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Archeological Chemists Authenticate Ancient Text with Egyptian Wedding Certificate

Barabe’s team was part of an effort organized by the National Geographic Society to authenticate the Gospel of Judas.
Senior research microscopist Joseph G. Barabe.

Senior research microscopist Joseph G. Barabe.

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A scientist who helped verify authenticity of the fabled Gospel of Judas on Monday revealed how an ancient Egyptian marriage certificate played a pivotal role in confirming the veracity of inks used in the controversial text. The disclosure, which sheds new light on the intensive scientific efforts to validate the gospel, was made on Monday, at the 245th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS), the world’s largest scientific society, in New Orleans.

“If we hadn’t found a Louvre study of Egyptian wedding and land contracts, which were from the same time period and had ink similar to that used to record the Gospel of Judas, we would have had a much more difficult time discerning whether the gospel was authentic,” said Joseph G. Barabe. A senior research microscopist at McCrone Associates, he led an analytical team of five scientists who worked on the project at McCrone, a consulting laboratory in microscopy and microanalysis in Westmont, Ill. “That study was the key piece of evidence that convinced us that the gospel ink was probably okay.”

Barabe’s team was part of a multidisciplinary effort organized in 2006 by the National Geographic Society to authenticate the Gospel of Judas, which was discovered in the late 1970s after having been hidden for nearly 1,700 years. The text, written in Egyptian Coptic, is compelling because — unlike other Biblical accounts that portray Judas Iscariot as a reviled traitor — it suggests that Jesus requested that his friend, Judas, betray him to authorities.

Barabe’s presentation was part of an ACS symposium on archeological chemistry. Other presentations included:

•Announcement of the unprecedented discovery of the most sacred Biblical dye at Masada, an ancient mountain fortress in Israel.

•Examination of the glues George Washington’s mother used to repair her ceramics and what it tells us about her life and the mending of china in the 18th century.

•Exploration of the use and trade of pulque — an alcoholic beverage made from the fermented sap of the maguey plant —in prehistoric Mexico and Central America.

After analyzing a sample, Barabe and his colleagues concluded that the gospel was likely penned with an early form of iron gall ink that also included black carbon soot bound with a gum binder. While this finding suggested that the text may have been written in the third or fourth century A.D., the researchers were perplexed by one thing: The iron gall ink used in the gospel was different than anything they’d ever seen before. Typically, iron gall inks — at least those from the Middle Ages — were made from a concoction of iron sulfate and tannin acids, such as those extracted from oak gall nuts. But the iron gall ink used to produce the Gospel of Judas didn’t contain any sulfur. And that, Barabe said, was troubling.

“We didn’t understand it. It just didn’t fit in with anything that we had ever encountered,” he said. “It was one of the most anxiety-producing projects I’ve ever had. I would lie awake at night trying to figure it out. I was frantically searching for answers.”

Ultimately, Barabe found a reference to a small French study conducted by scientists at the Louvre who analyzed Egyptian marriage and land records written in Coptic and Greek and dating from the first to third centuries A.D. Much to Barabe’s relief, those researchers had determined that a wedding certificate and other documents were written in ink made with copper, but little or no sulfur.

“Finding that study, and realizing its implications, tilted my opinion a little in the direction of it being appropriate for the era,” Barabe said. “My memory of that experience remains quite vivid. I had a sudden feeling of peace that things were okay, and that I could submit my data without qualms.”

Barabe now suspects that the ink used in the Gospel of Judas was probably transitional, a “missing link” between the ancient world’s carbon-based inks and the iron gall inks (made with iron sulfate) that became popular in medieval times.

The scientists acknowledged funding from the National Geographic Society to complete this analysis.

The American Chemical Society is a nonprofit organization chartered by the U.S. Congress. With more than 163,000 members, ACS is the world’s largest scientific society and a global leader in providing access to chemistry-related research through its multiple databases, peer-reviewed journals and scientific conferences.

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About the Author: Yori Yanover has been a working journalist since age 17, before he enlisted and worked for Ba'Machane Nachal. Since then he has worked for Israel Shelanu, the US supplement of Yedioth, JCN18.com, USAJewish.com, Lubavitch News Service, Arutz 7 (as DJ on the high seas), and the Grand Street News. He has published Dancing and Crying, a colorful and intimate portrait of the last two years in the life of the late Lubavitch Rebbe, (in Hebrew), and two fun books in English: The Cabalist's Daughter: A Novel of Practical Messianic Redemption, and How Would God REALLY Vote.


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