboratory tests on the papyrus, which appears to be from the right general timeframe. As the “Gospel of Jesus’s Wife” case makes clear, however, this is no guarantee of authenticity.

A decent forger will know that such tests are inevitable, and will plan accordingly: most likely by purchasing (or stealing) authentically ancient blank papyri, which are readily available online. Lab tests can disprove authenticity, but at this point they cannot prove it. All they prove is that the papyrus was created using ancient materials, not that it was composed in ancient times.

Scholars who are not concerned with lab testing have openly questioned the authenticity of the Jerusalem papyrus, among them some of the most highly-respected archaeologists, epigraphers, and philologists in the world. Part of what drives this doubt may be technical concerns over issues such as whether the script used is what we would expect to find from the seventh century, or philological details such as whether the place name in the papyrus, Naharata, is grammatically correct. But for many, the overarching problem is how the text came to light in the first place.

According to the initial statements of the IAA, the papyrus was recovered by the IAA’s robbery prevention unit, who broke up a ring of antiquities looters. They believe the papyrus to have originally come from a cave near the Dead Sea, not unlike the famous Dead Sea Scrolls, which would account for its unusual preservation for the past 2700 years.

At the same time, however, it was announced that the papyrus had been acquired by a private individual who—as is almost always the case—wished to remain anonymous. In other words, this papyrus was circulating on the black market. 

 Compounding the problem is the fact that more than one scholar has claimed to have been offered a chance to look at this very papyrus a few years ago. Rather than simply sitting in a private collection, it seems as if whoever owned the text was actively looking for someone to give it publicity. One of these scholars, the world-renowned epigrapher Christopher Rollston, says that the text was shown to him back in 2013. Rollston is currently writing a book about antiquities forgeries, and has said that this papyrus will be included in his volume.

The IAA has strenuously objected to any questioning of the papyrus’s authenticity: “If someone wants to say it is fake, they need to bring some kind of proof,” said the head of the IAA’s archaeology division. There was a time, perhaps, when this was the case.

But given the increasing number of forgeries being produced, and the growing attention being paid to issues of provenance, much of the scholarly community is turning the situation around: when a new discovery is announced, the burden of proof falls on those who seek to demonstrate its authenticity—especially when the artifact is acknowledged to lack provenance and to have come from the black market of antiquities. 

This brings us to the second problem with unprovenanced texts. The assumption of authenticity implicitly supports the market for forgeries: other forgers will now understand that if they can produce an artifact that can pass the lab tests, they will have a hugely valuable item to sell. (It is estimated that a papyrus like this could fetch $1 million on the black market.)

It is also hard not to see why the Israeli authorities would want to claim that this document is authentic: after all, they are the very ones who have turned this relatively unimportant papyrus into a tool for political gain. All too many recent forgeries—including the “Gospel of Jesus’s Wife”—have been a little too on the nose: they speak with suspicious directness to the political or ideological issues of the present. It is for these reasons that at this point, unprovenanced texts—whether or not they turn out to be forgeries—must be treated with great caution, lest we build our understanding of past realities on present-day desires.

thedailybeast

11.05.16

Related Posts

Untold Story of the Clintons Cashing In on HIV/AIDS Sufferers

4a8f014e9c8bea7ebdddf7f0fae39c07

sputnik On Thursday, March 23, a New York City-based non-profit AIDS service organization, the GMHC (formerly Gay Men's Health Crisis), is due to  ...

Israel’s smear campaign against humanitarian organizations

imageedit_4_6799111578

...  Costello, the head of World Vision Australia, welcomed the finding, which he said confirmed those of his own organization. “So ...

It’s Imperialism, Stupid

4a8f014e9c8bea7ebdddf7f0fae39c07

Western Imperialism for Dummies 3 min vid I roll my eyes every time I read the words "fighting ISIS"... it's merely euphemism for perpetual war.  ...

New Israeli Database Targeting Israeli Citizens Who Support BDS

17cb2e848ffdd0178c00efb9257e2492

G4S security firm had boycotted Israel (or so Israel perceived)...in which afterward a false flag event in Orlando pointing to a G4S employee resulte ...

Did Putin Kill David Rockefeller?

imageedit_1197_2862148787

russia-insider.com Famous banker and lizard king David Rockefeller has passed away at the age of 101. According to reports, doctors were not ab ...

8 thoughts on “Israel’s Big New Find a Hoax

  1. I posted about it before, it came out during ‘Israel’s’ campaign to discredit UNESCO with the ‘anti-Semite’ routine. I mean, how obvious. And it was 2 ‘Israeli’ archeologists with nothing but their say so, and it was only circulating around the Zionist news. Ha! So funky. They say BE and it IS. Or so it use to be lol.

  2. I am so happy that Israel is finally settling the record straight for the rest of us. I am so eager to read the final version of world history……

    But hopefully it will never come to that….

  3. Go over to Egypt or into Syria–at least the parts not carpet bombed–and you’ll trip over their archeological antiquities, but when in ‘Stolenland,’ the only ones you’ll find is the ones that the IAA has discovered.

  4. A Huffington Post titled “Israel Ancient Jewelry Uncovered in Archeological Dig.”

    According to the article, “Israeli archaeologists have discovered a rare trove of 3,000-year-old jewelry, including a ring and earrings, hidden in a ceramic jug near the ancient city of Megiddo, where the New Testament predicts the final battle of Armageddon.”

    Based on the guesses of Israel Finkelstein, (Israeli archaeologist and academic, not Norman the author) who co-directed the dig, “the jewelry likely belonged to a Canaanite family.”

    That may well have been so, but the unquestioned assumption throughout the piece is that this jewelry is in some way Israeli.

    (Note, as well, how a biblical tale associated with the ancient Palestinian city of Megiddo is mentioned as if this was of any relevance.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.