Turkish police seize ‘ancient Hebrew manuscript’ from smugglers

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Turkish police recovered an ancient leather manuscript from suspected antiquities traffickers in a central province, security sources said on Tuesday. The manuscript – thought to be stolen from a Syrian museum – were seized in Kirsehir.

Turkish police seize 'ancient Hebrew manuscript' from smugglers
Cover page of leather manuscript believed to have been looted from a Syrian museum
[Credit: Serkan Güner]

Acting on a tip, police squads stopped a suspected car with an Istanbul license plate on Ankara-Kayseri highway near Kaman district of Kirsehir.




They found the manuscript hidden in a rug near the car seat, said the sources, who asked not to be named due to restrictions on speaking to the media.

The 16-page ancient book written in Hebrew bore different bird figures, a hexagonal shape and a red stone on the cover page.

Turkish police seize 'ancient Hebrew manuscript' from smugglers
Back cover of the manuscript [Credit: Serkan Güner]

During the police search, a blank firing gun and cartridges in the glove box of the car were also seized, the sources said.

Two suspects in the car identified only by their initials, E.S and K.G., were arrested for antiquities trafficking charges.




According to suspects’ testimonies to the police, they bought the manuscript in the southeastern Mardin province and were planning to sell it in Istanbul for a large sum of money.

The ancient manuscript was stolen from Syria city museum during the conflicts and was brought to Mardin illegally, the suspect said in their testimonies.

Turkish police seize 'ancient Hebrew manuscript' from smugglers
Hamsa hand illumination [Credit: Serkan Güner]
Turkish police seize 'ancient Hebrew manuscript' from smugglers
Owl illumination [Credit: Serkan Güner]



Turkish police seize 'ancient Hebrew manuscript' from smugglers
Robed man illumination [Credit: Serkan Güner]
Turkish police seize 'ancient Hebrew manuscript' from smugglers
Cow illumination [Credit: Serkan Güner]
Turkish police seize 'ancient Hebrew manuscript' from smugglers
Griffin/dragon illumination [Credit: Serkan Güner]

Editor’s Note

This is the most recent of a series of so-called “ancient manuscripts” reportedly seized by Turkish authorities since 2016. Paul Barford (Portable Antiquity Collecting and Heritage Issues), thinks these manuscripts are in fact fake. All of them, he argues, are characterised by being:

1) nonsense texts and garish pictures loosely imitating Muslim, Jewish and Christian manuscripts
2) Often written using gold ink (or gold leaf?)
3) rough tatty edges
4) crumbly dark brown or brown-orange leather (I bet it’s acid-treated). Sometimes written on heavily stained ‘papyrus’ (or is it banana leaves?)
5) pages – usually 20-30 – roughly bound with thongs of lightish or greyish leather

“Turkish policemen and eager journalists writing about crime in the Middle East do not seem yet to have got the message, and possibly buyers too,” says Barford, despite the fact that “the more recent ones are getting sloppier.”

A quick analysis also reveals that the codices are being seized (and likely produced) in south western Anatolia rather than the Syrian-Turkish border.




On the other hand, the London-based Syrian Observatory of Human Rights (SOHR) claims that Turkish backed militant groups are conducting illegal excavations in the Jandaris hills in the Afrin region, and that the Turkish Army is also conducting illegal excavations in Ma’abali region in Western Afrin and Ali Aisheh and Tal Zarafkeh regions.

According to Mahmoud Hamoud, Syria’s director general for archaeological monuments, “some 17,000 archaeological items that had been stolen from Syria’s museums and archaeological sites are presently in Turkey.”

Hamoud also added that most of the stolen manuscripts had been looted from Jobar Synagogue in Eastern Damascus and had been smuggled to Turkey from Eastern Ghouta.

Source: Anadolu Agency [March 13, 2019]

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