Turkish police bust men trying to sell ‘a 1,900-year-old Torah’

Suspects insist they legally acquired ancient 29-foot-long parchment

Ilan Ben Zion, a reporter at the Associated Press, is a former news editor at The Times of Israel. He holds a Masters degree in Diplomacy from Tel Aviv University and an Honors Bachelors degree from the University of Toronto in Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, Jewish Studies, and English.

Torah scroll being written by hand (photo credit: Nati Shohat/Flash 90).
Torah scroll being written by hand (photo credit: Nati Shohat/Flash 90).

Turkish police on Tuesday arrested four men in the coastal city of Adana on suspicion that they tried to sell a purportedly 1,900-year-old Torah scroll.

The men claimed they legally acquired the nearly 29-foot-(9 meters)-long gazelle-hide scroll from an antiquities dealer and were ignorant of its provenance.

“We bought it from an antique store and brought it to a geography teacher to ask what was written on it,” the Hurriyet Daily News website quoted one of the suspects as saying.

Initial reports could not confirm the scroll’s authenticity, nor did they indicate on what basis authorities claimed it was nearly 2,000 years old. The oldest extant complete version of the Torah is the Leningrad Codex, which dates back to the early 11th century CE, and few of the oldest Torah scrolls exceed 500 years in age.

Officers belonging to the Turkish police’s anti-smuggling and organized crime branch arrested the men for allegedly trying to sell the ancient text, and seized the scroll. The men were only identified in the Turkish press as T.N., Ş.C., Y.Ş. and S.C.D.

Turkish authorities transported the scroll to Ankara for inspection by ancient manuscript experts.

Earlier in 2012, Turkish authorities claimed to have discovered a 1,500-year-old version of the missing, apocryphal Gospel of Barnabas, but its authenticity has yet to be verified.

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