The Dead Sea Scrolls, the first bundles of which were discovered in 1946 in the Qumran Caves in the Judaean Desert on the northern shore of the Dead Sea, date back to the 3rd century BCE and are believed to be some of the oldest known surviving manuscripts of books in the Hebrew Bible. Are they? Sixteen fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls, currently in the possession of the Museum of the Bible in Washington, DC, were recently studied by art forgery experts and … get ready to be disappointed … were identified as excellent fakes. What does this mean for the Hebrew Bible?
“The Museum of the Bible is trying to be as transparent as possible. We’re victims. We’re victims of misrepresentation, we’re victims of fraud.”
If this story sounds familiar, it was just last year that of the Museum of the Bible – a non-sectarian museum in theory – was informed that six of its Dead Sea Scrolls fragments were forgeries. The collection was donated to the museum by founder and CEO Of Hobby Lobby Steve Green, who refuses to say where he obtained them nor how much he paid, but it’s estimated to be millions. Now it seems that even if Green kept the receipts, he admitted to the National Geographic that he was duped by unscrupulous sellers on his entire collection of scroll pieces.
“After an exhaustive review of all the imaging and scientific analysis results, it is evident that none of the textual fragments in Museum of the Bible’s Dead Sea Scroll collection are authentic. Moreover, each exhibits characteristics that suggest they are deliberate forgeries created in the twentieth century with the intent to mimic authentic Dead Sea Scroll fragments.”
At a recent conference in Washington, Colette Loll, founder and director of Art Fraud Insights, released a 200-page report on an investigation of the Green family’s scrolls. The report shows that the museum’s fragments were leather hide parchment, which may have come from ancient Roman shoes of the era. They were coated with a shiny substance, possibly glue, that came from one source, indicating all of these forgeries were handled by the same forger – even though the Green family says they came from four different sellers. This was one slick forger … the fragments were coated with minerals from the Dead Sea caves area.
While these scroll fragments fooled a number of so-called experts, CNN reports that the real ones used 3D microscopes, infrared spectroscopy and "energy dispersive X-ray analysis" and found some pretty glaring errors. Perhaps the biggest was discovered by labs in Germany which determined that the ink was recent and lettering was applied after the fake creases and tears were made to the leather.
Does this mean all of the estimated 100,000 Dead Sea scroll fragments may be fakes? Fortunately, most of those are in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem and those have undergone intense scrutiny for years to authenticate them. It’s the fragments showing up in black markets and on eBay that should be questioned.
It’s too bad these forgers don’t actually read the documents they’re copying … especially the parts about stealing and bearing false witness. And those who try to own these antiquities for themselves should remember the part about coveting their neighbor’s goods. When it comes to ancient historical artifacts, religious or otherwise, we’re ALL neighbors.