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Paleography

Close evaluation of the document's handwriting helps confirm its authenticity.
Photograph by Kenneth Garrett/National Geographic

Scholars who study ancient texts are able to analyze handwriting and identify telltale scripts used by scribes.

Stephen Emmel, professor of Coptic studies at Germany's University of Munster, analyzed the Gospel of Judas and submitted the following assessment.

"The kind of writing reminds me very much of the Nag 'Hammadi codices," he wrote, referring to a famed collection of ancient manuscripts.

"It's not identical script with any of them. But it's a similar type of script, and since we date the Nag 'Hammadi codices to roughly the second half of the fourth century or the first part of the fifth century, my immediate inclination would be to say that the Gospel of Judas was written by a scribe in that same period, let's say around the year 400."

Emmel's says a modern forger would not be able to duplicate such a document.

"One would not only have to have genuine material—papyrus—and not simply any papyrus, but ancient papyrus," he said, "one would also have to know how to imitate Coptic script from a very early period. The number of specialists in Coptic that know that in the world is very small.

"You would also have to compose a text in Coptic that is grammatically correct and convincing. The number of people who could do that is even smaller than the number who could read Coptic," Emmel said.