Epigraphic Cynicism: The case of Christopher A. Rollston


The methodology of hermeneutical cynicism is cultured by agnostics and atheists who feel they also have a say in the Word of God or the Old Testament or the New and related sciences. They wish to create a kind of secular religion or cultic thinking that is severed from God or any authentication thereof.

Like “fake news” criers today, these scientists wish to sit down and cry all day long “foul, fake, forgery, propaganda” to every data they investigate. In this way they assist to the great network of anarchism and nihilism in the world. Incidently, a similar task was pursued by Othmar Keel and only when he retired in 2013 he acknowledged that he was actually an agnostic since the mid-sixties.

To sit with a microscope at the Israel Museum and look at the Seal Bulla of Neriyahu the scribe of Jeremiah and declare it as a forgery, is quite impressive. Impressive since the article published in Eretz Israel Volume 32, set out just to do that: spinning on his collection of forgeries data mentioning Shapiro, Zeitlin, Naveh, Sass, Heide, Ephªal, himself a couple of times, like fake crying beads around his wrist of his left hand. It has to be the left since he is writing with his right.

The Neriyahu Bulla was part of a hoard of Bullae that Avigad got at an antique dealer. SBL authors of fame have all treated it authentic and worthy for analysis. Already in 1989 with my meeting per chance at the very seals room in the Israel Museum of Avigad while I was pondering over it, the conversation started listed Naveh as a cynic. Peer-pressure remarks? I think Naveh was Avigad’s student. In those days, if something was “confirming the Bible” it was “progressive” for their students to raise issues and leave a comment of cynicism in the conclusion. These comments add up later to equal a total denial of the reality of the past. And that is Rollston. He added up these minuses and finally side with the group of scholars that says the glass is half-empty (a non-existing reality that is a fake) rather than the glass is half-full (a reality that confirms the Bible or the Word of God). The seal of Neriyahu is this example.

My own studies in seals revealed to myself that they were not “machine-made”. It is not like the one seal was made on an Iron Age machine and because Shapiro used a 19th century machine, it came out as a forgery. Naveh and Rollston (one his counsel) studied the preceding position of the samek over the pe in seals and they came to the conclusion that if it is authentic, the samek has to be slightly over the pe. What a silly remark. There is no room for individualism of seal making here. Was Neriyahu’s seal made in Egypt and the scribe there?

Then there is the doubt of the Bullae. Even if one can say the Bullae is no older than Shapiro in the 19th century, and there is no evidence for that given by Rollston on the Neriyahu seal, one has to ask, where is the original from which these imprints were made? If I was a holder of the original seal of Neriyahu, and I do not want to part with my seal, but I want to sell a couple of printouts, then Shapiro or similar could have printed on a Bulla the very seal, albeit late clay, and sell it as if it is antique. Just hypothetically.

Looting as a phenomenon in Israel should be studied with forgery as a phenomenon. Maybe the one depends on the other or overlaps or if one cannot disprove the one, it is not necessarily the other. Rollston’s premises rests on too little data and it is a disgrace that a prestigious journal like Eretz Israel even included this publication of cynicism in this volume.

The historian approaches the “Ugly Ditch” of G. Lessing and then all of us, faithful or unfaithful, even agnostic or atheistic, have to jump to conclusions on the past on mere dots that we have to connect. If the Word of God do provide lines helping us to select the dots to be connected in a senseful manner, why opting for an chaotic suggestion ending nowhere?


Koot van Wyk, Chongni, Sangju, South Korea, 11th of November 2019



Christopher A. Rollston, “The Bullae of Baruch Ben Neriah the Scribe and the Seal of Ma'adanah Daughter of the King: Epigraphic Forgeries of the 20th Century” Eretz Israel Vol. 32 dedicated to Joseph Naveh, Jerusalem: The Israel Exploration Society, 2016, pp. 79-90.