Markers of Authenticity in 2019

Having run some 12 events, including a major international conference and a showcase event in 2018, and feeling at once somewhat burnt out and that we were not making enough time for research and writing, the Markers of Authenticity team pulled back a little in 2019, restricting ourselves to three seminars and an event showcasing our own research, all of which were generously sponsored by the newly inaugurated Macquarie University Centre for Ancient Cultural Heritage and the Environment. The slimmer program of events notwithstanding, we were nevertheless pleased with what we were able to put on, which focussed as always on putting representatives of different disciplines in dialogue around the themes of the research stream.

MemoryImageIn our opening seminar for the year, we asked how collaborative memory works in practice, inviting family historian A/Prof. Tanya Evans to talk about her research on family historians’ work with memory, and educational psychologist A/Prof. Penny van Bergen to discuss her work how showing how reminiscing with mothers and others supports young children’s memory and emotional development. We were overjoyed that bringing these two researchers into dialogue resulted in a new collaborative research project between them, and look forward to hearing about the results of that work in the future.

In May we asked Renaissance historian Dr Nic Baker, and Dr John Selby, an expert onRiskImage technology and internet fraud from the Macquarie Business School, to discuss the
Authenticity of Risk. From them we learned about financial speculation in sixteenth century Italy, through the lens of diverse attitudes to gambling, and the threats posed to authentic online interactions by cyber crime.

In August, we held our final seminar in the regular series, in which we were privileged to be able to host Dr Crystal Abidin from Curtin University, who spoke with A/Prof. Hsu-Ming Teo, Head of English at Macquarie, on Authentic Selves. In this fascinating seminar Dr Abidin talked us through her work on Asian online influencers, from ‘calibrated amateurism’ to ‘porous authenticity’, while SelfDraftA/Prof. Teo gave us a preview of forthcoming work on the ways in which the cultural authenticity of Asian families is constructed in romance novels. The 40-strong audience spoke to the pulling power of the speakers and the research on display, and Dr Abidin generously made time to talk to ECRs and students in the team.

For our final event of the year, the team working on the ARC funded project ‘Forging Antiquity’ held a afternoon seminar entitled ‘Deviant Expertise and Malicious Thievery’ to showcase their research in the project to date. Graduate students, project staff, and student interns talked an audience of c. 50 people though their findings on forgery, ethics, and provenance in papers and posters.


Along the way in 2019, the Forging Antiquity project hosted five student interns in the second half of the year, who worked on a diverse set of topics related to the ARC funded projects under the team’s aegis. They all did fantastic work, some of which we’llTeam showcase further in the future. We were very pleased that Evie Handby, who undertook an internship collecting information on the fake Hebrew and Syriac bibles which have been showing up in Turkey during the last decade, will start a Masters of Research thesis on this topic in 2020.

During the year, Markers of Authenticity was also renewed as a Faculty of Arts Research Stream at Macquarie University, and will soon have an internet presence on the Faculty’s research pages. We look forward to taking part in the program of events to mark the opening of Macquarie new Arts precinct in 2020, in what will be the fifth year of the seminar. Best wishes from us all for a happy new year, and see your in 2020!

The Markers of Authenticity team

Authentic Selves

For our third Markers of Authenticity seminar for 2019, we’re going to consider the ways in which the self is projected, constructed, and created,  from internet culture to literature. Join us on Friday 30th August, 4–6pm, for an interdisciplinary seminar sponsored by the Centre for Ancient Cultural Heritage and the Environment in the Australian Hearing Hub, Level 3, Rm 202 (the ‘Recreation room’: note change from usual venue).


Influencers and Cultures of Authenticity-making

Dr Crystal Abidin, Senior Research Fellow & ARC DECRA Fellow in Internet Studies, Curtin University / Affiliate Researcher with the Media Management and Transformation Centre, Jönköping University.

In the earliest days of Influencer commerce, the allure was premised on the diary-like reportage of people’s everyday lives, in the rhetoric of confessional documentaries. The regularity and frequency of their updates mirrored the daily rhythms of a teenager’s social life and attracted followers: Their blogs became a means for other girls to learn how to be social through consumption, within their modest spending power. Today, these pioneers are among the most seasoned veterans in influencer culture, innovating with new disclosure strategies to sustain followers over their decade-long careers. Drawing from research on regional Influencer cultures since 2008, in this seminar I will provide a brief overview of the concepts ‘Perceived interconnectedness’, ‘Relatability’, ‘Calibrated amateurism’, and ‘Porous authenticity’ for discussion in relation to cultures of authenticity-making.

Cultural Authenticity, the Family, and East Asian Romance Novels

Associate Professor Hsu-Ming Teo, Department of English, Macquarie University.

In 2018 the film Crazy Rich Asians was released to much fanfare and publicity, earning nominations at the Golden Globes and other awards, and grossing $174,532,921 in the United States and $238,532,921 worldwide. Although criticized within Asian markets, especially in Singapore, for its erasure of non-ethnically Chinese characters from the romantic comedy, Crazy Rich Asians was lauded in the US for its all-Asian cast – something seldom seen in Hollywood. Romance stories featuring Asian protagonists are still few and far between, leading writers, readers, and bloggers with an Asian background to establish websites that compile lists of Asian-themed romances, as well as frustrated blogs that ask “Are Asian Men Not Sexy?” and “Where the Hell Are All the Asians?”.

The demand by bloggers and readers on such websites for “sexy Asians” raises an intriguing question: what exactly is it about a romance novel that makes it “Asian”? Protagonists who are from the dizzying diversity of “Asian” backgrounds? Is “Asianness” a term from race or the process of racialization? Or ethnic variations within a racialized category? Or do national origins – Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, the People’s Republic of China, Thailand, South Korea, India, the Philippines, and so on – contribute more to particular types of Asianness? And what about Asian-American romances – the most substantial contemporary genre in which protagonists of Asian backgrounds are currently found. Are fully assimilated American romantic protagonists of Asian background, who wear their cultural difference lightly and whose Asianness is virtually invisible, sufficient to make a romance Asian? Or must Asian difference be emphasized no matter how many generations the Asian-American protagonist’s family has been in the United States?

This paper considers how Asianness is created as an example of Gayatri Spivak’s “strategic essentialism”, and through strategies of what Stanley Fish calls “strong” and “weak” multiculturalism. It looks at how history, culture, and, above all, a certain notion of the oppressive Asian family are used to create a sense of authentic Asianness in the contemporary romance genre.

Authenticity of Risk

For our second Markers of Authenticity seminar for 2019, we’ll turn our attention to the concept of risk and how risk is made meaningful to us from Renaissance Italy through to the cyber security frontlines of today. Join us on Friday 24th May, 4–6pm, for a cross-faculty seminar sponsored by the Centre for Ancient Cultural Heritage and the Environment in the Australian Hearing Hub, Level 5, Rm 212.

How Unknown was the Unknown Future? Cheats and Frauds in Renaissance Italy

Dr Nicholas Baker, Department of Modern History, Politics and International Relations.

According to the sixteenth-century Church, gambling was problematic because it was immoral and sinful; but according to most other Renaissance sources the real problem with gambling was not metaphysical but rather the fact that  frequently the odds were not equal but rigged through deception, fraud, or cheating. I will reflect on how sixteenth-century Italians thought about risk in relation to financial speculation on apparently unknown future outcomes.

Trust, Authenticity and Cybersecurity Risks

Dr John Selby, Department of Accounting and Corporate Governance

Since the widespread adoption of the Internet in the 1990s, government, businesses and society have all become exposed to significant and growing cybersecurity risks which undermine our concepts of trust and authenticity. Cyber-criminals have sought to exploit our trust in other humans so as to steal money through a variety of scams, such as romance fraud, phishing, whaling and business email compromises. Businesses have sought to exploit our desire for “free” services and authentic social interactions so as to engage in surveillance capitalism. Governments have struggled to accurately identify these criminal attackers, creating an attribution problem which threatens the viability of the cyber-insurance industry. This presentation will give a very brief introduction to these complex problems with the goal of stimulating an interdisciplinary discussion of how we might better study, understand and solve them.

Authenticity of Memory

For our first Markers of Authenticity seminar for 2019, we’ll be considering how collaborative memory works in practice. Join us on Friday 12th April 4–6 pm for a special seminar presented in conjunction with the Centre for Applied History and sponsored by the Centre for Ancient Cultural Heritage and the Environment in the Australian Hearing Hub, Level 5, Rm 212.


How do family historians work with memory?

A/Prof. Tanya Evans (Department of Modern History, Politics, and International Relations, Macquarie University; Director, Centre for Applied History)

Drawing on survey data and oral history interviews undertaken with family historians in Australia, England and Canada this talk will explore the ways in which family historians construct memories using diverse sources in their research. It will show how they utilise oral history, archival documents, material culture and explorations of space to construct and reconstruct family stories and to make meaning of the past. It will ask whether they undertake critical readings of these sources when piecing together their families’ stories and reveal the impact of that work on individual subjectivities, the construction of historical consciousness and the broader social value of family history scholarship. Global family history challenges the patriarchal, nation-focussed, state-driven historical scholarship we discover so easily in our formal archives and libraries. How might family historians reshape our knowledge on memory and the history of the family in the 21st century?

“Remember when…?” How reminiscing with mothers and others supports young children’s memory and emotion development

A/Prof. Penny Van Bergen (SFHEA, Department of Educational Studies, Macquarie University; Director, Centre for Children’s Learning in a Social World)

Memory is a critically important aspect of our lives. We share memories with one another multiple times a day: building emotional bonds, eliciting sympathy or empathy, and problem solving for the future. As parents and teachers, we also scaffold and support young children’s emerging memory narratives. I extend on this past research in two ways. First, I consider implications for emotion development. I show how reminiscing about emotional past events (e.g. fights with friends, getting in trouble) may be a particularly rich forum for developing emotion competence. Next, I extend from mothers to others. Working with teachers, fathers, and other children, I show how a range of socialising agents support children’s memory.

My Internship on the Forging Antiquity Project for 2018

Last year I had the opportunity to work as a research intern on the ARC Discovery Project, ‘Forging Antiquity: Authenticity, forgery and fake papyri’ through the Macquarie University PACE program with A/Prof. Malcolm Choat and Dr. Rachel Yuen-Collingridge. This internship exposed me to a wide range of forged manuscripts and allowed me to develop new and existing research skills.

The first forgeries I examined were papyri from the University of Michigan collection. They appeared to be in Greek, but I struggled to make any sense of them. I was relieved to learn soon after that these particular texts were nonsensical and were made to only superficially resemble Greek documents. I learned that many forgeries of this kind were produced and included in auction lots of papyri in Egypt during the 19th and early 20th centuries to enhance their perceived value. I spent much of my time working on the database squinting at high resolution images of papyri, observing fibre direction and searching for traces of ancient ink. I had to consult a wide range of printed and digital papyrological media (occasionally written in Italian, French, Russian or German). By the end of the internship, research assistant Vanessa Mawby and I had collected data for 180 forgeries. Among these were compositions and copied texts written on a variety of materials in Greek, Demotic, Hieratic and Coptic.

Database meeting

My second task was to transcribe one of Constantine Simonides’ forged biblical manuscripts. While Simonides’ hand was relatively easy to read, the text was severely worn or missing in many places. Simonides often misjudges the size of lacunae, including or omitting too much of the text. This was an excellent opportunity, and indeed my first, to study a manuscript in detail, taking into consideration its paleography, materiality and layout.

My final task was to prepare a display and catalogue description for a suspected forgery in the Macquarie collection for the exhibition ‘Faking It: Forgeries and artefacts in dialogue.’ MU2893 is a marble votive tabula ansata commemorating the thanksgiving of a certain Marcus Valerius Parthenius to Urania. If authentic, it likely dates to the third or fourth century CE. In addition to producing arguments for and against its authenticity, I investigated its acquisition and publication history and the market history of tabulae ansatae more generally. Finally, I considered the ethical implications of the item’s purchase on the antiquities market.

As an intern with the project, it was my great pleasure to attend the conference ‘Manuscripts from the Margins: How to edit a forgery’ and the subsequent public day of lectures ‘Faking It’ (Sept. 20–22, 2018). I was pleased to learn more about the increasingly sophisticated methods of today’s forgers, namely their recycling and simulation of ancient mediums. I was inspired by the argument that unprovenanced texts should be flagged as potential forgeries in future editions and avoided by scholars in the formulation of historical arguments.

Of all the lessons I took away from the internship, the most important one was the (often-overlooked) cultural value of forgeries. The finest examples are works of great skill, knowledge and creativity. More importantly, they often offer fascinating insight into how learned individuals and/or their communities have imagined the distant past.

Mark Matic

Student Internships on the ‘Forging Antiquity’ Project

In Session 2 2019, five research internships will be offered to Bachelor of Philosophy (Masters of Research year 1) students at Macquarie University on two research projects based in the Department of Ancient History. Four internships are being offered on the Australian Research council project “Forging Antiquity: Authenticity, forgery and fake papyri“, and one in the new ARC project “Ancient Egyptian papyri: unlocking secrets to the history of writing“.

In each of these internships, students will work as part of the Forging Antiquity team investigating an aspect of the history of the forgery of ancient artefacts, especially papyri an other manuscripts.

Internships are being offered in the following aspects of the project:

Interns will work one day a week with the team, undertaking research on a project which will contribute to the larger project goals. Descriptions of the tasks to be undertaken, the goals, and the expected outcomes for each internship may be found in the links above. For some internships we are seeking specific skills (such as knowledge of particular languages), but for the most part they are open to students across the Faculty of Arts and indeed the University. We love diverse teams of researchers with different skills and backgrounds, so if you’re interested in working with us, please do contact us.

Further information can be found at the links above. Applications close on the 14th of June 2019, but interested students should contact A/Prof. Malcolm Choat (email, phone 9850 7561) as soon as possible.


Markers of Authenticity: 2018 in Review

We’re again a bit late in re-capping our year in 2018, but looking ahead to 2019, we want to summarise what we did during 2018, as we continued the Markers of Authenticity seminar series with a program designed to look outside of the Faculty of Arts to highlight collaborative possibilities with other Departments and Faculties.

Due to one of the convenors taking parental leave and another being on study leave in the first half of  2018, we ran only one seminar in this semester, a session on ‘The Authenticity of the Body’ (22/3), featuring Dr Karin Sellberg (a specialist in the history of medicine and feminist and queer historiography based at the University of Queensland), who spoke on authenticity in transgender autobiography, and Professor Wendy Rogers (Department of Clinical Medicine & Department of Philosophy, Macquarie University), who addressed overdiagnosis and the problem of ‘real’ diseases.

On the 2nd of August a seminar on ‘The Authenticity of Identity’ positioned the work of A/Prof. Jay Johnston (Department of Studies in Religion, University of Sydney) on ‘otherkin’ and humans who identify as animals and other non-human creatures against the research on facial recognition of Dr Ian Stephen (Department of Psychology, Macquarie University), who asked ‘Are our faces and bodies authentic markers of identity?’. Dr Stephen’s work was clearly challenging to many in the audience, which as much as anything highlighted the different methodologies and working assumptions of the disciplines.

Our next seminar was a lively session on the 30thof August on ‘The Authenticity of Faith’, bringing together medievalist A/Prof. Clare Monagle (Department of Modern History, Macquarie University) and expert on medieval Islam and religious history Dr Aydogan Kars (Centre for Religious Studies, Monash University), who addressed the nature of faith in historical and theoretical perspectives: Kars’ overview of contemporary debates on religious authenticity was an invaluable crash-course for many in the audience, and Clare’s singing of sections of George Michael’s ‘Faith’ illustrated the aptness of the song for the exegesis of historical studies of religion Clare offered.

On 20–22 September, as part of the ARC Discovery Project ‘Forging Antiquity’, we held a Conference ‘Manuscripts from the Margins’, which gathered together a group of the world’s leading experts in fake texts from throughout history to examine the forging of manuscripts of all sorts, with ren international experts joined by four local scholars in giving papers. 20–21 September were devoted to specialised workshop where presenters addressed issues involved in working with, editing, and publishing forgeries (certain or alleged), while a public event ‘Faking It’ was held on 22 September, with an associated exhibition at the Museum of Ancient Cultures. A Wakelet thread of tweets about the event may be found here.

The final seminar was held on 11 October on ‘The Authenticity of Landscape’, with Dr Alicia Marchant (ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions, University of Western Australia) examining Renaissance maps of Scotland, and Dr Emily O’Gorman (Department of Geography and Planning, Macquarie University) showcasing her work on wetlands.

On the evening of Thursday 8thof November, with the generous support of the Faculty of Arts Research Office, the Ancient Cultures Research Centre, and the Centre for Emotional Health at Macquarie University and in association with the Environmental Humanities Research Stream, we put on a gala event, ‘The Spectacle of Science: Humanities at the Crossroads of Innovation’ featuring papers by Prof. Kathryn Millard (MMCCS, Macquarie University), Oron Catts (SymbioticA, University of Western Australia), Prof. Jennifer Hudson (Department of Psychology, Macquarie University), and Joe Lander (Artist in Residence in the Faculty of Human Sciences, Macquarie University). This showcase event on the intersection between Art and Science highlighted the way humanities methods have been used to propel and communicate scientific discovery, with each project representing the integration of scientific and humanities methods for the transformation of our understanding of the world and our place within it.

We were very pleased with the year’s program, especially with our engagement with colleagues in the Faculty of Human Sciences, and look forward to our 2019, which we hope to announce shortly.


Portraits of Recovery

Today marks the Launch of the Exhibition ‘Portraits of Recovery‘ for Macquarie University Centre for Emotional Health as part of wellbeing week at MQ. At 1pm on Level 3, MUSE building, 18 Wally’s Walk, Professor Jennie Hudson will launch the exhibition by Artist in Residence Joe Lander. These incredible portraits are accompanied by stories of men’s experiences of depression, anxiety, and suicidality and aim at reducing the stigma associated with depression, anxiety, and suicide.

The project will be featured in our final Markers of Authenticity event for 2018, the Spectacle of Science. Go along to the launch today and support this fantastic project!

The Authenticity of Landscape


On Thursday, October 11, at 4:00pm – 6:00pm (Australian Hearing Hub, Level 5, Room 212, Macquarie University) the Markers of Authenticity Seminar Series will continue with two speakers, Dr Alicia Marchant (ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions: Europe 1100–1800, University of Western Australia) and Dr Emily O’Gorman (Department of Geography & Planning, Macquarie University).


Our theme for this seminar is the Authenticity of Landscape. Our speakers will be discussing the way that landscape is understood and idealised, as well as how particular configurations of and stages in the development of a landscape are held up as authentic, original, and desirable. The speakers will address these issues in the following papers.

Alicia Marchant, ‘John Hardyng’s Scotland: Landscape, Heritage and Authenticity in the Fifteenth Century’

In 1457, Northumbrian knight John Hardyng (d. c.1465) employed a cartographer to create a map of Scotland for inclusion in his recently completed chronicle history of Britain. This bright, ornate map depicts Scotland as an appealing, prosperous and productive landscape of lochs and mountains, thick-walled castles, towers and churches. Far from straightforward, this map displays a landscape with a complex cultural and natural heritage, imbued with English colonialism, focalised through the eyes of its creator. What Hardyng desired most through the creation of this cartographic image was to convince successive English kings to gather an army and invade the land that it charted. Alongside the map and chronicle, Hardyng submitted legal documents that he claimed to have collected in Scotland but which turn out to be forged. The case of Hardyng and his failed interventions in English politics raise intriguing questions regarding authenticity, heritage and landscape.

Emily O’Gorman, ‘Towards a genealogy of wetlands: Categories of conservation, bird migration and global environmental crisis’

This paper offers a genealogy of wetlands, in particular focusing on how it became a category of conservation, shaped by understandings of bird migration and an emerging sense of a global environmental crises in the 1960s and 1970s. It situates this discussion within experiences in Australia, where changing understandings of transcontinental bird migrations, Pacific diplomacy, and ideas of habitats and habitat loss, converged to shape government scientists’ involvement in the Ramsar Convention of Wetlands of International Importance 1971. This paper examines wetlands as a category defined by and laden with specific sets of values, shaped by particular expertise and relationships with certain animals and plants, and deeply connected with Australasian and Pacific circulations, both human and more-than-human.

How do we edit forgeries?

In a week’s time, a group of scholars from around the world will gather at Macquarie University to discuss fake manuscripts in our Forging Antiquity conference, ‘Manuscripts from the Margins’. Part of this will comprise a workshop focusing on forged texts, at which – among other issues – we’ll consider the practical issues involved in editing forgeries. The seeds for this were sown at our first Forging Antiquity conference, ‘Imagining the Real’ in 2017, where I presented a paper called ‘How do we edit a forged papyrus?’. To set the scene for this year’s conference and forecast some of the issues we’ll be addressing, I’ve drawn on my paper from last year in the post below, reproducing mostly the questions I asked, rather than the possible responses to them I posited: we’ll revisit the issue in the wake of this year’s conference.

Discussion of editing forgeries involves consideration of both ethics and practice. We study textual artifacts by editing them; those editions, sometimes accompanied by further examination of the manuscripts, form the basis for further academic work on these texts. When we come to forgeries, however, there is more reluctance to edit them, for a range of reasons. Traditionally, they have been ignored in favour of genuine artifacts. But the rise of multiple scholars and research teams working on forged texts of many sorts has demonstrated the relevance and importance of working on them.

Yet this interest has not necessarily resulted in textual editions of these fake papyri, and opinion varies, with commentators sometimes calling for their publication, and sometimes suggesting they be suppressed. So we may legitimately still ask: should we edit forged manuscripts? And if we do, how should we do it? Here there are a range of issues to be considered, which we might group round questions of priorities, ethics, and practice.

Firstly, in terms of priorities, should we work on forgeries at all? Some would say we should eschew work on fakes in favour of genuine artifacts. This might be thought to be a matter of personal choice, with each person able to decide their own research topic. But with a limited amount of research funding available (a fair bit of which in various places, it must be said, has been awarded to projects on forgeries), how should we as a guild prioritise our efforts?

Secondly, should we reveal to forgers what we know about their work by publishing on it? Will this simply tip the next generation of forgers off to items to avoid when making their fakes? This is an interesting and difficult issue, but I do wonder about the practicality of keeping forgers in the dark about advances in detecting their handiwork, and think this issue needs to be set in the context of the long engagement between forgers and authenticators and the way that has at times driven fields forward.

A further important consideration is that the publication of such texts can pollute the data pool: this has certainly happened in the case of the Dead Sea Scroll-like fragments, as work by Årstein Justnes and the Lying Pen of Scribes project has revealed. But this is so only if they are published as genuine texts; those clearly signaled as forgeries should not do so.

More cogent, I think, are ethical issues. If forgeries are in collections of unknown provenance (by which I mean the items within them contain little or no proper collection history), or collections of anonymous ownership, should we work on them? Current ethical standards in biblical and ancient world studies (at least as expressed in official policy) would give a decisive ‘no’ to this question: transparency over ownership and provenance is the basic starting point for work on any textual artifact: but debate remains, and this is far from the universal position. Although – as is well known – I have worked on a papyrus later proven to be fake in a collection whose owner was at that time unknown, I was uneasy with engaging with the broader collection of papyri (later revealed to be owned by Walter Fritz, something unknown to me at that time), precisely because of this lack of transparency and the distinct possibility that some or all of the papyri were recent unprovenanced acquisitions (Fritz later told me that all the documentation concerning their acquisition had been – somewhat conveniently – stolen by burglars). Had I investigated that collection more thoroughly, I might have noticed the presence of a number of fakes (not only the ‘Lycopolitan Gospel of John’ fragment which severely compromised the authenticity claims for the ‘Gospel of Jesus’ Wife’) and been more critical of the ‘Jesus’ Wife’ papyrus itself. But the same could apply in many cases wth regard to genuine papyri, and the reasons many within the discipline now refuse to work on unprovenanced material or those owned by anonymous collectors are cogent and not to be lightly ignored. We’re told, rightly, not to work on papyri of unknown provenance: but then how do we track forgers and their work? Should we work on these collections but not publish the papyri? Or ignore them entirely?

So, we need to ask ourselves if we do want to edit forgeries; if this process, and increased academic attention, will help us understand them better, and assist in solving the very real problems that the circulation of forgeries have produced. These are questions which should be the subject of further discussion. In the rest of the post, I’ll outline some of the challenges that arise from the construction and nature of fakes if we do work on such texts, and specifically if we try to edit and publish them.

First among these is the vocabulary we use. Do we use the term ‘scribe’? Or ‘forger’? If the latter, then we foreclose debate: sometimes we know, or are virtually sure, of the outcome, but often we are not. It could be suggested that if we use as far as possible the tools of palaeography we use for uncontestedly genuine papyri, it will provide a more sound methodological foundation for our investigation of alleged fakes.

Beyond this, different types of forgeries present different challenges. Many fakes are in nonsensical simulated alphabets: how do we represent them? Line drawings? How do

P.Mich.inv. 1879
P.Mich.inv. 1879, fake papyrus in simulated script. Courtesy of University of Michigan Library.

we describe them? Can we identify ‘hands’ among the nonsensical alphabets? If we deal with composite papyri, composed of more than one genuine papyrus (sometimes augmented with fake script), to what extent can we describe the product, and not its components? How should we describing fibre direction for papyri composed of fragments from more than one original document?

Some of the same, and also a different order of events arise when discussing papyri with readable text. Here, I’ll highlight only one: the ‘Lycopolitan Coptic Gospel of John’ fragment produced, probably recently and presumably by its owner, Walter Fritz, owner of the so-called “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife”. This papyrus, ‘COPT 01-11’ in the inventory system of the Fritz papyri, is currently MS Coptic 12 in the papyrus collection of the Houghton Library at Harvard, which has placed high quality digital images of the papyrus online (see also the catalogue record).

As is now well known, the handwriting of this certainly forged papyrus, whose text has been copied from that in a codex of the Gospel in Lycopolitan published by Herbert Thompson in 1924 (see Christian Askeland’s work here and here) is the same as that on the ‘Gospel of Jesus’ Wife’, which provided a crucial step in uncovering the true nature of the latter papyrus. I’m going to leave aside here the manifold problems with the reconstruction of this imaginary codex, although this is also a major problem with describing the materiality of forgeries (for an excellent discussion of which see the work of Stephen Emmel here), and concentrate on how we might present the text of this papyrus in an edition.

In a text such as this, we know what the text should be: not only because we know it’s the Gospel of John, but because we know exactly what the forger’s model was, so, despite some odd deviations from it, should we read what we expect when there are only traces, even if they don’t resemble to letters at all? (In what follows, I reproduce Coptic text in Unicode, which hopefully displays properly in your browser).

P.Fritz. COPT 01-11 = Houghton Library MS Coptic 12, front (→), ll. 1–2.

For instance, in l. 1 on the front (the side written along the fibres), ⲛⲉϥⲉⲝⲟⲩⲥⲓⲁ is expected: should we read ⲛ̣ⲉ̣[ϥ]ⲉ̣ⲝ̣ⲟ̣ⲩ̣[ⲥⲓⲁ or simply provide dots to indicate unreadable letters after the preceding word (ⲁϥϯ)? In line 2, ⲙ̅ⲡⲣⲣⲙⲁⲉⲓ is expected: should we corral the traces into ⲙ̅ⲡ̣ⲣ̣ⲣ̣ⲙⲁⲉ̣[ⲓ, or print ⲙ̅ⲡ̣ⲣ̣ⲉ̣ . ⲉ̣[?

P.Fritz. COPT 01-11 = Houghton Library MS Coptic 12, back (↓), l. 9.

On the other side (that written against the fibres), ⲙ̣ⲁ̣ⲙ̣ⲏ̣ⲉⲡⲉ is expected in line 9: but the text is highly unclear: should we print . . . . ⲉⲡⲉ ? Or assimilate it to what we think was intended?

P.Fritz. COPT 01-11 = Houghton Library MS Coptic 12, Front (→), l. 5.

Restoring lacunae creates even more problems: on the front in line 4, ⲛⲉⲛⲧⲁⲩⲉⲓⲣⲉ is expected on the basis of the model. But there is insufficient space for [ⲛ]ⲉ̣ in the scribe’s normal hand, which would require letters that in the next line (and on the back (↓) at lines 1 and 7) take up nearly a centimeter to have fit into a gap c.4 mm wide. The observation that the nu of -ⲛⲧⲁⲩ- seems to ‘stoop’ to avoid the hole (but on the other side a letter is made of be lost in this hole) was made by Frederic Kruger of Berlin (as reported in this post by Joost Hagen). This raises an issue of what to print in the text: [ⲛ]ⲉ̣? Or ⲉ̣? We are no doubt meant to understand [ⲛ]ⲉ̣, but as it was almost certainly never there, and would not fit anyway, should we print what can be seen and reasonably restored on the basis of the lettering elsewhere on the papyrus?

P.Fritz. COPT 01-11 = Houghton Library MS Coptic 12, back (↓), l. 5.

Similar issues arise elsewhere: on the verso, in line 5,  ⲁⲩⲥⲁⲩ is expected, but there is no trace of an alpha: should we print ⲩⲥⲁⲩ or [ⲁ]ⲩⲥⲁⲩ? (we cannot print ⲁ̣ⲩⲥⲁⲩ)

P.Fritz. COPT 01-11 = Houghton Library MS Coptic 12, Front (→), l. 9.

A different sort of issue is raised at recto line 9:  should we restore text where there never was any? The preservation of the top (horizontal) layer of fibers is not quite clear, but it seems at least to survive immediately to the left of ⲉϣⲱ̣[, where one expects ⲉϣⲱ̣ⲡ̣ⲉ̣ (or at least the remains of the tops of these letters). Do we restore the line from the model?

A lot of the same issues arise with the study of the papyri forged by Constantine Simonides, about which Rachel Yuen-Collingridge and I will speak at the forthcoming conference, taking advantage of our own work, and our collaboration with Tommy Wasserman (for whose recent article on Simonides see here).

In genuine papyri, our principle is, or should be, to observe what is on the papyrus, and then interpret that: not to force traces to what we think it should be. But in the case where we know or suspect a forger has copied an existing text, the temptation is almost unavoidable: ‘we know what they were trying to do, so we’ll print that’: the question is, should we?


*Edited 14/9/18 to make more clear what I mean in the section on provenance and ethics.