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I have just read the SBL Forum (3/3) of March 2005 on "Forgeries," co-edited by Andrew Vaughn and Christopher Rollston. I found many good things in it, but also several mistakes and omissions that led to an unbalanced presentation.

A quick glance at the authors of the contributions shows clearly that the Forum's presentation is one-sided. For a true forum, the editors should not only have invited Yuval Goren, but also sought out a contribution from specialists in the relevant material sciences who have a different opinion than Goren. Also not balanced is the systematic criticism of BAR without a response from BAR itself. I agree completely that there a crisis, but it will not be solved seriously and scientifically with a one-sided approach. I would like to see a "Round Table" discussion, bringing together specialists in West Semitic epigraphy and in material sciences, yielding detailed arguments about each disputed inscription (if possible, outside of the pressure of the media) and with the purpose of finding the best ways and the best technical examinations to distinguish genuine inscriptions from forged ones.

Until then, having worked in the field of West Semitic epigraphy for 38 years, I would like to present some preliminary reactions to the various contributions in the SBL Forum so that it starts to become a balanced discussion. (Actually, the contributions to the SBL Forum are generally either already published or are revised versions of published or still-to-be published papers, so that my reaction is not completely new, even if not published before.)

1 ) "The Antiquities Market..." is primarily a presentation of the indictment, except for its discussion of the ivory pomegranate. For more on this inscription, the reader has to await a paper to be published in the Israel Exploration Journal. So once again we are confronted with the execrable practice of announcing that something should be considered a forgery before arguing it seriously on a scientific level and without giving, at the same time, a detailed scientific analysis that could be criticized by peers. I await the publication of a detailed scientific report before taking up again a discussion of the ivory pomegranate inscription. In the meantime, I do not see any serious argument (either regarding the inscription's paleography or the materials on the object) to change my opinion that this inscription is genuine.

2 ) About "The Forgery Indictments and BAR...", in general I will let BAR answer this criticism, if it wishes. I know from my own experience with BAR that it is well aware of the problem of possible forgeries and that it tries its best to avoid publishing them (as also shown from several examples given by the article's author).

My comment concerns the way two inscriptions are mentioned. For the article's author, the ivory pomegranate "may" be the earliest of the forged artifacts; he is careful about the formulation "may" and notes that "although the ivory pomegranate was named as a forgery in the introduction to the indictment, no person was in fact indicted for any offense in connection with the pomegranate, apparently because the statute of limitations has expired." All that is carefully formulated. Nevertheless, this inscription is presented in ways suggesting clearly that it is forgery. In fact, the main reproach against its authenticity seems to be that it was sold for a very high price, but that cannot be a scientific argument for or against the authenticity of any inscription, and, if I believe the story as told, it became only a serious problem about seven years after I published the inscription in Revue Biblique.

The presentation of the "Abdi, servant of Hoshea" seal is still more problematic. The author does not bring arguments against its authenticity. Why should it be considered a forgery? "2. Although the 'Abdi son [sic!] of Hoshea' seal is not specifically mentioned in the text of the indictment, a photograph of it as an alleged forgery item was shown at the press conference announcing the indictments." Scholars should present more serious arguments!

3) There are many good remarks and propositions to be discussed in detail in "The Crisis of Modern Epigraphic Forgeries and the Antiquities Market..." I hope that, some day, it will be possible to discuss them around a table. I underline only that it is important to deal with the scientific value of salvage excavations to confirm the authenticity of inscriptions appearing on the market or in private collections; it is because there were salvage excavations conducted in Qumran, Wadi-ed-Daliyeh, and Khirbet el-Qom that important inscriptions were almost totally saved for science.

I should mention here, however, that I disagree with notes 25 and 29, for two reasons:

- To the best of my knowledge, the author never argued that the ivory pomegranate is a forgery. Actually n. 29 simply shows that, in his Maarav paper (p. 182), he considered it "a probable or possible" forgery.

- In n. 29, he quotes the oral opinion of Frank M. Cross without specifying Cross's arguments (the same is true elsewhere of the opinion of Joseph Naveh). I must say that I do not like this method because I know that at times, after discussing a matter with someone, he did not present exactly what I thought and for what reasons. I should prefer that Frank M. Cross and Joseph Naveh speak or write for themselves so that we could appreciate all the nuances and arguments of their opinions.

4 ) About the "Probability of Forgeries," there are two main methodological problems:

1. The so-called "too good to be true" (TGTBT) "rule" is not at all a scientific rule or criterion. The most that can be said is that the more important the inscription is, the more cautious we must be methodologically. However this "TGTBT rule" is not a scientific approach. The authors themselves underline that this "rule" does not apply for the most important West Semitic inscriptions, such as the Mesha stele (note 3)! If this were a scientific rule, then the Tell Dan inscription should be a fake, as declared by G. Garbini. The same problem is true with the Qumran manuscripts, the Wadi ed-Dalieh papyri, and so on.

2. I have serious reservation with the use of a statistical argument when there are so few seals of known provenance! I prefer a more classical approach that tries to specify whether a seal is an Israelite or Judean seal, made in the same workshop with such and such other seals.

In any case, since a more detailed paper is announced, we should wait for a more precise argument.

5 ) About "The Jerusalem Syndrome in Biblical Archaeology," a revised version of an earlier page on the Bible and Interpretation website, I must say that I could not take the original seriously because it would be too easy to write a "rejoinder" with the title, "The Tel Aviv Syndrome in Biblical Archaeology" (that would not be justified either!).

This paper presents an abstract of a discussion of the ivory pomegranate. Strangely enough, the phrase "too good to be true" is mentioned first (see supra), and then we read a reference to Rollston's remark in Maarav, "that the inscription was a probable or possible forgery, including an assortment of syntax and letter styles from various published epigraphic sources." I know very well the first part of this statement (and discussed it briefly above), but I do not know where the author read the second part, referring to a detailed appreciation of the syntax (!) and letters style; I do not find it on p. 182 of the Maarav article.

The author later deals with the "Moussaieff ostraca," affirming that I "authenticated" the first ostracon. Actually the editio princeps was done by. D. Pardee, P. Bordreuil, and F. Israel, as clearly indicated in note 11. My own position is much more nuanced: there are clearly epigraphic (paleographic and text-formula) problems with this ostracon. However, since the conclusion of the detailed Microfocus Oy laboratory analysis were positive, I suggested that it might have been a kind of school exercise written by an apprentice scribe. Actually, I was mainly convinced by the results of the spectrographic analysis of the ink, which the author of this paper seems to ignore and which I asked the Aventis laboratory to do—and which, for some reason, it did not do. I should like to know whether this kind of analysis has been done at Tel Aviv University or at the Geological Survey of Israel and discuss the significance of such an analysis with specialists in the relevant materials sciences.

The presentation of the "James Ossuary" research seems sometimes polemical (for instance, against H. Shanks for having accepted "without questioning the authenticity evaluation that was very hastily made by Ilani and Rosenfeld"), but I am very surprised by the author's presentation of the arguments against the authenticity: again and again, the "too good too be true" argument (according to this argument, the author should recognize that the El-Amarna tablets that he studied for years are...forgeries!). Later on, he quotes as a scientific reference the opinion of "the epigrapher Rochelle Altman," who "suggested, on the basis of its text and style, that the inscription may be a modern forgery. It included an assortment of syntax and letter styles from various published epigraphic sources." The author refers, in note 26, to Altman's "Official Report on the James Ossuary." I cannot take seriously such a reference, which shows clearly that the author has no experience in West Semitic epigraphy. Later on, his qualification of "intellectual"—for common sense arguments that he ignored—is clearly polemical and not worthy of discussion.

This polemical nature of the article is obvious when the author writes (in the first paragraph of "Discussion"): "To put it even more bluntly, the sciences of Hebrew epigraphy and philology are nothing but a fool's paradise." I will let my colleagues appreciate this irony, especially when the author's reference to an epigrapher is to Rochelle Altman!

Finally, in the last note, the author is rightly critical of "wishful thinking." However, he might be aware that "wishful thinking" may affect any scholar. It might be useful here to remind my colleagues who know French what the author apparently wrote in "Les Cahiers de Science et Vie" 75 (juin 2003), 107: "Les scientifiques ne devraient pas céder à l'attrait de la publicité procurée par de telles expertises. Mais restreindre leur travail de scientifique aux objets des institutions officielles, ou du moins à ceux qui ont été découverts dans des fouilles légales et bien décrites."

These two sentences could be completed by the proverb: "Médecin guéris-toi toi-même!" (to stay in the same vein as the title).

6 ) "The Saga of the Yonan Codex" is reprinted from chapter nine of Reminiscences of an Octogenarian, by Bruce M. Metzger. It is certainly interesting but is out of place here, since it does not deal with a problem of forgery.

7 ) Strangely enough, the "Epilogue" uses again the phrase "a forgery conspiracy," which was rightly criticized in "The Antiquities Market...." One can, of course, only agree that "Methodological caution is now a desideratum. Sophisticated laboratory and epigraphic methods are an imperative." To that end, I suggest the addition of spectrographic analysis of ink and emphasize the scientific importance of salvage excavations.


André Lemaire
"Philologie and épigraphie hébraïques et araméennes"
Section des sciences historiques et philologiques
École Pratique des Hautes Études,
Sorbonne, Paris

Citation: André Lemaire, " Response to the Forgeries Issue," SBL Forum , n.p. [cited March 2005]. Online:


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