Scientific tests conducted on Dead Sea Scroll fragments
On October 22, 2018, the Museum of the Bible announced that at least five of their Dead Sea Scrolls fragments have been determined to be fakes. The announcement followed a battery of rigorous scientific tests conducted by the German-based Bundesanstalt für Materialforschung und-prüfung (BAM), an institute that—among other things—performs tests on ancient manuscripts.
This acknowledgement by the Museum of the Bible that several of the Dead Sea Scrolls in their collection were “inconsistent with ancient origin” confirms what several scholars have suspected for years, and what the Museum of the Bible has quietly hinted at for several months: that several of their Dead Sea Scrolls may be forgeries.
Steve Green, the founder of the Hobby Lobby chain of arts and crafts stores, acquired much of these unprovenanced fragments from antiquities dealers, many of whom have insisted on remaining anonymous. Green donated part of his antiquities collection to the Museum of the Bible, which he also founded. You’ll recall that Hobby Lobby recently paid $3 million and forfeited thousands of objects to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) as part of a settlement with the U.S. government, including 1,500 cuneiform tablets, 500 cuneiform bricks, 3,000 clay bullae, 13 extra-large cuneiform tablets, and 500 stone cylinder seals, following news that Green and/or someone acting on his behalf attempted to smuggle antiquities into the U.S. using a customs declaration that read “handcrafted clay tiles … worth about $300.” This past May 2018, about 4,000 of these seized objects were repatriated to the Iraqi government.
I am not surprised that several of these Museum of the Bible Dead Sea Scrolls fragments were found to be fakes. Many in the scholarly community have suspected this for some time. The Museum of the Bible even took the extraordinary step of acknowledging the possibility that some of their scroll fragments were fakes in the placards next to the fragments. Still, the museum displayed the fragments, despite the scholarly warnings against their authenticity.
The Museum of the Bible should be commended for submitting the scroll fragments for analysis and for releasing the results of the study’s findings, even though the results would be embarrassing for the museum. This, however, is the best way forward for the Museum of the Bible. Full transparency should be the museum’s modus operandi moving forward. This is the only way to begin to repair the damage done to the institution’s credibility following years of scholarly protest and concern about their collection.
From this point forward, it is my hope that the people who are hired by the Museum of the Bible, from the museum’s newly-announced CEO, Ken McKenzie, on down, will take seriously the criticisms and the advice of the scholarly community and focus on becoming a world-class museum.
Finally, this should serve yet again as a prime example for why unprovenanced archaeological objects should not be published and displayed in museums. The days of the black-market trade of unprovenanced Dead Sea Scrolls fragments must come to an end!
Biblical History at What Cost? by Roberta Mazza
Hobby Lobby, the Museum of the Bible and the antiquities market
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