Biblical Archaeology Review 37:3, May/June 2011

Strata: Collector Withholds Inscriptions

From time to time this magazine has railed at scholars who failed to make available to the public important artifacts and inscriptions. Indeed, that was the entire thrust of our effort to free the Dead Sea Scrolls from the scholars who then controlled them.

Collectors are usually different. Important collectors such as Shlomo Moussaieff of London and Israel, Martin Schøyen of Norway and David Jeselsohn of Switzerland have generously made available for publication items in their collections.

Only in the rare case does a collector withhold from the public an important part of his collection. The matter involved here is even stranger because the collector has commissioned two of the most prominent scholars in Israel to write a book about these important inscriptions. Stranger still, this collector is himself a scholar of some repute.

London collector and scholar Nasser David Khalili acquired this collection of inscriptions from several local antiquities dealers (especially the late Trianos Gagos) more than a decade ago. The inscriptions are in Aramaic and come from ancient Bactria (probably from modern Afghanistan). The collection consists of 30 commercial documents and letters written on leather and 18 inscribed wooden sticks that served as tallies to the documents. The inscriptions are dated and mostly document debts and receipt of goods. They date from the late fifth century B.C.E. but mainly from the mid-to-late fourth century B.C.E., the time of the Persian (Achaemenid) empire and extending into the seventh year of Alexander the Great’s rule after he captured the territory.

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