“Troubling anomalies”, and elements that raise “questions”, “suspicions”, and “concerns” in Dead Sea Scrolls Fragments in the Museum Collection (Brill, 2016)

By Årstein Justnes

This blog post is a supplement to my DSD review of Emanuel Tov, Kipp Davis, and Robert Duke (eds), Dead Sea Scrolls Fragments in the Museum Collection (Publications of Museum of the Bible 1; Leiden: Brill, 2016; hardback, pp. 236; ISBN 9789004321489)

It is no secret that I regard all the “Dead Sea Scrolls” fragments in this book as modern forgeries (a view shared by Torleif Elgvin and Michael Langlois). When I started reading it, I was therefore surprised to see that there is no thorough discussion of issues like provenance and forgery (see my review). The volume as a whole shows a fascinating lack of interest in the these issues, and the authors seem to avoid an explicit discussion of them. Especially noting that some of the authors (esp. Kipp Davis) present some fairly sharp and fine observations that cast serious doubts on a majority of the fragments’ “authenticity”, it is all the more strange to see that there is no discussion that leads to(wards) a conclusion of the essential questions: Are these fragments (or some of them) forgeries or most likely forgeries, or should they (or some of them) be regarded as possible “authentic” Dead Sea Scroll fragments – despite being unprovenanced? Instead of a thorough discussion of these issues, it is tacitly assumed that all the fragments are Dead Sea Scroll fragments (cf. for instance the title of the book) and worthy of being part of the dataset.

Below I have gathered a whole range of quotations that – to stick with a much used expression in the book – further raise questions and concerns (all emphases below are mine):


Emanuel Tov, “Introduction, Text Editions” (pp. 3–18) on the “Biblical profile” of the DSS “collections” in private hands:

“The Museum of the Bible collection of thirteen fragments contains twelve Scripture texts (92%), which is exceptionally high, much higher than the percentage of Scripture texts at Qumran (23%). The percentage of Scripture texts in The Schøyen Collection is equally high as in the Museum of the Bible collection (27 fragments out of 33 texts or 82%), as are the Azusa Pacific University collection of four Scripture fragments and the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary collection (8 of the 9 fragments contain Scripture, or 90%, while the ninth one is unreadable). It is remarkable that in all instances where there is legible text, virtually every fragment in private collections has been identified with a previously known composition” (11) [Tov credits Kipp Davis for this observation].


Kipp Davis, “Paleographical and Physical Features” (pp. 19–35):

“Several of the letters, which occur along the edges of the fragments, contain troubling anomalies. When grouped together as in the above arrangement, these anomalies become especially prominent. A number of these letters are unusually sized, oddly shaped, and contain pen strokes that are substantially out of character for the hand of their respective fragments. Most notably, this is what we observe for F.Jon1 […, F.Jer2, and F.Num2]” (20, 23; see below).


Num 8:3–5 (motb.scr.003173) | DSS F.194 (Num2)

“A related pattern of anomalies [referring back to F.Jer2] occurs in F.Num2, which contains a handful of oddly formed letters along its edges, most notably shins on lines 1 and 4, which appear much like the anomalous shin in F.Jer2 line 6, and the mem on line 3 that occurs at the left edge of the fragment. These disruptions in the patterns of letter formation for each manuscript are most clearly evident when set side-by-side for comparative purposes as they appear in the above chart. They raise suspicions about the authenticity of these fragments” (Davis, 23).

“[…] the appearance of variant forms of the same letter (e.g. he, mem, and tav, each appearing in variant forms) indicate some negligence in writing” (Finlay et al, 131).

“The odd formation of this letter suspiciously follows the contour of damage on the right edge of the fragment, and this raises questions about its authenticity” (Finlay et al, 132).

“It is difficult to account for the predominantly anomalous appearance of this letter, and the odd angle of the oblique, which seems to follow the contour of the fragment, raises questions about the authenticity of the fragment” (Finlay et al, 134).


Neh 2:13–16 (motb.scr.003175) | DSS F.201 (Neh2)

“[…] formal hand belonging to an emerging scribe still learning his craft” (Davis, 25).

“[…] the trace of the first vav bears a suspicious resemblance to an annotationa superscripted Greek letter α—that appears in the printed text of Kittel’s third edition of Biblia Hebraica (BHK)” (Davis, 27).


Jer 23:6–9 (motb.scr.003172) | DSS F.195 (Jer2)

“A similar set of peculiarities [as in Jon1] appears in F.Jer2 where the letters in the last word at the left edge of the fragment on line 1 are very small and appear to follow the contour of the fragment edge. The shin and bet in נשבר on line 6 also prove problematic. On the shin the join formed by the center arm to the left downstroke is unusually high, straight, and at a much shallower angle than other examples of this letter. This letter also appears to conform to the damaged portion of the fragment. The bet has been partially obscured by a wormhole, but the ink on the crossbar appears as though written in two motions in an effort to avoid the hole” (Davis, 23).

“There are a few oddly shaped characters near damaged portions of the text […] The condition of the manuscript may also be the root cause for several small-sized letters in line 1 and the smaller line spacing at the top and bottom of the fragment. While this could be taken as evidence that the text was written on an inferior or deteriorated piece of parchment, this is by no means the only conclusion” (Kutz et al, 141–42).

“[…] this letter is noteworthy in the way the crossbar traverses the wormhole. […] this stroke seems to have been made in two motions, leaving the impression that it was either initially written this way in an effort to avoid an existing hole or later corrected to compensate for the deterioration of the crossbar due to the appearance of the hole” (Kutz et al, 147).

“The context in this case requires that one read this as poorly formed or erroneously copied yod” (Kutz et al, 147).

“In the color photographs the supralinear downstroke appears as though it was written on the damaged surface […]” (Kutz et al, 147 note 10).

The interruption in the leg of the ḥet is difficult to account for, but most reasonably seems to have been caused by writing with the stylus on an uneven surface” (Kutz et al, 148).


Dan 10:18–20 (motb.scr.003170) | DSS F.200 (Dan6)

“ […] variation within the shape and appearance of individual letters is a product of “negligence in writing,” which I understand to mean that the scribe possessed only the most rudimentary skills” (Davis, 24; cf. also Duke et al, 202).

“While the mem is clearly visible (even to such a degree that it is unmistakable in the color image) this letter and the following stroke of ink are possibly problematic since they appear even at the very top edge of the fragment where the surface has worn” (Duke et al, 203).

“This word appears with no wordspace and in a slightly elevated position on the line. Its position is possibly problematic because it appears in a space where the surface is better preserved at the edge of the fragment and above lighter colored sections of damage where the line would be expected. This could suggest a secondary hand sometime in history, including the modern era” (Duke et al, 204).

“The reading is suggested by the last two visible letters on the line. They appear slightly elevated and written without a clear word space separating this word from the preceding word עמי . The placement of the letters is furthermore peculiar since they seem to be intentionally positioned to avoid small parts of damage on the surface of the fragment. It is possible that this was an effect of the scribe attempting to navigate a very poorly prepared scroll surface, but one should also not dismiss the possibility that this was ink applied to an already damaged fragment” (Duke et al, 206).


Jona 4:2–5 (motb.scr.003171) | DSS F.197 (Jon1)

“[…] F.Jon1 […] shows virtually no consistency in the formation of ayin, and where one shin, the first visible letter of line 4, located at the right, bottom edge of the fragment, is demonstrably smaller than the other two examples and placed very high on the line. This last example is especially problematic since it seems to follow the contours of the fragment edge” (Davis, 23).

“[…] inconsistencies that betray the scribe’s inexperience” (Davis, 25).

“[..] uneven pen strokes, awkwardly formed letters, and erratic spacing” (Davis, 28)

“If the first letter in this word is indeed a he, its surviving left leg uncharacteristically curves to the left. This is somewhat peculiar compared to other examples on line 3, but perhaps more significantly it is problematic for how it follows the contour of the edge of the fragment” (McDowell and Hill, 171).

“[…] the variations in the angle and form of the letters are so dramatically pronounced that they suggest either the scribe was untrained, or that the text may not be authentic. The shape and size of the ayin is very odd compared to other examples in the fragment, especially compared to על in line 1 and העיר in line 3. The presence of a distinct elbow in this letter is peculiarly inconsistent with the other examples” (McDowell and Hill, 171).

“[…] the anomalous fluctuation between formal and cursive forms would be quite strange, and may raise some suspicions concerning the authenticity of the text on this fragment” (McDowell and Hill, 171).

Both the hes are formed differently from conventional hes […] Their crude appearance suggests that they were made by an untrained scribe” (McDowell and Hill, 172).

“The center arm of shin is unusual in how it is situated close to the join between the right oblique stroke and the left arm, but also because of its length and proximity to the top of the oblique. The center arm seems to follow the contour of the fragment edge […]” (McDowell and Hill, 172).

“It is difficult to determine whether the first letter in this line is a yod or a vav due to the fragment’s state of preservation as well as the irregularity with which the forms of these letters in the fragment were written. Further, the following shin is much smaller than the shins at the end of lines 3 and 4, and it appears strangely situated about 0.7mm above the hypothetical rule line. This is rather peculiar in light of how the traces of the first three letters appear to correspond to the contours of the fragment edge” (McDowell and Hill, 172–73).


Mic 1:4–6 (motb.scr.003183) | DSS F.198 (Mic1)

“The scribe exhibits an inexperienced “Jewish” square, formal hand, similarly distinguished by what Yardeni calls “idiosyncratic personal features” like F.Jon1. […] the variation in thickness of the strokes is likely exacerbated by the scribe’s lack of skill” (Davis, 26).

“[…] uneven pen strokes, awkwardly formed letters, and erratic spacing” (Davis, 28).

The leather has an uneven surface, a condition existing at the time the text was written, as can be seen by multiple examples of ink bleeding into surface crevices of the leather” (Flint and Herbison, 177).

“The preserved examples of he from lines 2 and 3 show that the scribe generally extended the right downstroke slightly lower than the left, which could explain the absence of ink from the left downstroke here given the contour of the top edge of this fragment (cf. photograph). However, this would still necessitate a greater differential between the lengths of the left and right downstrokes than what is seen elsewhere in the fragment. Nevertheless, it seems most likely that this ink trace belongs to one of the downstrokes of the he, even if it is uncertain which one. More puzzling is the lack of any ink traces to the left of alef, where one would expect to see at least a portion of shin. The photograph indicates no obvious damage to the surface to suggest the abrasion of a letter after alef, which is problematic” (Flint and Herbison, 181).


= 4Q418 ii 4–5 (motb.scr.000123) | DSS F.202 (Instr1)

“[…] it should […] be noted that DSS F.Instr1 and 4Q418 frg. 148 overlap suspiciously in such a way that the text of DSS F.Instr1 could have been copied from the more extensive text of 4Q418. DSS F.Instr1 only began to circulate in private collections (2003) a few years after 4Q418 was published (1999). In other words, DSS F.Instr1 contains no significant additions of words that were not already known after 4Q418 was published (Johnson, 223–24).

“This word appears with no word space and in a slightly elevated position on the line. Its position is possibly problematic because it appears in a space where the surface is better preserved at the edge of the fragment and above lighter colored sections of damage where the line would be expected. This could suggest a secondary hand sometime in history, including the modern era” (Johnson, 227).

One thought on ““Troubling anomalies”, and elements that raise “questions”, “suspicions”, and “concerns” in Dead Sea Scrolls Fragments in the Museum Collection (Brill, 2016)

  1. […] I’m excited that next week I’ll be heading to the University of Agder in Norway to visit the research project, “The Lying Pen of Scribes: Manuscript Forgeries and Counterfeiting Scripture in the Twenty-First Century,” best known for its incisive investigations into the so-called “post-2002 Dead-Sea-Scrolls-like fragments,” such as the detailed review of the Museum of the Bible’s Scrolls fragments by Årstein Justnes. […]


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