Carbon dating bible manuscripts
The news media’s presentation of the forgery announcement furthers a dubious narrative: that scientific testing has definitively proven what text scholars can only guess at —the authenticity or forgery of ancient artifacts.
While material analysis of scrolls can help show that material is modern, the results are often not as assured as they are presented to be, and material analysis certainly cannot prove authenticity.
Testing that suggests parchment or ink is ancient is not wholly decisive.
As some epigraphers have warned, forgers are quite skilled and are suspected to use practices that can pass scientific tests — for instance, by using blank scraps of ancient scrolls as writing surfaces for their forgeries.
Radiocarbon dating and additional testing of the widely-heralded “Gospel of Jesus’s Wife” fragment — now universally known to be a forgery — suggested that the fragment was ancient.
The material is unprovenanced; it consists of small scraps that can be easily forged; and almost all of the texts (92%) come from biblical books, while only 23% of the authentic Qumran material is biblical.
Over 80,000 scroll fragments that came to be known as the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in 11 caves near the Dead Sea site of Khirbet Qumran. Based on carbon-14 dating and paleographic analysis, the Ashkar-Gilson Manuscript was dated to sometime between the seventh and eighth centuries C.
E., right at the tail end of the so-called “silent era”— an almost 600-year period from the third through eighth centuries, or the time between the oldest Hebrew Bible fragments (the Dead Sea Scrolls) and the oldest complete Hebrew Bible authoritative Masoretic codices.
It’s never wise to rest much upon one judgement, and confidence will be enhanced only when various experts have been given full access to the items." This is a fascinating field, but the limits of paleography are also frustrating (at least to me).
This week, the Museum of the Bible (MOTB) announced that five of its purported Dead Sea Scroll fragments are, in fact, modern forgeries.
The Ashkar-Gilson Manuscript falls in between the early scrolls and the later codices. The Dead Sea Scrolls contain two types of documents: fragments of the oldest Hebrew Bible texts and writings that—most scholars argue—describe the beliefs and practices of a community of Jews living and writing at the nearby settlement of Qumran. The scribe who penned the Leningrad Codex actually identified himself in two colophons (an inscription containing the title, the scribe’s or printer’s name, and the date and place of composition) at the beginning and end of the text as Samuel ben Jacob, or Samuel son of Jacob.