I’ve gotten a couple questions recently about the Angel Scroll. It seems a fair number of people out there think it’s real. If that’s you, get ready to be disappointed.

For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, over ten years ago (probably closer to fifteen as I was still in grad school) I saw an article in the Jerusalem Post about a new ancient scroll — termed the Angel Scroll. The article gave a brief description of an alleged scroll of unknown provenance but which had begun to circulate among a handful of scholars, one of whom was Stephen Pfann. That fall of the same year I went to Orlando for the November academic meetings. I bumped into a friend of mine who was living in Jerusalem. We chatted a bit and he introduced me to the man with him, whom I had never met. It turned out that the man was Stephen Pfann. We hit it off. Stephen was quite genial. I asked him about this alleged Angel Scroll. His answer took me by surprise: “Would you like to see it?” I said sure. He said he’d let me have a look while we listened to a session, so off we went (my apologies to Bruce Waltke here — I didn’t hear a word of your lecture that hour).

We sat down and Stephen opened his briefcase. There amid the candy wrappers, pens, and sundry papers was a hand-drawn transcription of a scroll. He handed it to me. It’s been so long that I don’t quite remember if Stephen said he’d made the drawing from a photo or if he’d been given the drawing in photocopy. At any rate, he explained that the hand drawing was all there was. He’d been shown that much by a couple men who told him they had the actual scroll. They wanted him to have a look and perhaps publish it. (Stephen lives in Israel. His expertise is the Dead Sea Scrolls and epigraphy. His dissertation was on cryptic texts from Qumran). Stephen told me he wasn’t publishing anything until he saw the actual scroll and examined it for authenticity.  I sat there and perused the whole thing. I couldn’t read it all at sight, but I could read enough of the content to have my attention caught. There was one specific line that was quite odd and memorable. The scroll was at least in part apocalyptic. Jerusalem was surrounded by “thousands of sun disks.”

I can’t recall at this point (and don’t have the old files) whether I mentioned this scroll (with a slightly altered name) in the original edition of The Facade. I think I did. I know I mentioned this scroll in at least one interview — and was careful to point out that there was no verification for its authenticity. I recall L. A. Marzulli asking me about it over the phone or email (again, I don’t recall which). He said he wanted to include it in one of his novels. I only read his first one, so I don’t know if he actually did that. At any rate, I was again clear that all I saw was a transcription, not the real thing. It could have been entirely made up, and I said so — and always have. (In any event, L. A.’s novels are fiction [!]).

I usually chat with Stephen each year at the meetings. Up until about 3-4 years ago I’d ask for updates on the Angel Scroll. The answer was always the same — the men who had contacted him, and of whom Stephen demanded to see the actual scroll, never produced anything. I say up until 3-4 years ago because the last time I asked Stephen told me he had washed his hands of the whole thing. He had concluded it was all bogus since no evidence (going on ten years) had ever been produced that the scroll from which the transcription he showed me actually existed. Anyone with reasonable artistic talent and a knowledge of Hebrew paleography could draw the transcription he had in his possession and which I saw. That’s how scrolls show up in journals — a photo that usually looks awful (things a couple millennia old tend to not produce great photos) along with a hand drawing done from tracing or a good eye. It’s normal procedure. (Same for how clay tablet inscriptions are hand drawn for easier reading).

So is there an Angel Scroll? No. There is no evidence that such a scroll is real. You’re hearing that from someone who held the transcription, read through it, and has had several conversations with the guy who possesses the transcription (the only one that has ever surfaced).  If you or anyone you know or have read is saying this is a real text and assigning any “truth” to it, you shouldn’t. Without someone bringing forth an actual scroll, this text is a fiction. But, unfortunately, people like to believe in things for which no data exist. That isn’t new. It’s just sad that Christians are among the gullible. The whole thing was likely a scam designed to extract some money from a scholar or institution who collected such things. If you don’t think antiquities forgery is a problem, think again.

Vaughn, Andrew G., and Christopher A. Rollston. “The Antiquities Market, Sensationalized Textual Data, and Modern Forgeries.” Near Eastern Archaeology (2005): 61-65.

This puts me in the mood to ask Stephen about the scroll again this year just to see him roll his eyes.