In recent decades, a number of texts and inscriptions in Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek that appeared to have been composed by ancient Jews and Christians were later discovered to be fakes—but not before being taken seriously by experts. Christopher Rollston, one of the leading authorities on Near Eastern inscriptions and paleography, discusses the subject with Daniel Silliman:
Forgers today have really become quite good. It’s not something that just anybody can do. And when just anybody attempts it, it’s painfully obvious that it’s a modern forgery and a particularly bad one.
Basically what is required is a good knowledge of the ancient language, whether that’s Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, Latin, or Coptic; a very good knowledge of the script; and a really good knowledge of the medium as well. A forger has to know how a piece was produced, like the chemical composition of the ink and other technical aspects. But if someone knows the language quite well and knows the script and has access to a scanning electron microscope with extended depth-of-field determinations of the chemical composition of the patina and the inks, it’s not all that difficult.
The forgeries that we’ve seen produced in the last 40 years—the good forgeries—are definitely by people with training in the field. Forgers are people who have gone through or washed out of graduate programs. Or they’re just venal scholars—greedy scholars with no scruples. I think that’s what we have with the Dead Sea Scroll forgeries at the Museum of the Bible. These are sophisticated forgeries, and I think they’re from a senior scholar with a lot of experience.
The damage that forgeries do can be enormous. It corrupts the data set we use to understand life in the biblical world. . . . [T]hat information gets into books. It gets into articles. And once it gets that far, it’s hard to eradicate.