It is the simple truth that paleographical analysis alone is sometimes not sufficient to settle questions of authenticity.1 In the present case, while further conservation is required for a final judgment on some issues,2 I have not found a “smoking gun” that indicates beyond doubt that the text was not written in antiquity, but nor can such an examination prove that it is genuine. I do, however, believe the present case is less straightforward than some proponents of forgery have assumed.3 I confine myself here to a few observations.
The hand suggests an informal context of production.4 The handwriting is not similar to formal literary productions of any period and should be compared rather to documentary or paraliterary texts (though it does not closely resemble typical fourth-century Coptic documentary hands).5 While I cannot adduce an exact parallel, I am inclined to compare paraliterary productions such as magical or educational texts.6
The way the same letter is formed sometimes varies.7 Thin trails of ink at the bottom of many letters, multiple thin lines instead of one stroke,8 and the forked ends of some letters could suggest the use of a brush, rather then a pen: one may compare Ptolemaic-period Greek documents written with a brush.9 The brush had largely ceased to be used by the Roman period10 and should not be encountered in this context. However, one can observe analogous phenomena in later texts that are neither presumed to have been made by a brush nor suspected of being forgeries.11
I have been unable to confirm that there is any ink on the lower layer of fibers in the start of lines →2–5 or inside the damaged area of what has been read as the second mu of in line →3 (which would surely indicate a modern forgery). Further conservation of the papyrus is required to confirm this beyond doubt. It is, however, clear that some issues that have been brought forward as evidence of forgery are apparent only on the digital images that were originally made available: this primarily concerns cases in which holes in the papyrus appear to be ink in the image12 and where pooling of ink is not apparent on the papyrus itself.13 The text in line →7 is also clearly under the “blob” of foreign matter (some type of wax?).14 The “oblique stroke” before in →4 is more likely the remains of a letter than a mark of punctuation.15 One can also note that the lack of ink on the left two-thirds of the “back” is clearly caused by the loss of most of the upper layer of fibers at this point and that, while the top edge of the papyrus does give the appearance of having been cut, not broken,16 such a clean straight break is not unknown in genuine papyri.17
Overall, if the general appearance of the papyrus prompts some suspicion, it is difficult to falsify by a strictly paleographical examination. This should not be taken as proof that the papyrus is genuine, simply that its handwriting and the manner in which it has been written do not provide definitive grounds for proving otherwise.