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Museum of the Bible pulls Dead Sea Scroll fragments found to be forged

Conservators examine a portion of the Dead Sea Scrolls containing the Ten Commandments before the scrolls' installation at Discovery Times Square in New York, Thursday, Dec. 15, 2011. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

(RNS) — Since its grand opening nearly a year ago, the Museum of the Bible has exhibited five fragments from the storied Dead Sea Scrolls, the ancient parchment fragments discovered 70 years ago in a desert cave.

On Monday (Oct. 22) the museum acknowledged that the five fragments it had on display were forgeries. They were taken down several weeks ago and replaced with three other fragments that do not have the same anomalies.

The museum had long suspected the fragments may be forged and a sign accompanying the exhibit says scholars had raised questions about their authenticity. But last week the museum received scientific verification via digital and X-ray testing of the ink, sediment layers and chemical composition, which proved conclusively that the fragments were forged.

“This is part of our ongoing commitment to making sure we’re adhering to all legal and museum standards, that our displays are accurate, that when we have information, we make it available,” said Jeff Kloha, chief curatorial officer. “Where we had uncertainty about the documentation, we put that up on the museum website and updated labels on the displays.”

This is not the first time the museum has faced questions about the problematic origins of some of its antiquities. Many of the items in the Washington, D.C., museum were purchased beginning in 2009 by the billionaire Oklahoma-based Green family, owners of the Hobby Lobby craft store chain.

The museum has benefited from the Greens’ buying spree. The family amassed about 40,000 items, some of which were donated to the museum, including the purported Dead Sea Scroll fragments.

But last year, Hobby Lobby agreed to return nearly 4,000 artifacts to Iraq after they were found to have been looted from Iraqi archaeological sites. As part of the settlement with the Justice Department, the company was also required to pay $3 million to the U.S. government.

The Dead Sea Scrolls are considered among the 20th century’s greatest archaeological finds. They were discovered by Bedouin shepherds in 1947 in caves near the Dead Sea and are about 1,100 years older than any other existing texts of the Hebrew Bible. Among the fragments are portions of the Ten Commandments and the Book of Genesis.

The Museum of the Bible entrance in 2017 in Washington. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

They would be a prized item for any serious collector, and especially the evangelical Green family. But the Israel Antiquities Authority owns most of them and displays them in Jerusalem’s Shrine of the Book. Many can now be viewed online, too.

“For the Greens and many collectors like them from the evangelical community, there’s something about the tangibility of the text, something about being able to touch a part of the Bible that predates Jesus,” said Joel Baden, a professor of Hebrew Bible at Yale Divinity School. “There’s some deeply seated appeal in ‘the oldest’ and these are absolutely the oldest texts we have.”

The Green family bought 16 scroll fragments between 2009 and 2014, Kloha said. Twelve of the 16 were purchased in 2009 and 2010. He did not say how much Hobby Lobby paid for the items before they were donated to the museum.

Lawrence Schiffman, an adviser to the Museum of the Bible, disputed a commonly held narrative that the Greens erred by buying too many artifacts too quickly, without guidance from professionals who could properly vet their origin and authenticity.

He noted that since 2002, close to 70 items that have come on the market as Dead Sea Scroll fragments appear to be suspect. Some fragments were sold to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, others to Azusa Pacific University in Azusa, Calif.

“This is not the only institution with post-2002 fragments,” said Schiffman, professor of Hebrew and Judaic studies at New York University. “They were purchased by a whole bunch of people and they were purchased with very good pedigree. These buyers were all filched by sophisticated people.”

Kloha said the scroll fragments underwent three rounds of investigation to verify their provenance, handwriting style and the chemical relationship between the parchment and ink. The results of the third round, considered the best determinant of authenticity, came in last week.

About the author

Yonat Shimron

Yonat Shimron is an RNS National Reporter and Senior Editor.

45 Comments

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  • They are only forgeries if you find out they are forgeries. Funny how that stuff works. They are revered as genuine until they are not. Poof. Big price goes to low price or no price.

  • The rational reason for treasuring the documents is that, if genuine, they can be used to confirm the prior usage of some few words/phrases which were also later used in what became the Bible; the irrational reason, in some minds, is that they must somehow confirm the veracity of the Bible’s content.

    They don’t validate the Bible of course

    The validity of the Bible’s content is not affected, either way, by whether these documents are genuine or fake.

    Someone separated a mug from his money, next item – dog bites man.

  • Dear brother Walter C. Kaiser Jr.,

    I hear you, per your statement below, but you know what? Since THE Christ Jesus & His 1st apostles and disciples cast contempt on Biblical Archaeology, I say our Evangelical people of faith follow suit. Who cares what Biblical Archaeology and what Atheists running it have to say, when you’re a born-from-above, fired-up and die-hard follower of THE Christ Jesus of the gospels, epistles and revelation, by enduring the cross that you carry in your life of faith in response to the ransoming Fatherly love of God through the crucifixion, burial and resurrection of His own beloved Son, Jesus, the Messiah of Israel and the savior of the rest of the world? God & Jesus don’t care what Biblical Archaeology and what Atheists running it have to say; neither should you & I.

    So please delete the following from your book for its next edition:

    “The study of archaeology has helped illuminate the Bible by casting light on its historical and cultural location. With increasing clarity, the setting of the Bible appears more vividly within the framework of general history…. by fitting biblical history, persons, and events into general history, archaeology has demonstrated the validity of many biblical references and data. It has continued to cast light, whether implicitly or explicitly, on many of the Bible’s customs, cultures, and settings during various periods of history. … [My] presumption tends to build that we should go with the text … that the text is innocent”.

    Source: Walter C. Kaiser Jr., The Old Testament Documents: Are They Reliable and Relevant?, InterVarsity Press, 2001, 97-108.

  • That was a pointless post, contributing nothing of relevance to the article.

    And, of course, Biblical Archaeology did not exist in the First Century, nor did God, Christ, and the Apostles ever say anything about it. Of course you knew that, but that didn’t stop you from writing your lame comment,

    The quote from Kaiser, however, was good, so your posting was not a total loss.

  • I paused in the wrong place and still thought your comment made sense

    ” Biblical Archaeology did not exist in the First Century, nor did God………………”

    HpO obviously likes the “born-from-above, fired-up and die-hard follower” bit – it’s not the first time it’s been used recently.
    Now all we need is for someone to explain that repetition has no effect on lucidity.

  • I suspect we all reckoned that you have no interest in truth, no respect for scholarship, no care for evidence and no sympathy for rational thought unless, of course, it can be made to fit your superstitious belief – but thanks for making it crystal clear.

  • I give you points for cleverness for that initial remark, even though we disagree.

    No points for HpO, however, for his tired “fired-up” shtick.

  • Very true. Counterfeits have always been a big problem in the field of Antiquities.

    And some will act like these papyri being fraudulent means the Bible itself is fraudulent – or vice versa. You’re right – a big nothingburger here.

  • When it comes to “Biblical Archeology” (is it somehow different than “archeology.”), I can’t help being in awe of the thousands of Israelites wandering around the desert for four decades without leaving even some broken pots behind. Stickum, like NFL receivers used to use, must have been widely employed by the Israelites to keep from dropping pots. Or, they weren’t there.

    Which is more plausible?

  • Separating a mug from his money……

    Or, as Mark Twain put it, religion started when the first con artist met the first mug.

  • Interesting how the Bible Museum clearly relies on scientific methods and evidence here, but rejects it in so many other instances.

  • You are making way too much of this. I have seen these documents and it says right on the display that they are probably not authentic. They were not trying to fool anybody. If they had been considered real they never would have been sold to the Museum of the Bible. When dealing with antiquities, this is par for the course. Some things are real and some are faked. This is not worth more than making a notation that these suspected forgeries are, in fact, forgeries.

  • No, you missed the whole point of his post.

    “The validity of the Bible’s content is not affected, either way, by whether these documents are genuine or fake.”

    And you chime in as if a counterfeit antiquity – a common occurrence – somehow invalidates “religion” as a con job.
    .
    I predicted someone would draw a similar false conclusion (below), and, like clockwork, an hour later you show up. LOL

  • Like the Greens claiming various forms of birth control were abortifacient and therefore unworthy of coverage by their allegedly religious health insurance. All in direct contradiction to actual medical science.

  • I was referring to the owners of the museum.

    Of course if you want to see it, just ask any of the employees working there to give you a copy of their health insurance papers. 🙂

  • Either I wasn’t clear, or you misread my post. Religion is invalidated by the lack of evidence to support it, by the errors and inconsistencies of its scriptures. I didn’t diasagree that the authenticity or lack thereof of the items at issue prove nothing.

    Twain still had it right.

  • As I understand the term “Biblical Archaeology” is used to describe those who go digging with a spade in one hand and a Bible in t’other.

    Because they believe the Bible to be a history book they interpret all they find, often to the despair of scientific archaeologists such as Finklestein (SP?), in a manner that keeps the dollars flowing from other believers.

  • A very flawed book historically and theologically so one expects a very flawed museum.

    To replace said documents, four reality items from the Great Kibosh of All Religions:

    • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Abraham i.e. the foundations of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are non-existent.

    • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Moses i.e the pillars of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have no strength of purpose.

    • There was no Gabriel i.e. Islam fails as a religion. Christianity partially fails.

    • There was no Easter i.e. Christianity completely fails as a religion.

  • I was referring to the Museum, as Herd stated “the BIBLE MUSEUM [emphasis mine]…rejects it [science] in so many other instances”.

    He so far has not been able to detail where the BIBLE MUSEUM has done this, in any of its displays or on any of its floors.

    As for the Greens, they have not objected to all forms of birth control, only those which prevent the implantation of fertilized eggs – which is logical for those who believe human life begins at conception. None of that is “in direct contradiction to actual medical science”.

  • “Nor did God, Christ, and the Apostles ever say anything about … Biblical Archaeology”?! You gotta think outside The Cereal Box, my f(r)iend.

    Do some serious Biblical Anti-Archaeology diggings with this Text found in Matthew 24:1-2, 15, 21, 23, 26, 30:

    “Jesus came out from the temple and was going away when His disciples came up to point out the temple buildings to Him. And He said to them, ‘Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here will be left upon another, which will not be torn down.’ … For when you see the abomination of desolation which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place … there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will. … Then someone says to you, ‘Behold, here is the Christ,’ or ‘There He is,’ … or, Behold, He is in the wilderness,’ … or, ‘Behold, He is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe them. … And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory.”

  • I am quite familiar with Jesus’ prophesy of the destruction of the Temple, as well as His apocalyptic teachings. Neither condemnation nor commendation of Biblical Archaeology there.

    And for crying out loud, stop playing with your cereal.

  • So what’s the archaelogy when “not one stone here will be left upon another”?

    Biblical Archaelogy is all about God & Jesus’ destruction of creation. Atheist & Evangelical archaeologists are left with only the aftermaths of said destructions. Where’s the godly fear in them when confronted with these Fossils of Judgment? You don’t have it either. Judgment is gonna getcha2, ‘yo!

    That’s it for me. Say your Benediction & be done.

  • As I said, just ask the employees to show you their health plan. Major science denial there. I didn’t make the statement you are referring to. Talk to that poster.

  • Re: “The museum had long suspected the fragments may be forged and a sign accompanying the exhibit says scholars had raised questions about their authenticity.” 

    Let’s just dive right in and get to the bottom of all this: The Greens scarfed up every Bible-related artifact they could get their grubby hands on, not caring if they might be genuine or fraudulent, in the name of barraging the public with what they claim are “evidences” that “the Bible confirms history”; that its texts have remained precisely the same for thousands of years; and hence that their beliefs about it (i.e. that it’s the unassailably-perfect-&-accurate “Word of God”) are true. 

    They didn’t care about hoaxed items, because to be honest, they didn’t need to. They vacuumed up so much of this stuff that being forced to pull a couple from their massive collection, which could be proven phony, effectively makes no difference at all. Even doing that, still means they can trumpet that they have “‘thousands’ of evidences” supporting their contention. 

    That their beliefs remain untrue, no matter how many “evidences” they throw on display in their Museum, makes no difference to them. And honestly, I’m sure it will work on some folks, who’ll actually be impressed by the piles and piles of stuff the Greens claim “prove” they’re right. 

    Yes, folks, it’s true … those are the kinds of ethics it takes to proselytize for “Biblical literalism” these days … given what we actually know about the Bible, its contents, how and why its books were written, and how they were transmitted over the centuries. 

  • You are desribing archeology by biblicists.

    Biblical archeology is actual, legitimate archeology done by trained experts in the scientific fields associated with archeology, with no preconceived notions regarding their finds in the Levant, the area in which the events protrayed in the Bible are said to have occurred. The Biblical Archeology Review is a good source of info currently occuring in the Levant

  • Wow, that’s some powerful dope they sell in your area. Do you live in Canada or one of the legal recreational states? One would need to be really, really high to make the leaps of logic and esoteric connections that you spout here all the time.

  • The Great Kibosh of All Religions

    Don’t break your arm patting yourself on the back. I always suspect the motives of a self-proclaimed expert who quotes their own work in such high & mighty terms and SO often!

  • Why bother to spend funds to professionally display documents that are of doubted authenticity from the word go? There feels like there is an underlying, alterior motive to do so.

  • Fake and fake news have been with us since time immemorial. Caveat Emptor ! Cannot help by being amazed that The Quran (Islamic bible) had not a word change since its revelation.

  • Ulterior motive? Like what? You buy them for the same reason you buy lottery tickets on the off chance that you have hit the jackpot. Besides, they give you a sense of what the real is like. None of us are permitted to see the real thing. It also teaches the layman how uncertain the authenticity of ancient artifacts can be.

  • Calling it, huh?

    What does LGBT stand for again? Surely, surely, not a “recreational” acronym “spout[ing for] … some powerful dope … really, really high … leaps of logic and esoteric connections”? Oh no, oh no.

  • I did reply to that poster.

    And you replied directly speaking TO ME.

    You have provided no evidence of “Major science denial”. Your assertion is hardly proof, at least not for anyone other than yourself.

  • Not my back that is being patted .

    All the credit goes to the religious historians and theologians of the past 200 years who did the required rigorous testing. The Great Kibosh is a summary of the results.
    .

  • Although often maintained by Muslims, the idea that the Quran has not had a word changed since its revelation is simply untrue, and is not supported by the manuscript tradition or the historical traditions related in the Hadith.

  • As the Green’s fevered dream of an edifice worshiping his bible grew closer to existence, this book, this carefully research book was published. It was eye opening, to say the least.
    Bible Nation, The United States of Hobby Lobby by Candida Moss and Joel Baden.

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