Bible Museum says five of its Dead Sea Scrolls are fake

Posted at 4:21 PM, Oct 22, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-22 16:21:08-04

The Museum of the Bible in Washington, DC says five of its most valuable artifacts — all once thought to be part of the historic Dead Sea Scrolls — are fake and will not be displayed anymore.

German-based scholars tested the fragments and found that five “show characteristics inconsistent with ancient origin and therefore will no longer be displayed at the museum.”

CNN raised questions about the museum’s Dead Sea Scroll fragments in an article published last November, as the Green family prepared to unveil their new, $500 million museum.

Steve Green, the Bible museum’s evangelical founder and chairman, would not say how much his family spent for the 16 fragments in its collection. But scholars say even small fragments with little text can fetch millions in the antiquities market.

“Though we had hoped the testing would render different results, this is an opportunity to educate the public on the importance of verifying the authenticity of rare biblical artifacts, the elaborate testing process undertaken and our commitment to transparency,” said Jeffrey Kloha, the chief curatorial officer for Museum of the Bible.

“As an educational institution entrusted with cultural heritage, the museum upholds and adheres to all museum and ethical guidelines on collection care, research and display.”

But some scholars had questioned the fragments in the collection even before the museum opened with splashy ceremonies last November, including an event attended by Vice President Mike Pence.

Kipp Davis, an expert on the Dead Sea Scrolls at Trinity Western University in Canada, was one of several academics who has tried to warn Christians, including the Green family, about the forgeries.

Davis, who studied the fragments for the Museum of the Bible, said Tuesday’s news about the fakes felt like bittersweet vindication. His takeaway: That evangelicals or others whose faith motivates them to collect artifacts should be very careful with an antiquities dealers eager to take advantage of them.

“These good intentions that draw from a place of faith are subject to some really gross manipulations and that is a big part of what has happened here,” Davis said. The scholar said he believes 2-4 of the Greens’ 16 fragments may be authentic.

In April 2017, Bible Museum sent five fragments to the Bundesanstalt für Materialforschung und-prüfung (BAM) a German institute for analyzing materials, where scholars tested for 3D digital microscopy and conducted material analyses of the ink and sediment on the papyrus.

Scholars have theorized that forgers write on top of ancient scraps of papyrus or leather, making the scrolls appear authentic, until the ink is tested.

Their report, which the Bible Museum said they recently received, “further raises suspicions about the authenticity of all five fragments.”