An ancient Torah scroll reportedly seized from smugglers by security forces in Turkey in November is in fact a crude forgery, the museum analyzing it said on Tuesday.
The story of the seizure gained worldwide attention in several media outlets last month after Turkish news agencies said police in the country’s south west had unearthed what they believed was a 700-year old holy text being offered by “smugglers” for $1.93 million.
Pictures of the rare discovery showed a colorful but haphazardly leather-bound book, with Hebrew markings that appeared at first glance to be upside-down and don’t seem to resemble actual Hebrew phrases.
After sharing the pictures on Twitter, i24NEWS’ culture correspondent Maya Margit noticed several respondents doubted the authenticity of the find, over which police said they had detained one man and bailed three others.
“As we see from the page, this book is not Torah,” a spokesman for the Hagia Sofia Museum in Istanbul wrote in an email, noting that Torahs from this period should be scrolls rather than a bound book.
“Most of these books are forger[ies]. But we can’t say more without conducting further research,” the spokesperson added.
Turkey faces a growing problem of fake antiquities, including Judaica, experts have observed.
“The manuscript looked completely wrong from the language and material points of view, a very bad fake,” Dr Roberta Mazza, a papyrologist at the United Kingdom’s University of Manchester told i24NEWS.
“In recent years there have been a considerable number of allegedly ancient manuscripts offered through eBay accounts based in Turkey, which have been selling a mix of fake and genuine documents offered without any documented provenance,” she said.
“Fake material is often presented as Jewish or Christian because it appeals to international buyers.”
A market for fraudulent antiquities was further spurred by Syria’s almost six-years-long civil war, the Los Angeles Times reported last year.
The breakdown of rule of law across swathes of the country led to numerous unauthorized excavations that created an appetite for ancient Syrian treasures, the report suggested.
It’s a market counterfeiters and touts have apparently eagerly grasped.
Syria’s director-general of antiquities and museums Maamoun Abdulkarim was quoted as saying that the portion of fakes among the artefacts he sees has jumped to 70% in the last few years.
full story with photographs: