SMALL TEXTS, BIG PRESUMPTIONS: The intersection of material science and social science in the authentication of suspect Dead Sea Scrolls fragments
Abstract:Since 2002, many previously unknown textual fragments inscribed in Hebrew or Aramaic have surfaced on the antiquities market. Believed to be newly discovered biblical artifacts belonging to the canon of the Dead Sea Scroll Discovery, dozens have been acquired, publicly exhibited, and published by private and institutional collectors. The Museum of the Bible (MOTB) in Washington, DC, curates sixteen of these suspect fragments. Since the scholarly publication of its collection in Dead Sea Scrolls Fragments in the Museum Collection (Brill, 2016) dissenting scholars have expressed growing concern about the authenticity of the fragments in the museum's collection. This dissertation sets a foundational understanding of the problem by examining the pillars of inquiry that have historically contributed to the authentication of ancient texts and revealing the problematic subjectivity and presumption inherent to the process. It will argue that a scientific analysis, focused on material characteristics, can overcome prior disciplinary presumptions and correct the methodological failures which led to the previous conclusion of authenticity for the collection of Dead Sea Scroll fragments at the Museum of the Bible (MOTB). This research describes and summarizes the scientific analysis that led to the conclusion that the collection was comprised of modern forgeries; outlining the physical, elemental, molecular, and mineralogical analysis of the questioned scroll fragments. The resulting discourse attempts to end the conflation and confusion between claims of authenticity and actual authenticity by establishing a rigorous protocol for the scientific interrogation of purported Dead Sea Scroll fragments and identifying and avoiding the trap of presumptive attribution errors. It also explores previously neglected dimensions of human experience that provide a more nuanced picture of the prior authentication process, previously subjective, biased, and non-evidence based. Taken together, these analyses serve as a roadmap for avoiding similar methodological failures in the future.
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