Sunday, February 5, 2023

Craig Evans on the DSS-Like Fragments

Craig Evans recently posted a video interview suggesting that the post-2002 DSS-like fragments now generally supposed to be forgeries are in fact likely authentic. He bases this on reported claims by Weston Fields that these fragments really did come from the Kandos' vault and that the phenomena that are used to justify rejecting the authenticity of the fragments are common in genuine DSS. For those who are interested, here was my brief (spoiler: skeptical) response to his Facebook post.

Thanks for posting your thoughts on the topic. Surely no one will object to a closer examination of authentic DSS to provide comparanda, but someone would have to pay for it, and I wouldn't expect very positive results. In my own experience (and quickly double checking some of the better preserved scrolls), minor cracks and delamination are almost always secondary when they co-occur with ink. You can often see clearly how the ink cracks with the skin and leaves the lighter interior exposed. When layers of the skin separate, you can see that the ink on the surface flakes off with it, and you would be very hard pressed to find a compelling example (let alone multiple) where an ancient scribe wrote over such an already partially-delaminated surface. The better preserved scrolls demonstrate that the DSS were generally quite smooth when inscribed. When there were issues with the preparation of the skin (holes, cracks, or even rough patches), the scribes usually avoided writing over these spots. So I find it very unlikely that we would find such a high proportion of these sorts of irregularities in the contested fragments if an ancient writer was writing on the skin. And this is in addition to the observation that most of the DSS were not even written on the type of coarse-rubbery leather found in the contested fragments, but were rather stretched, dried, and carefully prepared for writing. The two types of skin preparation are so fundamentally different that I cannot believe most of the contested fragments were ever intended for writing in the first place. So I don’t think this speculation really explains the suspicious phenomena in the contested fragments or warrants further speculations about hypothetical purity rituals. Add to that the many suspicious paleographic and textual features that have been noted, and I think you will have a very hard time convincing many specialists of the authenticity of most of the contested fragments today.

Update 11 Feb 2023

Stephen Goranson informed me of a video response posted by Kipp Davis.


  1. Thanks, this brief-but-specific comment from you is helpful

  2. Another much-debated question concerning whether a claimed ancient Bible-related text is genuine or a modern fake is examined in a new book:

    The Secret Gospel of Mark
    A Controversial Scholar, a Scandalous Gospel of Jesus, and the Fierce Debate over Its Authenticity
    by Geoffrey S. Smith and Brent C. Landau
    240 Pages, 6.12 x 9.25 in, 8 b-w illus.
    Hardcover. Yale U. P.
    [to be] Published: Tuesday, 21 Mar 2023 [but already available via amazon kindle]

    It is a contribution to learning that includes some new (to me) information, but (to me) not all of its assertions are convincing.
    They make a good case that the “Letter to Theodore” that claims to quote secret Gospel verses is not by Clement of Alexandria, but was written later. Some other sections may be more debatable.