Endorsement of Open Letter on Fake and Unprovenanced Manuscripts

This post has recently been updated with a response from Brill.

The SCS Statement on Professional Ethics emphasizes the need for due diligence regarding the provenance of artifacts in many different areas of scholarly work, including initial publications of objects and texts and the management of institutional collections. In recognition of the importance of this issue, the SCS Board of Directors has voted to endorse an open letter on the publication of fragments that were acquired by the Museum of the Bible and published by Brill. You can read the text of the letter below, which was originally published by Dr. Roberta Mazza on November 5, 2018 and signed by many individuals. You can also read the response from Brill, originally published by Dr. Mazza on November 7.

Open letter to Brill: Fake and unprovenanced manuscripts

For the attention of Brill.

FAKE AND UNPROVENANCED MANUSCRIPTS

On 22 October 2018, the Museum of the Bible issued a press release informing the public that five of their recently acquired fragments that were claimed to come from the Dead Sea Scrolls are modern forgeries. These five forgeries are included in the first volume of the series ‘Publications of Museum of the Bible’ which was published by Brill in 2016.

This volume has received sustained criticism from members of the academic community because it failed to provide information about the acquisition circumstances and collection history of the thirteen fragments it presented. In the introduction, the editor in chief stated only that they were acquired “on behalf of Mister Steven Green in four lots from four private collectors” adding the dates of purchase (November 2009, February 2010, May 2010, October 2014). Questions about the authenticity of all thirteen fragments were raised by many specialists, including one of the co-authors of the volume, and are still waiting to be fully answered.

This is merely the latest in a series of cases in which academics’ concerns about the provenance and authenticity of manuscripts have been ignored, despite the fact that most scholarly associations (e.g. ASOR, SBL, SCS, AIA and ASP) have policies and guidelines on these matters. It is clear that there were sustained serious flaws not only in terms of ethical collecting standards and museum best-practice, as the owners of the fragments have acknowledged, but also in publication good practices. As a group of specialists involved in the study of ancient manuscripts we ask Brill to clarify their position. Why did Brill allow the fragments to be published without proper discussion of their provenance, when one co-author had doubts about their authenticity?

This episode again demonstrates the urgent need for publishers as well as academics to exercise due diligence, through their peer reviewers, in checking that publications of antiquities, including ancient texts, acquired recently on the market give a full and annotated discussion of the acquisition and provenance history. We strongly suggest that Brill and other publishers treat this as seriously as they do copyright, and in their instructions to authors and contracts include a clause requiring the author or authors to be responsible for providing a full and proper explanation of the provenance and legitimacy of such recent acquisitions.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Roberta Mazza (University of Manchester)

Roger Bagnall (ISAW, New York University)

Dominic Rathbone (King’s College London)

Christopher Rollston (George Washington University)

Årstein Justnes (University of Agder)

Paul Schubert (University of Geneva)

Andrea Jördens (University of Heidelberg)

Rodney Ast (University of Heidelberg)

Amin Benaissa (University of Oxford)

Todd Hickey (University of California, Berkeley)

Bernhard Palme (University of Vienna)

Jennifer Knust (Duke University)

Brent Nongbri (Macquarie University)

Malcolm Choat (Macquarie University)

Caroline Schroeder (University of the Pacific)

Philip Alexander (University of Manchester)

Luigi Prada (University of Oxford)

Jennifer Cromwell (Manchester Metropolitan University)

Sofia Torallas Tovar (University of Chicago)

Michael Langlois (University of Strasbourg)

Nikolaos Gonis (University College London)

Graham Claytor (Hunter College, CUNY)

Please see the following link for the most up to date list of scholars who have endorsed the letter:

https://facesandvoices.wordpress.com/2018/11/05/open-letter-to-brill-fake-and-unprovenanced-manuscripts/

Response from Jasmine Lange, Chief Publishing Officer, Brill

In response to your Open Letter, Brill would like to express that we are aware of the ongoing discussion about forged fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls, as announced by the Museum of the Bible in its press release on 22 October 2018.

The forged fragments were included in the first volume of the Publications of Museum of the Bible (Brill 2016). The issue of the authenticity of fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls was recently addressed by Kipp Davis, one of the editors of this volume, in Brill’s academic journal, Dead Sea Discoveries (‘Nine Dubious ‘Dead Sea Scrolls’, fragments from the Twenty-First Century.’, https://doi.org/10.1163/15685179-12341428).

The role of Brill, as with all other academic publishers, is to facilitate the peer review process in order to ensure that publications meet the required academic criteria. In order to safeguard the originality and quality of our publications, each and every work is subject to peer review. In addition, we receive advice from multiple senior scholars in the appropriate field. As a member of Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE), we take our responsibility as academic publisher very seriously.

Brill and its editorial boards work in good faith and with integrity to further the advancement of scholarship. Given the highly specialized nature of many of our publications, Brill relies upon the judgment and expert advice of its editorial boards. Provenance has always been and remains a difficult and contentious issue with museum collections around the world, both public and private. We always aim at improving our processes and policies and we welcome you to have a discussion about formulating additional policies related to provenance and associated topics that promote integrity and strengthen the interests of the academic community.



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