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"The Lying Pen of Scribes": Manuscript Forgeries, Digital Imaging, and Critical Provenance Research


The forgery of more than 70 so-called post-2002 Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) fragments and the subsequent publishing of a majority of these, disclosed a fundamental and many-faceted crisis in the field of DSS and Qumran studies. The fragments were promoted by leading scholars; they were published by some of the most reputable experts in the field; many of the fragments allegedly “survived” advanced physical testing and were authenticated by palaeographers. The fragments became part of the DSS dataset, even though they are undocumented, unprovenanced, and forged. Traditionally, critical provenance research has been neglected in DSS research. In the official publication series of the DSS, Discoveries in the Judaean Desert, information and reflection on the provenance of the manuscripts and fragments is scarce. “The Lying Pen of Scribes” represents a new interdisciplinary and holistic approach to the DSS and seeks to create a more comprehensive and multifaceted dataset. The project is guided by the following overarching questions: (1) What critical insights can be gained from the post-2002 DSS scandal, and how can these contribute to change Qumran studies and manuscript studies at large? (2) How do collectors, museums, antiquities dealers, and scholars “authenticate” unprovenanced manuscripts and inscriptions? (3) How is provenance constructed, how do narratives of manuscript finds continue to evolve, and how can information about asserted provenance (origin, acquisition, ownership history) be decoded? The main objective of the project is to produce a comprehensive resource of data, methods, and procedures for the interdisciplinary analysis of Hebrew and Aramaic DSS manuscripts and fragments through a combination of physical analyses, digital imaging, machine learning, study of scribal practices, critical provenance research and an exploration of the various media that shaped and circulated the narratives about the world’s most famous manuscript find.

Project leader: Årstein Justnes

Started: 2019

Ends: 2024

Category: Universiteter

Sector: UoH-sektor

Budget: 12351000


Address: Kristiansand