Monday, April 28, 2014

Laboratory tests can’t always catch modern forgeries - as Harvard Theological Review has (inadvertently) proved

I am happy to have the opportunity to post a guest blog entry by Andrew Bernhard.  Those who have been following the discussions over the Jesus' Wife Fragment will know Andrew from his all-important contributions showing its dependence on Grondin's interlinear edition of the Gospel of Thomas (especially Jesus' Wife Fragment: Further Evidence of Modern Forgery and The Jesus' Wife Fragment: How the Forgery was done):

Laboratory tests can’t always catch modern forgeries - as Harvard Theological Review has (inadvertently) proved
Andrew Bernhard

We now know that laboratory tests used to assess the age of papyrus fragments don’t always catch modern forgeries.

In the April 2014 issue of Harvard Theological Review, the results of numerous laboratory tests run on a papyrus fragment were published (some in the periodical, some online). The tests were performed by top scientists from Harvard University, Columbia University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and the University of Arizona.

The papyrus fragment was studied by Micro-Raman Spectroscopy, which revealed the ink consistently had a chemical composition “very similar to carbon-based inks studied for a wide variety of manuscripts including several dated from the early centuries of the Christian era.”

The papyrus fragment was studied by Fourier Transform Infrared Microspectroscopy, which revealed that it was “composed of oxidized cellulosic material, which is consistent with old papyrus.”

Radiocarbon measurements of the papyrus fragment were carried out by accelerated mass spectrometry twice, first showing the fragment dated between 681 and 877 CE, then showing it dated between 648 and 800 CE (median 718 CE).

This papyrus was a fragment of the Gospel of John: nothing in the laboratory tests suggested it was a modern forgery . . . but it is.

Since seeing images of the papyrus fragment on Harvard Divinity School’s website last Thursday, Christian Askeland has demonstrated that this Gospel of John fragment simply cannot be a genuine ancient manuscript. It shares all 17 of its line breaks with another manuscript of John (Codex Qau). Given that scribes had different size handwriting, page widths varied, etc., authentically ancient manuscripts just don’t have this kind of similarity with each other.

And they certainly NEVER have the same kind of relationship Askeland has noted here. The recently examined Gospel of John fragment copies every other line break from Codex Qau . . . with one exception. The last two line breaks copied from Codex Qau are consecutive – it’s a page break in an edition of the codex published in 1924 that separates them instead.

While science has given us many exciting and powerful tools that can be used in laboratory analysis, these tools unfortunately can’t always answer the questions we would like. In the future study of manuscripts, we would all be better served if we gave other types of analysis (textual, paleographic, etc.) the consideration they genuinely deserve.

If one modern forgery could escape detection in laboratory tests, is there any reason to suspect that another couldn’t as well?


Serge Cazelais said...

A few years ago, I attended a graduate course on Epistemology of Humanities and Religious Studies taught by Dr. Raymond Lemieux at Laval University. He has told us many times that our methodologies in Humanities are most of the time more reliable than methodologies in hard sciences (sciences dures in French) such as Physics and Chemistry.

We may now have a fantastic illustration of this, since a bunch of humanity nerds seems to have debunked a forgery where chemical and spectroscopical analysis have failed.

Mark Goodacre said...

Thanks, Serge. That's interesting. It certainly looks like it. I think one of the difficulties too is that the media generally love men and women in white coats, and in this case they deferred to what they assumed to be the true authorities.

Richard Budelberger said...

« Those who have been following the discussions over the Jesus’ Wife Fragment will know Andrew [Bernhard] from his all-important contributions showing its dependence on Grondin’s interlinear edition of the Gospel of Thomas »… : you can’t say this big lie, Dr Goodacre ; your friend Bernhard is, maybe, the first of you who talked about Grondin’s 2002 pdf, but he was unable to see in it nothing… I, at my first glance, on October 7, 2012, around 5 p.m. [Paris time, 3 p.m. GMT], saw the – my – “Missing M” ; during two days, I’ve searched on the Web who was already aware of this « “smoking gun” », dixit Dr Goodacre – because I was unable to think that nobody saw it before me, since the #JWF was online since almost THREE weeks ! – (I’m too consciencious), but on October 9, 2012, at 2:37 a.m. [Paris time, 0:37 a.m. GMT], I’ve decided to publish my discovery [23]. Living in France, near Paris, I have a credit of about 6-9 hours against the Americas, especially Canada, where live todaye Chicago gangsters : two buddies stole my discovery, wrote that their attention was “recently” drawn by the Holy Ghost to that “Missing M”, Bernhard fell at your knees, to avoid you to publish HIS (!) discovery, so you did, waiting one night&day until he – working, I think, laughing of him, all night long writing “his” paper with my discovery in !… – published his forgery, before you published your own paper. Till todaye, D Day, I was thinking, sincerely, that you were “abused” by those two forgers – buddies, gangsters… whatever you want – (see the successive and different versions of this story on Grondin’s #GJW timeline… – You missed them ? I have all of them, carefully archived !… – trying desperatly to lie but not too much but lying [lieing !]… changing the words, their order…). I already told that sad story, many times, on Twitter, on weblogs ; on November 14, 2012, I wrote to Andrew Brown, so-called “journalist” in that Liberal shit, The Guardian : I ain’t got nothing back, even an aknowledgement ! But I must consider, now, that you are too friend with those two fellows, that you prefer a big lie to the Truth. Your buddy Bernhard may ridiculously claim that he is the discoverer of MY “Missing M”, he is nothing else than a dishonest scholar, nothing to do with our Dear Dr Karen L. King.

I know that this comment will be quickly deleted, but it doesn’t matter, it is already on the Web ! Fuck Bernhard and Grondin !

[See Grondin’s stupid recent comments on your blog, when he has nobody to steal driven by the Holy Ghost…]

[Since that on Twitter, you’ve never answered any of my tweets – except once –, nor read them, it is useless that you need to follow my account.]

Mark Goodacre said...

Richard: I do not appreciate your unpleasant and accusatory tone. It is not deserved. Nevertheless, I do acknowledge that you discovered that missing mu independently of Andrew, just as I too discovered it independently. You should be given credit for that, without question, but there is no need at all for the unpleasantness. The difficulty with this business is that when the evidence is out there, it is inevitable that more than one person will run across it independently. My guess is that if you wrote in a more coherent and friendly way, your initial discovery might have been noticed.

Steve Caruso said...

Suddenly I am reminded of another forgery case (well in this case, cases) that was recently discussed on CBS:

Wolfgang Beltracchis has many, many forgeries *in museums* presently (some of which appeared on the covers of very prestigious auctions). He was only caught when one of his paints had traces of titanium white in it -- an anachronism which the label didn't mention.

Where one is detected, one *has* to worry about others.


Mike Grondin said...

Mark - I have no idea why Richard B. adopts the scornful tone that he does. I have tried several times to contact him on twitter (he doesn't seem to be anywhere else), from shortly after my timeline appeared in 2012 up until very recently on your blog. He has never responded in any way. (Ironic, then that he complains that no one responds to him.) It's hard to tell for sure, but I believe that he is at one point here referring to a line from a GThomas message that I sent October 10th, 2012, in which I wrote to you that "My attention has recently been drawn to the fact" of the missing 'M' in the pdf. Although I credit Richard B in my timeline as being the first to post this finding, it was neither him nor the Holy Spirit to whom I was referring. In fact, I didn't see his note on Suciu's blog until later. What I did see the day before I wrote this was an advance copy of Andrew's paper. Since Andrew had told me to keep it in confidence, I didn't use his name in the GThomas note. I would suggest to Richard B that he accept the credit which has been given him and stop slandering others who acted in good faith.

Mark Goodacre said...

Thanks, Mike. Agreed.

Jens Knudsen (Sili) said...

Agreed that there is such a thing as physics arrogance, but I don't think the critique of the 'hard sciences' is warranted.

The problem is their public perception:
"I think one of the difficulties too is that the media generally love men and women in white coats,"
Most scientists know the limitations of their art and thrive acknowledge uncertainty and probabilities. The problem is that newspapers hate those things - as witnessed by the proclamations of "ancient" to gloss over the difference between 4th and 8th centuries.

I'd hate to meet the physicist who didn't consider the paleographic, linguistic and literary evidence as well when making a judgment on authenticity.