33

Some time ago there was news of a manuscript stolen from a Syrian museum, seized from smugglers in Turkey. There are many other articles about this as well.

Turkish police seize ancient manuscript from smugglers —Suspects in central Kırşehir province attempt to sell ancient leather manuscript thought to be stolen from Syria

Turkish police recovered an ancient leather manuscript from suspected antiquities traffickers in a central province, security sources said on Tuesday. […]

The 16-page ancient book written in Hebrew bore different bird figures, a hexagonal shape and a red stone on the cover page. […]

According to suspects’ testimonies to the police, they bought the manuscript in the southeastern Mardin province and were planning to sell it in Istanbul for a large sum of money.

The ancient manuscript was stolen from Syria city museum during the conflicts and was brought to Mardin illegally, the suspect said in their testimonies.

Is this manuscript ancient and authentic? It looks like it could be a modern fabrication, it's in a very good shape.

Cover

Illustration of a dragon

Illustration of a hand

There are more photos here.

21
  • 2
    What is the content of the manuscript ? The authenticity will depend on the content, not the cover.
    – Nigel J
    Jul 13 at 8:48
  • 9
    The phrase "ancient Hebrew manuscript" is ambiguous, since it is not clear whether "ancient" describes the manuscript or the language. In this case, I don't see anything to suggest that anyone is claiming that the language is ancient Hebrew.
    – phoog
    Jul 13 at 9:37
  • 14
    Another thing to notice is that the pages are printed on the right side of the book and the book starts with the spine on the left. Since Hebrew is a right-to-left language, it would be more realistic for the pages to be printed on the left side with the spine on the right. I've never seen a one-sided English book with pages only on the left side and a spine on the right. If I were to counterfeit something like this, I would use an actual Hebrew text and print the pages on the left side.
    – Galactic
    Jul 14 at 0:24
  • 9
    How was I supposed to know that before asking the question? And why can't there be an exception? Jul 15 at 12:37
  • 7
    @Galactic Sure, to some of us with knowledge of the subject, it is clear this is a fake. However to presume everyone should know things just because you do is just obnoxious. The OP is justified in asking their question because they didn't have the prerequisite knowledge to spot that this is a fake - now they've asked they'll learn a little more and might spot it next time. Jul 16 at 8:30
67

No.

That is anything but what is claimed it is.

This is a rather large scale scam now often titled "Turkish Golden Leather Brownies" or some variation thereof. And completely fake.

The word ancient may be ambiguous, to a certain extent, but this was produced in very recent years.

And all are in on this by now: the forgers, the 'sellers', the police and the media reporting on this.

It is certainly not that 'ancient', and not anything remotely 'ancient Jewish'. The codex format has to be categorized from 'highly unusual for the alleged timeframe' up to impossible (for something like an alleged ~"2500 year old ancient Torah"), as these are to this day preferably in scroll format. A 'Jewish bible' in codex form may be the inspiration for this, but the old and known Aleppo Codex is from the 10th century. Any older codex "stolen from a Syrian museum" would have been a sensation and widely known before it was stolen.

The 'Golden Brownies' Turkish Fake Manuscripts

There has been a whole series of codices and scrolls turning up in Turkey in police seizures from 'smugglers' that are being proclaimed as Syrian loot. They are characterised by being

  1. nonsense texts and garish pictures loosely imitating Muslim, Jewish and Christian manuscripts
  2. Often written using gold ink (or gold leaf?)
  3. rough tatty edges
  4. crumbly dark brown or brown-orange leather (I bet it's acid-treated). Sometimes written on heavily stained 'papyrus' (or is it banana leaves?)
  5. pages - usually 20-30 - roughly bound with thongs of lightish or greyish leather

enter image description here

They seem all to have turned up in recent years (mostly post 2016). When they first appeared, Sam Hardy and I considered they were fakes, a verdict that many have accepted, though Turkish policemen and eager journalists writing about crime in the Middle East do not seem yet to have got the message, and possibly buyers too, as the more recent ones are getting sloppier.

Where are they from? I pulled out the most accessible information and quickly plotted them, the codices are being seized in south west Anatolia, codices and ('torah' and other) scrolls in Northwest Anatolia while only two have in fact come from nearer Syria (Adana province - here and here). They seem part of the same series as the rest. A group of six came from Usak and another four recently seized at Denizli - is this perhaps near the centre of their production? But the map does tend to suggest that these items are not 'surfacing' on the Syrian-Turkish border.

Paul Barford: "The 'Golden Brownies' Turkish Fake Manuscripts", Portable Antiquity Collecting and Heritage Issues, Sunday, 17 February 2019.

To which I might add that the ample use of illustrations is suspicious as well, be it the dragon or the hamsa in the pictures in question. The same goes for the apparently ubiquitous use of the Star of David hexagram on the covers of those forgeries. While now this is supposedly a universally recognized symbol of Judaism, actual use in this (in the case of this 'Golden brownie', pseudo-) religious context is quite a bit younger than commonly thought. Speaking again against it being 'evidence for old', but contrarily for this piece being a youngish & haphazard forgery.

What is visible in 'Hebrew lettering' seems to be quite gibberish:

For the page with the dragon I read in the first line:

ההאלאלה

Which doesn't make any sense to me. The letter forms also appear to be imitating a rather old style. But Hebrew paleography experts might not be that interested in determining to which timeframe exactly these clumsy forms should be associated with. But codex format combined with letter shaping again makes no sense at all. The 10th century Aleppo codex looks more like this:

enter image description here

One might argue that it could represent a form of code, cipher or be used for decorative, meditative, hermetic, or kabbalistic purposes — in short: also meant to be unintelligible for 'outsiders' — but it does not appear to be a straight Hebrew language religious text? Googling these letters in combination then leads to just one hit: a 'politically incorrect' forum.

Why and how are they produced?

Further to my earlier post on the phenomenon of a constant stream of 'Golden Brownies' (GBs) emerging in Turkey, I note that yet another "Torah" (curious that almost all of these fake manuscripts are from religious minorities in that region) has been trumpeted in the Turkish press (Daily Sabah, 'Turkish police nab 3 suspects trying to sell ancient Torah for $1.25M', 25 March 2020; Hurriyet Daily News, 'Gendarmerie seizes historical Torah in Turkey’s Mus', undated). Not only is the object not even remotely a Torah (the first five books of Moses typically in scroll form), it is so obviously a modern piece of tat that a mere moggy can spot it as farcical.

Have any of these insanely-priced GBs ever actually been sold at all or were they intended to serve another purpose? It's strangely convenient that their purported "sellers" are constantly being caught, it's strangely unnatural that they are seldom found with anything else of remotely comparable value, and I sense a possibility that the whole operation may have been deliberately engineered as a sickening political tool - a devious way of covertly promulgating antisemitic propaganda in broad daylight. Any other artefacts supposedly "recovered" with the GBs would be merely 'smoke and mirrors'.

What better way to ensure support for an authoritarian regime than to stimulate mass fear of a 'hidden enemy'? It matters nothing that a few scholars recognise the fakery; the target is the general public and neither Turkey nor Syria will be the first country to fall for that fear tactic and endorse a tyrant.

David Knell: "Leather books from Turkey: more thoughts", Ancient Heritage. Thoughts on ancient artefacts, their collection and ethical issues

For real artifacts from Syria that were looted we see:

Sources have reported the possession of vulnerable objects by both rebels who were ‘safekeeping’ the objects (and the site) as a ‘confidence-building measure’ with Israel and jihadists who were negotiating to exchange the objects for prisoners from the Assad regime (Issacharoff, 2013). Ultimately, it is possible that both sources were correct and the differences in descriptions were dependent upon the political needs of the describers, as Failaq al-Rahman was both an element of the Free Syrian Army and an ally of Jabhat al-Nusra.

Non-state propaganda around the world

Following a nondescript report of the seizure of a supposedly ‘ancient leather-bound bible’ (which was a poor-quality fake) from four men (two Syrian citizens, one Iraqi citizen and one Turkish citizen) in Turkey, where the provenience of the object was explicitly stated to be a ‘mystery’ (Russia Today, 2018), insecure information was spread through unknowing consumers and lurid propaganda was spread by religious activists.

There is an increase in production of forgeries of art and antiquities in Turkey, including specifically forgeries of texts of religious minorities that are attributed to Syria (Barford, 2019). Lots of these various materials are shifted together, from genuine antiquities to fake antiquities to fake art (cf. Antakya Gazetesi, 2019).

Sometimes, when law enforcement agencies identify crimes-in-progress, they conduct undercover operations. The criminals, who necessarily target clients who have more money than sense, believe they have found marks. After all, the law enforcement agents try to convince the criminals that they have found marks. (And, when the marks are not undercover cops, they believe that they are clever enough to outwit the criminal and turn a profit on the enterprise, yet are stupid enough to want to buy visibly poor forgeries.) So, the criminals ask for a ridiculously high price.

Then, as soon as the criminals have attempted to sell illicit cultural goods (whether by trying to sell looted antiquities or stolen artefacts or by trying to fraudulently sell fake objects), they are detained by the law enforcement agents. The agents do not bargain the criminal down; they simply wrap up the sting, then register the claimed object and the desired price (e.g. Cumhuriyet, 2020).

In a circle jerk that is beneficial to everyone except those outside it, the agency, the state and the media collude in advancing the narrative that these serious economic and political crimes are being effectively policed.

Samuel Andrew Hardy: "fuelling of an illicit market and financing of political violence in Syria, feeding of propaganda around the world", conflict antiquities, illicit antiquities trading in economic crisis, organised crime and political violence, 02 Apr 2020.

That 'the media' is in on this — or pick the heuristic razor you prefer — or at the very least extremely lazy copypasta producers without any source checking done whatsoever, here is proof:

Even the Jerusalem Post copies from Reuters this laughably sick headline:

2,500-year-old golden Torah seized in Turkey from suspect's car - The ancient artifact was simply wrapped in a plastic bag wedged in the pockets of a nearly otherwise empty cloth bag in the trunk of a car.

enter image description here
enter image description here

Police can then be seen removing the golden Torah from the plastic bag with gloved hands, before removing it from ancient protective casing. Pages in which ancient inscriptions are written are shown. Five people were arrested, the source added. The incident comes shortly after similarly dated biblical scrolls were previously thought to be, were verified

By REUTERS, JERUSALEM POST STAFF MARCH 28, 2021

These pictures are re-used in the following article header, and they indeed quite atrocious to look at in context:

enter image description here

Turkish police would soon announce they had found what they believed to be a Torah that was between 2,000 and 2,500 years old. A Jewish manuscript that was as old as the Dead Sea Scrolls? The news quickly spread to local and international media.

When Rabbi Mendy Chitrik, Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Turkey and director of the Alliance of Rabbis in Islamic States, heard the news, he rolled his eyes.

Though Turkish police have not yet released expert analysis of the artifact, it’s almost certainly a fake — and obviously so.

For one, the object in question is bound as a book, not a scroll. It also contains the Star of David, which only became a recognizable Jewish symbol in the middle ages, as well as niqqudot — Hebrew diacritical marks created in the late first millennium AD and rarely used in religious texts. Gold lettering would also not be valid ink for a religious manuscript under Jewish law.

Not to mention that some of the text itself looks to be complete gibberish.

It’s far from the first such artifact Chitrik has seen. As a rabbi living in Istanbul for more than two decades, he’s frequently contacted by tourists, collectors or concerned community members about a “Jewish artifact” they saw in one of Istanbul’s many bazaars and antique shops.

enter image description here

Another counterfeit manuscript found in Turkey, it features the slogan of the Mossad around a black sun, a motif generally associated with Norse paganism and more recently white supremacist groups.

“Every day I get these messages,” Chitrik said. “I stopped downloading them on my phone because it takes up too much space. They say ‘Rabbi, why don’t we save this ancient megillah from Iran or this ancient prayer book from Syria or the Torah scroll from Iraq.’ It’s all fake. Fake, fake, fake from beginning to end.”

— David Ian Klein: "In Turkey, counterfeit Jewish artifacts are commonplace – and often sloppy", Forward, 9 Apr 2021.

For comparison, around the same date for reporting this, and around roughly the same age for dating an ancient Torah text scroll, (note how the Reuters/JPost reporters are oblivious to the fact that they do not show any scroll but a codex emulation in that video) the Jerusalem Post showed this:

enter image description here

— Rossella Tercatin: "Lost biblical scroll may have been 2,700 years old, Israeli scholar says", The Jerusalem Post, March 22, 2021 19:15

If there had been any such an ancient artifact in "the Syria city museum", the world would have known that this codex exists, given all the remarkable and incongruent features of it. On the other hand, the world would now have been quite astounded to learn that the expert smugglers and forgers even managed to find Syria city, even with a museum in it.

This codex as presented in the article is certainly not 2500 years old, as neither is the codex presented in question, and if those spreading this obvious lie are found in Turkish 'police', Reuters and Jerusalem Post, then that's that.

14
  • 7
    @Joshua What I looked at (not all) looks to me like quite treyf aleph-bet soup? Jul 13 at 21:03
  • 3
    Also, I would suggest that the idea that Reuters and the Jerusalem Post are mistaken is perhaps a better lede than saying that they are "in on it," without proof. For that matter, why can't Turkish police (not being experts in antiquities, on the whole) be equally duped?
    – Obie 2.0
    Jul 13 at 21:19
  • 3
    @Obie2.0 A local Turkish police seeing this kind the first time might be fooled easily? But after so many 'manuscripts' being seized, the upper echelons must know what they are dealing with & the scale. The first books will be examined quite closely (sensation?), but there is not one story of these Golden Brownies being proven to be authentic. A similar rule should be used for big media houses: 'fool me once…', with the '2500 year old', this amounts to really repeated grave intellectual insult. Jul 13 at 21:25
  • 6
    worth pointing out that the David Ian Klein article is incorrect about that being a Black Sun. It's an Ægishjálmur instead, which is an early modern Icelandic magical stave (often erroneously described by neo-pagans as a viking bindrune), and unlike the Black Sun (a symbol created largely de novo by the SS), it is not especially associated with white supremacist groups
    – Tristan
    Jul 14 at 9:14
  • 5
    This was pretty much instantly recognizable as a fake by the fact that it was a codex, rather than a scroll, and that it had so few letters per page. The only books I've seen that are this short are books meant to be read to toddlers at bedtime.
    – T.E.D.
    Jul 15 at 3:23
4

Adding to what @LangLangC said, the text makes absolutely no sense:

Here is a transcription of the text in the following picture:

Page with Dragon on It

ההאלאלה
כמחההאלטלעאב
הההאא
תהאהא
מחהטלעא
סמבוא
אדלעףא
בתםההש
בתשההש
במההלאהאבבהה
משההאלש

This is clearly not a cypher of some sort, because the letter frequencies do not match the letter frequency of Hebrew.

The most common letter in the text is ה, which is used 28% of the time. On the other hand, the most common letter in Hebrew is י, which is used only 11% of the time. The second most common letter in the text is א, which is used 19% of the time. The second most common letter in Hebrew is ה, also used about 11% of the time.

10
  • 7
    Not to suggest the manuscript is legitimate, but could you source those letter frequencies? Further, are you using texts contemporaneous with the supposed date of the manuscript? If those frequencies are from modern Hebrew, they might well not match ancient texts, so that would not be much evidence.
    – Obie 2.0
    Jul 13 at 21:14
  • 11
    This only excludes a simple monoalphabetic substitution cipher. (Though given the pretended age, it would be unlikely to be something more sophisticated.) Jul 13 at 22:01
  • 25
    The letter frequency is irrelevant for such a small sample, it could very well be a list of names or a poem - both of which would have drastically different frequencies because of rhyme and alliterations etc.
    – pipe
    Jul 13 at 23:22
  • 7
    This is an answer based purely on a theoretical model. We expect answers to be based on empirical evidence rather than speculative predictions. Please edit it to add references to empirical data.
    – Oddthinking
    Jul 14 at 4:41
  • 3
    @T.E.D. It's not uncommon for ancient writings not to have word breaks. Have a look at the Codex Alexandrinus, for example. (Though that is of course Greek and not Hebrew.)
    – Kyralessa
    Jul 15 at 11:35
2

Probably Not

Ancient text and manuscripts were almost exclusively made from either Vellum or Parchment or Papyrus. It is only during the late 14th century that the paper that replaced these things got spread from China through the Arabic world to Europe.

This looks like a type of engraved leather, this is not what ancient manuscripts were written on.

Example of Papyrus

Papyrus (P. BM EA 10591 recto column IX, beginning of lines 13–17)

Examples of Vellum

Magna_Carta_(British_Library_Cotton_MS_Augustus_II.106)

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .