Brill includes new statement on the ethics of publishing provenanced texts
|January 22, 2020
|Posted by David Ratzan under News, Professional Ethics
The publication of texts and objects remains a core activity in ancient studies, but the last two decades have witnessed a heightened sensitivity to the importance of provenance, both as a necessary object of scholarly investigation and as a central tenet of professional academic ethics. Recent scandals related to faked manuscripts (e.g., the so-called “Gospel of Jesus’s Wife”) and looted objects or stolen objects or texts (e.g., the alleged theft and sale of Oxyrhynchus papyri by Prof. Dirk Obbink) have proved to be object lessons in the scholarly and ethical obligation to take a careful and critical stance on issue of provenance when researching and deciding to publish any text or object.
In a heartening development, academic publishers, under pressure from their authors and their scholarly societies, are now beginning to accept responsibility for provenance. The revelation that at least five of the texts from the Museum of the Bible published in Dead Sea Scrolls Fragments in the Museum Collection, Vol. 1, edited by E. Tov, K. Davis, and R. Duke in 2016 without adequate provenance are very likely forgeries led to an open letter to the publisher in 2018, in which the signatories asserted that
This episode again demonstrates the urgent need for publishers as well as academics to exercise due diligence, through their peer reviewers, in checking that publications of antiquities, including ancient texts, acquired recently on the market give a full and annotated discussion of the acquisition and provenance history. We strongly suggest that Brill and other publishers treat this as seriously as they do copyright, and in their instructions to authors and contracts include a clause requiring the author or authors to be responsible for providing a full and proper explanation of the provenance and legitimacy of such recent acquisitions.
Brill has now responded by including a new paragraph in its editorial handbook (p. 7) on provenance, which I reproduce here:
Unprovenanced Artifacts: When presenting ancient artifacts, especially but not necessarily for the first time, authors publishing with Brill are required to follow the relevant society policies of their field, including but not limited to those of ASOR, SBL, AIA, and SCS (links provided below), concerning provenance and authenticity. Such artifacts include, but are not limited to, ancient texts, such as papyri, inscriptions, cuneiform tablets, and codices.ASOR (http://www.asor.org/about-asor/policies/policy-on-professional-conduct/)
I will note that ancient coins are not called about above in the list of named classes of artifact (although the way the policy is written it would seem to include them). This is, perhaps, a tacit recognition that the numismatic market is so large and the collaboration of private collectors so necessary for research, that a strict provenance requirement may be impracticable. (See, for example, the collection and acquisition policy of the American Numismatic Society.)
For those interested in keeping abreast of developments related to provenance, publication and the antiquities market, particularly as it touches on papyri, Roberta Mazza’s Faces and Voices and Brent Nongri’s Variant Readings blogs are required reading.