In 1912, the Polish collector Wilfrid Voynich discovered an old, handwritten book, written in a never-before-seen alphabet and accompanied by illustrations. It has since been examined by historians, linguists, cryptologists, and computer scientists, who have generated many theories about its origins—including that it was forged by Voynich himself—without producing anything conclusive. More recently the ink, paint, and vellum have been dated to the 15th century, and their chemical makeup suggests they come from Italy. The scholar Stephen Skinner, by focusing on the drawings rather than the text, now believes the author to have been Jewish, as Danuta Kean writes:
[Skinner] draws evidence for his theory of the author’s identity from a range of illustrations in the manuscript, particularly a section in which naked women are depicted bathing in green pools supplied by intestine-like pipes. [He] believes the illustrations show [ritual] Jewish baths called mikva’ot, which are still used [by Orthodox Jewish women] after childbirth or menstruation.
Pointing to the fact that the pictures show only nude women and no men, Skinner told the Guardian, “The only place you see women like that bathing together in Europe at that time was in the purification baths that have been used by Orthodox Jews for the last 2,000 years.”
He believes the drawings were of an invention designed by the mysterious author that aimed to ensure [by magical means] an efficient supply of clean water to a mikveh. . . . Other evidence Skinner uses to support his theory includes the lack of Christian symbolism in the manuscript—unusual [for the] time. . . . “There are no saints or crosses, not even in the cosmological sections,” he said.
Considered in addition to the absence of religious symbolism, Skinner said, visual clues in the manuscript suggest its author was a Jewish physician and herbalist. Many of the plants depicted, alongside astrological charts, are medicinal herbs such as opium and cannabis.