Ancient Scroll Fragment Prompts Police Investigation of Israeli Archaeologist

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A Bar-Ilan University archaeologist is under investigation by the Israel police in the wake of allegations that he illegally possessed a scroll fragment dating from the second century AD. But the archaeologist, Hanan Eshel, says he acted in good faith to rescue a valuable find that antiquities dealers were seeking to sell.

"Eshel was brought in for questioning after we received formal complaint from the Antiquities Authority that he was holding a scroll that was possibly stolen," said Mickey Rosenfeld, a police spokesman.

Mr. Eshel was questioned for about two hours last Tuesday and then released.

According to Mr. Eshel, he learned about the fragment in August 2004, when a Bedouin antiquities dealer called him to ask whether he could help authenticate a fragment that had come into the dealer's possession. Mr. Eshel and Ro'i Porat, a Ph.D. student at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem who works with him, examined and photographed the scroll. Soon afterward, Mr. Eshel left for a semester at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. He said Mr. Porat had notified the Israel Antiquities Authority about the fragment and provided photographs.

"When I came back to Israel last February, it turned out that glue had been applied to the fragment," Mr. Eshel said. "It was necessary to act immediately to prevent irreparable damage."

He arranged for a grant from a research center at Bar-Ilan, the Jeselsohn Epigraphic Center of Jewish History, and purchased the object for $3,000 on February 28. He then brought the fragment to the Israel Museum for restoration and provided photographs to the Israel police's forensics laboratory as part of the process of authenticating the find, he said.

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